18 July 2022
Continuing our series, we take a look at popular children's toys through the decades.
They say if you remember the 1960s you were never really there, but perhaps that isn’t the case for the pre-teens of the decade. The toys of the 60s seem to be the most nostalgic of collectables, with many current collectors loving the 60s like no other decade before or after. The 1960s saw the rise in popularity for Sci-Fi and space age toys, most certainly because of the TV series and films being shown.
Many of these popular futuristic series and characters were due to the imagination and work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. They introduced the world to Supermarionation, using marionette puppets that thrilled young viewers with fantastic action-packed adventures, believable characters, despite being puppets, and memorable music.
Film and TV director, producer and writer, Gerry Anderson brought us Supercar (1961-2), Fireball XL5 (1962), Stingray (1964), Thunderbirds (1965-66), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), Joe 90 (1968) and others.
As well as loving the TV programmes, fans wanted to get their hands on the figures, spaceships and vehicles produced. For many youngsters their treasured toys have remained in their possession ever since – and added to over the years. These days figures and space craft can demand hundreds of pounds. It’s known that Gerry Anderson himself kept an original Parker puppet from Thunderbirds which sold at auction in 2001 for an amazing £38,000.
Tracy Island – the secret headquarters of the Thunderbirds International Rescue Station, and home to the Tracy family, scientists Brains and Tin-Tin, and housekeeper Krano was and still is, a much sought-after toy and collectable for Thunderbirds fans. It first appeared on the shelves on 30th September 1965 and was so popular that retailers were soon out of stock.
Last year around 100 items were discovered in Bray Studios including puppets, scripts, scenery, props etc., which were auctioned off in November 2020 at Ewbank Auctions.
Amongst the sale was a Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Captain Ochre puppet head which sold for £19,000; Kate Kestrel’s right hand, used in close up shots in Terrahawks fetched £160; a Thunderbirds Are Go poster, created by Gerry Anderson measuring 30 x 40 inches sold for £240; A Terrahawk used in the production of Terrahawks sold for £8,500; while a Battlehawk used in the film fetched £11,000.
September 1966 saw the introduction of Star Trek in the US, reaching the UK in 1969, which generated a cult following. Created by Gene Roddenberry it was set on board the USS Enterprise with Captain James T Kirk at the helm. It boldly went where no man had gone before, with the original series having one of television’s first multiracial casts. Youngsters began playing with figures, replica USS Enterprises, accessories, books and comics. However, the 1970s was when the demand for Star Trek memorabilia really began gathering pace and a new breed of fans emerged, known as Trekkies.
The 1960s also saw the first ‘doll’ for boys, although he was regarded as an ‘action figure’ or a ‘moveable fighting man’. He was based on the US action soldier, G.I. Joe created in 1964 by Hasbro. He was a 12-inch (30 cm) tall plastic figure with interchangeable outfits and accessories. Meanwhile in the UK, Leicestershire toy company, Palitoy, brought out Action Man in 1966, continually adding to the range of figures, uniforms, accessories and vehicles. Production ceased in 1984 but his popularity goes on.
The ever-popular Meccano continued to keep youngsters entertained throughout the 1960s along with diecast toys from cars and commercial vehicles to themed diecasts such as circus, farm and war vehicles. Corgi Toys introduced many film and TV tie-in models in the 1960s. Most famously was the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 from the film Goldfinger, complete with machine guns, ejector seat and other special gadgets used by 007. It was a sell-out toy when first released and has continued to be bought and collected ever since. It is still in production and has sold more than seven million in all its various versions.
In 2013 six James Bond Corgi models were bought at an auction in Kent for around £7,000. The British buyer bid £5,500 for the cars but paid out around £7,000 including fees.
Other popular TV and film cars brought out by Corgi in the 1960s included The Saint’s Volvo P1800; the Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s car, The Thrushbuster; The Green Hornet Black Beauty in 1967, despite the TV programme not airing on British TV for some years later. It went on to sell over two million models.
While Batman has been around in film and comics since the 1940s, in 1960 we met the first superhero on the big screen and on our TV screens with Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. The Corgi Batmobile was one of the best-selling and most iconic diecast toys of the 20th century. Rare versions of the Batmobile can fetch hundreds even thousands of pounds at auction.
In December 1968 we were enchanted by that magical flying car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and collectables of the car with its pop-out wings and the four characters of Inventor Caractacus Potts, Truly Scrumptious and the two children, were in high demand. Original models boxed and in mint condition can fetch over £400 these days.
As a rival to Barbie, British company Pedigree Doll & Toys brought out Sindy, a British fashion doll, in 1963 and girls loved her. She became the best-selling toy in the UK in 1968 and 1970.
Girls also enjoyed kitchen sets, office sets and dolls houses, although the furniture was a lot more basic than what you find today. The boys still enjoyed playing war games with plastic figures, tanks and guns.
Surprisingly, the board game of Operation was invented in 1964 by John Spinello. He sold the rights for $500 and the game went on to make $40 million for companies Milton Bradley and then Hasbro. Twister was also invented in the mid-1960s by Chuck Foley and colleague Neil Rabens. It was originally known as Pretzel. It too was first manufactured by Milton Bradley and has gone on to sell tens of millions of copies.
Plus of course Monopoly, Meccano, Subbuteo and Lego were still being enjoyed even though released earlier than the 60s but had never lost their appeal. Friction toys also became popular from the 1960s as well as anything electrical and battery operated. Robby the Robot toys were popular, especially after the TV series Lost in Space was aired. The real Robby the Robot prop from the original 1956 film of Forbidden Planet sold at a New York auction years later for $5.375m!
Model railways were massively popular with a wide range of manufacturers such as Hornby, Tri-ang, Lionel and Bachmann to name just a few.
Airfix which had been around since 1939, really expanded their range from the 1960s to include scaled kits of vintage and modern cars, motorcycles, trains, military vehicles, ships, rockets, spaceships and aircraft. In 1963 the Airfix slot car racing system was introduced.
Humbrol also grew around this time supplying paints, brushes, glue and accessories for the kit-making enthusiasts, and Airfix also launched their monthly Airfix Magazine.
I wonder how many will remember the Rosebud Kitmaster which was the brand name of a short-lived but critically acclaimed range of plastic assembly kits. These were manufactured in the UK by Rosebud Dolls Ltd which expanded to produce 34 models of railway locomotives and coaches in OO, HO and TT scales. In 1962 the assets of Rosebud Kitmaster were sold to Airfix Products Ltd. Nine locomotives and a motorcycle were later re-issued under the Airfix brand.
Overall, the 1960s was an era where toys were in abundance and children who were lucky enough to get their favourite toy would, in many instances, never lose that affection despite the passing of the years.