Thursday 26 December 2019

23 Favourite Childhood Toys

Obscure Objects Of Desire

23 Favourite Childhood Toys
I’ve been thinking about my childhood a little recently, in light of some of the events of this year and... I had a lot of toys. Ranging from Spirograph to Lone Ranger action figures  (actually, a lot of varied Western action figures and also guns and holsters) to a multi-part assembling snipers rifle to ViewMaster to Etch-A-Sketch. I even had a Scalextric track and a Hornby train set with a replica of the Flying Scotsman (which had a thing which rubbed against the wheels as they turned to make it sound like a steam train too). My favourite toys, though, are briefly celebrated below and, if you’re of a certain age, they might hit you with a sudden flash of nostalgia or, you know, if you’re not, you might even find this listing mildly educational from a ‘what the heck, did they really play with these things’ point of view. Here they are then, in reverse order but, frankly, these were all brilliant, are 23 of my favourite toys of all time.

23. Haunted House (Denys Fisher)
This was a board game with a haunted house constructed out of cardboard walls and a plastic chimney into which, on occasion, you would be allowed to drop the dreaded 'Whammy Ball' down and then it would randomly drop onto one of the traps in one of the four rooms and take out one of the playing pieces if you happened to be perched on the wrong place at the wrong time... that player would have to start again. Much fun until the ball started to drop in exactly the same room each time and you’d have to fiddle with the chimney stack to get it back into a more random mode.

22. Starsky and Hutch Revolver (Lone Star)
I loved toy guns and this one, from the popular TV show Starsky and Hutch, had its own shoulder holster. Like almost all the other toy guns listed in this blog entry, it would also take caps if you happened to have any. Caps were literally small blobs of gunpowder on a strip of paper which you could tear off and load into your toy guns so you got a really loud bang when you pulled the trigger (and the smell of gunpowder in your nose). I suspect they don’t sell caps to kids in toy shops these days but, back in the 70s and 80s, they were everywhere.

21. Maskatron (Denys Fisher)
This was part of The Six Million Dollar Man range. I had the original Steve Austin figure with the engine he could lift and I also had the surprisingly entertaining Oscar Goldman figure with his exploding briefcase. Maskatron, however, was the best in the line with a robotic body including limbs and a head that could be spring ejected (or locked) at the touch of a button. Also, his sinister robot face could be covered with one of three masks so he could disguise himself while about his business... the business of villainy and death!

20. Astro Wars (Grandstand)
Astro Wars was a truly sophisticated, for its time, ‘hand held’ electronic game in the style of the arcade hit Galaxians... so basically Space Invaders but with aliens that would also swoop down to you and try to take you out. Each round consisted of four stages with the notorious last ‘Docking Stage’, where you would have to try and land the top of your ship back onto the moving base unit, being the hardest... until you played it a lot and got your eye in. Hours of fun on this thing which was brightly coloured and made some great sounds and musical stings. I still have mine in the loft somewhere but you can also download a simulation of this classic game on your phone right now.

19. Lego
Everyone likes Lego and I was no exception. There were no mini-figures as such in those days but you really could build anything your imagination could come up with (to an extent). It was more flexible in that respect than Meccano so I much preferred this particular construction toy. I even won a competition at Selfridges in 1978 (I think that was the year) where kids had to build something and it would be left for judges to look at the end of each day. I built an X-Wing Fighter with fully working wings (way before the days where Lego would allow themselves to be cross pollinated with other brands like Star Wars... ah, how times have changed) and my prize was... a Lego Police Station set and tea at the Grovesnor Hotel.

18. Action Man, especially Atomic Man (Palitoy)
Palitoy’s Action Man was the ultimate military action figure toy for kids (even more so than Mego’s Action Jackson range or Palitoy's Little Big Man). My original one was from when I was born, I think. A couple of years after the range started. I remember this was before ‘eagle eyes’ and ‘flexible grip’ features were introduced and the figure had hard moulded hands and a string on the back which you could pull out to different lengths to get the figure to speak a series of commands such as "Action Man Patrol, Fall In!" Later on the range of figures expanded (not just the costumes) and there were also vehicles (I had the tank and the one man helicopter). There was even a space alien figure with a bear hug action called The Intruder (I guess he came intruder window!) and a superhero figure called Bullet Man who looked... well trust me, you never wanted to take his bullet mask off because he looked truly worried about things. My favourite one was their ‘bionic man’ rip off Atomic Man... which was way cooler than the official figure from a rival company. This guy had an eye with which you could signal coded messages in morse code, bionic limbs, a heart pacemaker which you could click (presumably to charge his strength?) and a brilliant arm which you could rotate with a little cog in his wrist. He had a big pair of helicopter blades which he would grip, hold above his head and then when you rotated his cog he became a human auto-gyro. Much fun was had!

17. Armada - The Great Galleon Battle Game (Condor)
This was both a board game and had workable firearms as one of its features. A big plastic 3D moulded board of the sea with loads of little islands and a cannon mounted on each end so you could fire little plastic cannonballs at each other as their ships approached your end of the board. A great game which I never saw anybody else with.

16. Moonraker Space Gun (Lone Star)
This thing was big and, unlike the toy Golden Gun, from The Man With The Golden Gun, actually looked a lot like the pistols used in 007’s space movie that year. Of course, instead of firing laser blasts it just took gunpowder caps but that’s okay, you could make your own sound effects.

15. Mego Action Figures
I loved these and Mego had many lines (and even more overseas). I had a couple of the Star Trek figures, some of the superheroes (both Marvel and DC), Tarzan, a knight and most of the Planet Of The Apes figures. For some reason, I didn’t have any of the Space 1999 figures... can’t think why. I remember my Tarzan figure came into hospital with me when I had to have an operation at the age of 5 or 6 years old. And I also remember coming home one day to find that my puppy had chewed up Superman and his hand had dropped off. It would fall off quite a bit after that and this is when I discovered that the last son of Krypton actually wasn’t indestructible after all. I also remember the traumatising experience one day, when I peeled back the top of the female ape Zira from the Planet Of The Apes range and discovered she had boobies. Felt pens were never much good at drawing nipples onto hard plastic, alas.

14. Batmobile and Aston Martin DB5 from Corgi
The licensed Corgi toys were great. The Batmobile, based on the one in the Adam West TV show Batman, had the rockets that fired out of the tubes, a big flick knife that came out of the front and little figures of Batman and Robin which you could remove. Alas, my version was not the original issue so, unlike my older family relation, the hard moulded plastic flame that came out of the exhaust port at the back didn’t retract and come out again as you wheeled it along the floor like the very first ones did. The Aston Martin DB5 I had was the grey/silver one and looked closer to the one in Goldfinger and Thunderball than the original gold coloured issue. In addition to the ‘bullet proof’ pop up back screen, retractable machine guns and the brilliant ejector seat top which all the versions had, this one also had plastic tire slashers and revolving number plates, which weren’t on the very first ones.

13. Rotadraw (Letraset)
I liked Spirograph but I much preferred rotadraw and you could buy different sets of disks. Basically, you had a backing piece of cardboard, a sheet of paper and one of several discs ( I remember the Space set and the Rupert The Bear set of discs were my favourites). The discs would be hard plastic with lots of cut out wiggly lines which were numbered on the front and numbers marked as a ruler style measure around the circumference. You’d pin the disc to the paper and card via. central hole and then line up the number one at the top of the disc, draw through the allocated number on the disc, then rotate it until point two was at the top and then do the same again with slot number two and so one, giving somewhere between 20 and 30 pen strokes per disc. You’d then remove the pin and disc and you’d be left with a great, stylised drawing of... say... an astronaut, which you could then colour. Great fun.

12. The Professionals Automatic Pistol (Lone Star)
I used to like toy guns and the automatic pistol which tied in to The Professionals TV show was extra cool because it had its own fake bullet cartridge in the handle which you could eject and, if you so desired, put gunpowder caps in. I used to love ejecting the cartridge when my imaginary rounds of bullets were spent.

11. MAC - Mobile Action Command (Matchbox)
Matchbox made a line of small action figures representing a world rescue service (like the Thunderbirds, I guess) and each came with their own vehicle. As the years went by, the figures became more muscular and slightly taller as if they’d suddenly been taking steroids but they still all fit the same vehicles. I also had the amazing MAC Mountain Rescue Centre which was a mountain one side with little hand holds they could climb it and pop out sections so vehicles such as the speedboat and the helicopter etc could come out through the front. Turn it around and it was a cutaway, with all their little base rooms and vehicle hangers. A great toy.

10. Green Avenger Water Pistol (Barton)
This was an unusual water pistol because the ‘trigger’ was a plunger which pressed into the palm of your hand while you put your fingers through... and I never realised this at the time... what was essentially a knuckle-duster. I think that before I had one, it was marketed as some kind of tie-in toy for The Green Hornet TV show.

9. Spudmatic (Lone Star)
This was a brilliant, four-in-one weapon made of metal. It had a normal firing mechanism so you could, you know, put gunpowder caps in it. You could also fire little corks out of it. However, it was also a potato gun and worked really well. Finally, if you clipped on the front plastic nozzle attachment you could fill it with water and it would become a water pistol. I believe the spudmatic still exists in some countries out in the wild to this day and... deservedly so. It was a fantastic toy.

8. Airfix Model Soldiers and Play Sets
My grandad was in the Eighth Army during the Second World War. Airfix did two sizes of soldiers but the ones I really loved were the teeny tiny 1:72 scale soldiers. My first set was the Eighth Army and I also had the two El Alamein playsets and a fantastic Pontoon Bridge Assault Set. Absolutely loved these but my favourite sets were the Robin Hood set and the Astronauts set, the latter of which is now back in shops again and, honestly... I am tempted.

7. Joe 90 Car, Thunderbird 2, Eagle Transporter
and UFO Interceptor from Dinky

Dinky made even better licensed vehicles than Corgi.. which is saying something because the Corgi ones were amazing. I loved the Joe 90 car best, with its flashing light and retractable wings. Thunderbird 2 was always fun... despite its flimsy, retractable legs which would attempt to hold up the die-cast metal body so the pod could drop down, holding a little plastic Thunderbird 4 in its belly. The Eagle Transporter I had from Space 1999 was the passenger transporter as opposed to the cargo version... the compartment could be ejected so you could... I dunno... kill all its imaginary passengers I guess. The UFO Interceptor needed a lot of strength to pull back and load the firing mechanism so you could shot out the front loading torpedo (which was truly powerful and unbelievably dangerous). It was also easy to mistake for something else too.... as I found it when I shot it into my nan’s make up kit by mistake and she accidentally picked it up and tried to use it as her lipstick.

6. Fighting Furies (Matchbox)
Peg-Leg Pete and Captain Hook... these were the original Fighting Furies. Pirate action figures that had buttons to activate their sword arms so you they could fight each other. Put a knife in their hands, pull the little plastic ring off their finger, pull the arm back and release and they could also throw their daggers at each other. Peg Leg Pete had a little stopper in his plastic wooden leg which you could remove and pull out his secret buried treasure map from. Great toys and they probably still arrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

5. Crossfire (Ideal)
This had a big board arena (bigger even than Battling Tops) and a puck made of a disc around a metal ball bearing. At each end of this vast board was a mounted gun above a goal which fired gazillions of ball bearings as fast as you could pull the trigger and reload. The idea was to shoot the ballbearings at the puck as fast as you could without jamming the gun mechanism and get it into your opponents goal. It was blisteringly good fun and, as an added bonus, you could quickly unmount the guns, load them up with ball bearings and you suddenly had a lethal weapon in your hands. Great stuff.

4. Star Wars Figures (Palitoy)
Star Wars figures were great. I had all the figures from various waves of the first two films and some of the third film, Return Of The Jedi. I also had an X-Wing fighter, a Tauntaun (with cute false legs hanging down the sides so you could pop your figure in through a trapdoor in its back) and the original Millennium Falcon... and still do have all these, up in the loft. The Falcon is still in its original box even, because it could still fit in after all the extra bits had been assembled. I even have the original Bobba Fett figure which you sent off for as one of the first ever pre-order figures (‘This won’t be available in shops!’) but that one just came in a little white cardboard box with no real authentication to prove what it is nowadays... otherwise I’m pretty sure if I had some kind of certificate of authenticity I could sell that figure for a mini fortune now.

3. Action Transfers (Letraset)
I used to love these. Empty cardboard backgrounds with little figures  you could rub down onto them to create action scenes. I used to love the Spanish Main set with its battling ships and rub down cannonballs. You could also get a lot of licensed properties such as The New Avengers, The Sweeny, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999 and The Black Hole (to name just a few). They were also popular movie themed gifts in breakfast cereals from time to time. It’s a shame that these are no longer made.

2. Cyborg, Muton and Android (Denys Fisher)
Cyborg was a transparent, naked man with interchangeable robot attachments. Muton was his purple, transparent, naked enemy with evil monster outfits and Android was his lethal, robotic, naked henchman. Great toys which were constantly being played with... although not when I was naked. I also had the UFO looking starship with its internal, mini interceptor... pull the rocket exhaust back and the transparent, perspex dome would hinge open at speed with a satisfying woosh sound. If you did this with any of the figures laying on the dome, they also went flying. A truly odd and amazing set of toys which were even more expanded in their home country of, I think, Japan.

1. Micronauts (Mego)
The Micronauts were fantastic mini figures with coloured, transparent bodies and silver heads. Their arch enemy Baron Karza was huge in comparison and had magnetic limbs and a magnetic head. Like his good-guy counterpart (the Force Commander, which I never had), you could pull Karza’s horse’s head off and both of Karza’s legs off, combine the two and you’d have a ready made centaur figure (and, yes, this was an intentional feature of the toys). I never had Biotron but I did have the huge, robotic Mobile Command Unit which could be pulled apart and re-transfigured into a number of different vehicles. My favourite piece though... and the one thing I might still have stashed away somewhere... was the Phaoroid Micronaut with its Cosmic Egyptian theme and its little Sarcophagus for sleeping in.

So there you go. What great avenues of escape I had back in those days. I hope you had as much fun reading about this stuff as I did writing about it and, what the heck, it’s Christmas time. We should all be enjoying our toys.

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