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'The lads who sold out on Ireland': How Zig and Zag's RTÉ exit caused a stir in the 1990s

We take a look at the good, bad and the bizarre of Ireland’s TV past every Wednesday in The Tube.

Zig and Zag on the Big Brekfast with host Chris Evans.
Zig and Zag on the Big Brekfast with host Chris Evans.
Image: Channel 4

EVERY WEEK SEEMS to bring a bigger and bigger news story. But we’ve got to go all the way back to the early 1990s to find a moment that really rocked the nation. 

Bigger than Cromwell’s conquest, worse than the Famine and more tragic than Thierry Henry’s outstretched hand – at least, according to one eminent turkey

The incident, of course, was the flight of Zig and Zag to UK TV screens – abandoning RTÉ for fame, fortune and Chris Evans on Channel 4′s Big Breakfast show. 

Long before Brexit threatened to sour relations between Ireland and the UK, it was the exit of the two beloved, anarchic characters that made headlines here. 

Fame

Zig and Zag, created by Ciarán Morrison and Mick O’Hara, became a firm fixture of The Den alongside Ian Dempsey from 1987 onwards, later appearing alongside Dempsey’s successor Ray D’Arcy. 

But the two excitable aliens eventually found the bright lights of London too tempting. In 1992, the pair joined the ground-breaking (and fondly remembered) Big Breakfast show. 

The decision ultimately brought the pair to new levels of fame – a hit single reached number five in the UK charts in January 1995, while they even received somewhat dubious business lessons from Donald Trump. 

Source: doublezwynne/YouTube

But the exit from RTÉ did cause something of a stir. In 1993 the Irish Times reported – tongue firmly in cheek – that the arrival of Zig and Zag in the UK, following on from Dustin’s general election antics, should “cause a few shivers around the Palace of Westminister”. 

“The potential merchandising opportunity in the British market is ‘huge’, according to informed sources, and has already made a millionaire out of the man who merchandised Roland Rat,” the paper reported. 

“In Ireland, Zig and Zag merchandising, of which a percentage goes to RTE, has reached saturation point.”

An interview with the pair in December 1993 suggested they weren’t agonising too much about jumping ship. 

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Source: doublezwynne/YouTube

“Dustin is still there, he’s getting on fine without us. He rings us in London sometimes,” Zig said.

“He has the sock monster with him now. The sock monster says things like ‘flap, flap, flap,” Zag added. 

The pair also revealed that their faces were on 200 million packets of Golden Wonder crisps and were planning to get into ice cream merchandising too. 

It wasn’t bad for a pair that started out as a frenetic pair of sidekicks on The Den. Still, bitter feelings remain among their co-stars – who never received the same kind of welcome from across the Irish sea. 

“We have the two British lads, the lads who sold out on Ireland, Zig and Zag. I’d say they’re out of money so they’re back brown nosing again.I sort of get on with Zig, I don’t really get on with Zag, he actually looks like the coronavirus,” Dustin told TheJournal.ie recently ahead of The Den’s reunion for RTÉ Does Comic Relief. 

Show-business, eh? 

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