02 January 2012
Paul Lumsdon remembers the early days of the Lledo company as we celebrate 30 years of the toy manufacturer. ...
I consider myself uniquely lucky. Over a 20-year career in the ‘toy’ industry, I have worked for not one, but two of the biggest and, in my opinion, best names in diecast collecting. The first of these, between 1991 and 1998, was Lledo. The second, between 1998 and 2011, was Corgi. Both have given me some of the best experiences and memories of my working life and so when the Managing Editor of Diecast Collector, Denise Burrows, asked if I could possibly help to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Lledo by researching and writing its history, I jumped at the opportunity!
Working for Lledo was a wonderful experience with a truly family-like atmosphere. Like all families there were occasional squabbles and disagreements, but as with most we all pulled together for the common good and I’m sure it was this ‘togetherness’ that drove the success of the business. Jack Odell was the head of the family – he was granddad. Bert Russell (MD) was father and Ray Penn (Operations) and Phil Gray (Finance) were the kindly uncles. When Bert retired, Phil moved on and Jack was rather cast-out as a figurehead ‘life chairman’. It signalled the beginning of the end for Lledo as we had known and loved it, and that is when I joined Corgi – but that is another story entirely!
Lledo (London) Limited was founded during the summer of 1982 by Jack Odell and Bert Russell following the collapse of the Lesney Empire, which Jack had helped to create way back in 1947. To fully understand the history of Lledo it is necessary to know a little about the Lesney story too.
Two years after the end of WWII, in 1947, John Odell (known as Jack by everyone) became the third partner in the business set up by Lesley Smith and Rodney Smith (who were not related). Business was difficult in the early years and Rodney departed in 1951, thinking there was little potential. As Lesley was a sales and marketing man, it was left to Jack’s skill as an engineer to design and produce the first prototypes of what became the world famous Matchbox miniatures. These appeared in 1953 (Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation year) and the success of these models was staggering; in particular a small commemorative Coronation Coach that sold over one million pieces in its own right...
PICTURED TOP RIGHT Jack Odell
PICTURED ABOVE Bert Rusell