The Young Ones

17 November 2016
3-70934.jpg Space Precinct wasn’t Gerry Anderson’s most memorable work, so would you fork out £55 for this?
The Young Ones
The Young Ones Images

Rob Burman finds out what’s attracting the next generation of collectors at Doncaster Toy Fair.

Here in the Collectors Gazette, we’ve often spoken about the fear that, after the current generation of collectors loses interest in the hobby (or runs out of money) that collecting as a past-time could completely die out. After all, there’s often the perception that the ‘youth of today’ are more bothered about their videogames and Justin Bieber tickets than they are with getting their grubby little mitts on old toys. And, yes, to some extent that’s certainly true but after attending the recent Doncaster Racecourse Toy Fair, organised by Barry Potter, we’re delighted to report that the green shoots of the next generation are most definitely taking root.

We spotted plenty of kids in attendance, either with grandparents or their mum and dad, eagerly clutching bags of recent purchases or excitedly tugging on the arm of their elders (normally the one with the wallet ready) to show them something they had spotted. Of course, they weren’t necessarily excited about an old Dinky sedan or a Britains toy soldier. Instead, they were pointing at a ‘classic’ piece of LEGO, some sort of superhero toy or, of course, something from the library of collecting stalwart, Star Wars.

Of course, dealers are a canny bunch so many of them have sniffed out the changing vibes. When we first visited the Doncaster Toy Fair, under the guidance of previous organiser Mike Bishop, it felt like more of a traditional fair, but now with Barry Potter at the helm, it’s clear to see the change up and down the aisles. Whereas before there might be one stall selling the odd piece of LEGO, now there are 10 dedicated only to the little plastic bricks. Likewise, before you may have found Jim Stevenson (someone who we sorely miss from the collecting scene) selling TV and film memorabilia but now there are numerous traders with TV and film collectables of the classic and modern varieties. What’s more, Barry hasn’t sacrificed the traditional crowd to cater to these newcomers and has actually opened up the foyer to bring the total stall count to 350 for Doncaster.

“We are seeing younger visitors coming to the shows and it’s a real delight,” explained Barry. “Most of them come to see the new toys but when they actually get here, you can see they’re really interested in the older collectables too. They’re definitely interested in things like Star Wars or LEGO – and we’re seeing more dealers specialising in those now – but lots of them still love Hornby railways or things like that. It makes me happy to think there’s potentially a new group of collectors out there ready to pick up the torch.”

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Anyway, onto some of the items we spotted while taking a tour round. Another thing we’ve mentioned in the Gazette is that sometimes the best deals are done before the punters even get in the doors and that was the case at Doncaster. One trader had snapped up a fantastic Tri-ang Toys shop sign and had almost instantly sold it to one of his contacts for a healthy profit. The sign was still proudly displayed on this stall – perhaps reminding people that they need to be quick, if they want to grab the good stuff.

Talking of the good stuff, one of our more impressive finds was a Wembley James Bond 007 Spin Saw, as seen in that fateful scene in Octopussy when Bond almost loses his head during a scrap with one of Octopussy’s minions. English toymaker Wembley Playcraft took inspiration for the unusual weapon and produced its own spin saw but don’t worry Mr. Health & Safety, the packaging assured parents it was “totally safe”. Still sealed in its original packaging, the trader had this one pegged at £195… he ‘saw’ you coming.

Another real gem was a fantastic 1960s AstroRay Flashlight Target Gun. There’s just something so incredibly evocative about space age toys from this period – from the shape of the red plastic gun with its ‘futuristic’ design, to the picture of the kid on the front, dressed in his favourite astronaut outfit. Anyway, before we get misty eyed, the plastic gun could be used to shoot rubber-tipped safety darts at a tinplate target board showing different planets. A superb set that didn’t have an astronomical price, as it was priced up for £175.

While we’re on the subject of space, Gerry Anderson is most definitely a name we would associate with the ‘space age’, thanks to shows like Fireball XL-5, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and… Space Precinct? Perhaps the latter may have dropped off your radar because, unlike his iconic earlier work, this was a mix of live actors and people in costumes, rather than puppets. As a result, it has never really had the impact of Anderson’s predecessors and some have probably forgotten about it completely. Despite its lack of success, it was made in the early 1990s so a toyline was, of course, inevitable and at Doncaster we noticed a Vivid Imaginations Space Precinct Police Cruiser. £55 was the asking price but we can’t decide if that was a good price or not, seeing as they sell for between £10 and £150 on eBay. Still, thanks to its age, it most definitely belongs in the bracket of ‘collectable of the future’… which nicely brings us full circle, doesn’t it?