The beginning of Christmas is marked in many different ways from one home to the next, influenced by several religious, regional and cultural factors. For some, it is the lighting of the first candle on the advent wreath, while others celebrate with the oh-so-delicious chocolate hidden behind an advent calendar door. But for many Irish families, including my own, Christmas does not officially begin until the RTÉ Christmas Guide lands on the kitchen table. Soon to be littered with pen marks circling must-watch blockbusters and soap opera specials, the RTÉ Guide’s Christmas issue is highly regarded as one of Ireland’s festive staples.

Aside from the anticipation of who will be in charge of the remote control, it is the star-studded covers of the Christmas Guide that are often the first thing to catch the reader’s eye.

A Brief History of the Guide

The RTÉ Guide has not always gone by the name it does today. Rather, it was first published on 1 December 1961 as the RTV Guide, a monochrome tabloid paper with the sole purpose of listing the radio and television programmes set to broadcast on Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s national broadcaster. This date neatly coincided with the momentous launch of terrestrial television across the nation at seven pm on 31 December that same year. Although Ireland ranked among the final few European countries to embrace television broadcasting, RTÉ hit the ground running, ringing in the New Year with several messages from the then president Éamon de Valera, Archbishop Cardinal d’Alton, and Taoiseach Seán Lemass. The success of the RTÉ Guide followed suit, offering a weekly detailed set of television and radio programme listings for not only RTÉ stations but a range of satellite and cable channels too, including broadcasts by TG4, Virgin Media Ireland, BBC, ITV and UTV, however, it was not until 1966 that the tabloid was rebranded to the RTÉ Guide as we know it today, switching to a glossier, colour print magazine published weekly by RTÉ Commercial Enterprises Ltd, a subsidiary of Ireland’s national broadcaster, Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 

Over the years, the publication has evolved beyond a mere listings magazine, expanding its collection to feature images from various television and radio programs. Snapshots of guests, presenters, and the dedicated staff contributing to the production of diverse content, spanning light entertainment, drama, music, and current affairs have become a feature synonymous with the guide. 

In addition to the weekly RTÉ Guide, a special two-week bumper issue is published in early December each year, packed with TV listings, movie planners, gift guides, interviews with Irish celebrities, and festive recipes to cover the two-week period in the lead-up to Christmas day and into the New Year. With this year’s issue set to reach an estimate of a whopping 1.5 million adults across the country, the RTÉ Christmas Guide has justly been ranked the biggest print issue on the Irish market.

The First RTV Guide Cover, December 1961,

Image Courtesy of RTÉ Archives

The RTÉ Guide Collection 

While the RTÉ Guide initially set out as an avenue to broadcast the stations’ radio and television listings, it has quickly become one of Ireland’s most unique records of popular culture, and the RTÉ Guide Collection archived by the Photographic Archive of RTÉ Archives in Montrose has played a tremendous role in preserving this memory. The collection contains over 100,000 images in total, with a combination of both digitally shot photographs as well as those digitised from original negatives from several RTÉ photographers most notably Roy Bedell, Eve Holmes and John Cooney. This figure is set to grow as archivists continue to process old and new images from the collection, cataloguing, digitised, and uploading them to the RTÉ Photographic Archive website. 

Comprised of images taken by photographers working for the RTÉ Guide from 1962 to the present day, the RTÉ Guide Collection includes over sixty years of photographs from RTÉ productions including both the presenters and staff involved in the production of light entertainment, drama, music and current affairs output. Recurring characters from popular programmes such as ‘Tolka Row’ and ‘Glenroe’ are regularly featured in the collection alongside photographs of the late Terry Wogan conducting interviews of FA Cup winners and Anne Doyle preparing in the RTÉ Newsroom, names known by all in households across Ireland.

2133/032 RTÉ Guide Christmas shoot (1983),

Image Courtesy of RTÉ Archives 

RTÉ Guide Christmas Issue 1983

All one needs to do is rewind forty years and take a look at the images from the 1983 Christmas Guide photoshoot to get a sense of the importance of the collection in documenting Ireland’s cultural past. Posing in what was to become an outtake of the cover shot of the issue, the RTÉ Guide set out to feature some of the biggest names in television that were anticipated to join Irish households in their sitting rooms over the Christmas break. From journalist and broadcaster Ruth Buchanan to comedian Dermot Morgan, entertainer Twink to Bosco the clown, even Joe Lynch, known better to some as Dinny from ‘Glenroe’, managed to make it up to Montrose from the rolling fields of County Wicklow for the photoshoot! And although he didn’t quite make the cut for the final image that was chosen for the official cover of the 1983 Christmas issue, Larry Gogan ditched the discs for the afternoon to take part.

2131/100 RTÉ Guide Christmas fashion shoot (1983),

Image Courtesy of RTÉ Archives 

1983 not only marks the fortieth anniversary of this particular issue of the Christmas Guide but of the opening of one of Dublin’s most renowned antique clothing stores, aptly named A Store is Born, which still proudly supplies Dublin City shoppers in search of vintage pieces, opening its doors on Clarendon Street every Saturday of the month. Silk and satin slip dresses, 1930s and 1940s taffeta ballgowns, tuxedos and tails modelled by Paula Reid, Renée, and Milo Fitzgerald were chosen to feature among the looks advertised for the Christmas season within the 1983 issue. 

2131/097 RTÉ Guide Christmas fashion shoot (1983),

Image Courtesy of RTÉ Archives 

The outtakes and behind-the-scenes images from the 1983 Christmas cover and fashion shoots are a valuable snapshot in time for all those with an interest in the history of Ireland’s popular culture, and with the 2023 issue set to hit the shelves on the 11th of December, we can only hope the fashion is as good and the celeb’s smiles are as bright for this year. 

Róisín Costello, Records Manager 

With special thanks to the RTÉ Photographic Archive for the use of photos from the RTÉ Guide Collection for this post.  

Bibliography

‘Off Camera: images from the early years of RTÉ television’, introduced by Gay Byrne (Poolbeg Press, 2004)

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