Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Toys From Yesteryear

In December of last year, I read an article in the Live supplement that comes with The Mail On Sunday newspaper. The piece looked at the most popular toys from the past. I had intended to write about it but got caught up writing other things and decided to wait until this year.

So, here we are.

The paper listed the best selling toys of the years between 1965 and 2011 and thought I would offer a few thoughts on some of the earlier items on the list and then do a rundown of its latter part.

The first toy listed is the Aston Martin DB5 toy made by Corgi.

I'm not that much of a James Bond buff, but I know this toy is a spin-off from one of the Bond films. If I'm not mistaken, I believe this had an ejector seat.

I owned a smaller-scaled version of this toy when I was a child (it came with little red plastic men that ejected out, if I recall).

The DB5 toy is still made today. For instance, this radio controlled version had been produced to coincide with the release of Skyfall.

The following year, Action Man took the prize for best toy of 1965.

Military action figures are still around all these years later but they are a lot more advanced than they were back in the '60s. For instance, there's a commando that comes with 'electronic combat sound effects'.

English children could have celebrated the World Cup win by drawing a football with a Spirograph - the toy of 1966.

I remember I owned a Spirograph in the 1980s, so they were still somewhat popular twenty years later. I've just had a look at Amazon to see if they're still around in 2013 and I'm quite surprised to see that they are still around.

And then some.

Children of today have the choice of many versions of Spirograph. For instance, there are original, 3D and a studio sets.

A feminine-focused toy, Sindy, won in both 1968 and 1970. Sandwiched in between was Hot Wheels cars.

1971 saw the  Katie Kopycat writing doll win.

I had to Google what this was. Apparently, it was a doll that sat at her own desk and copied you as you wrote. Interesting.

Plasticraft modelling kits were the in-thing in '72. A board game based on the quiz show - Mastermind - was popular the following year.

And then came Lego.

A Lego Family Set was the most popular toy of 1974 whilst Lego's Basic brand won a year later.

As you're probably aware, Lego is still around today. 2014 will be another interesting year for the company as a Lego Movie will be released.

Peter Powell Kites, which first became popular after Powell began selling multi-line kites from Paignton seafront - took the honours in 1976.

Playmobil Playpeople were the children's choice of 1977. These toys are still around today and are available in a plethora of sets. I used to own a few when I was a child.

In my opinion, there was a peculiar winner in 1978. On the list is a die-cast Combine Harvester.

1979 saw Lego come back with a win. Its Space kit won out. The idea to produce something to do with space was perfect timing as it coincided with the release of Star Wars two years earlier. The Empire Strikes Back was also set to be released within the next year.. Youngsters were going to be interested in space because Hollywood thought so.

Erno Rubik, a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture released a 3D puzzle in 1977. The then known, Hungarian Magic Cube became a popular toy in his native land and eventually took on the world when it was rebranded as the Rubik's Cube for an international launch in 1980.

The Rubik's Cube not only won the best toy of 1980, it did so the following year proving just how big the idea was. The puzzle has been baffling generation-upon-generation and is still going strong today

The aforementioned Star Wars phenomenon took centre stage in 1982 and 1983 when figurines of the characters from the trilogy of movies became the most sought after presents for children. Even though there was a period where production of Star Wars toys was deemed unprofitable, and ultimately sold off to another toy firm, toys are still being made today and will likely continue even more now that Disney has purchased the movie rights and are expected to create more films.

The cartoon, He-Man & the Masters of the Universe, was the first ever television programme created from the back of a toy. Before then, toy makers used vertical integration the other way (ie, there was James Bond films before the toy Aston Martin, Star Wars before the Darth Vader figurine and so on).

The cartoon producers, were certainly on to something as He-Man and his friends were the kid's choice of 1984.

Another cartoon series, Transformers, introduced children to cars that turned into robots. The leader of the goodies (the Autobots) Optimus Prime took the award for both 1985 and 1986. Proving, if there needed to be any evidence needed, that cartoons were great advertisement for their product.

The Transformers franchise is still doing good today thanks to a number of Hollywood movies. Toys have also been released to coincide with these films.

A hattrick of wins for Sylvanian Families came in '87,'88 and 1989.

These toys made to look like animals were first made by the Japanese gaming company, Epoch and, from what I can recall, were for girls rather than boys.

Boys toys fought back in 1990 with the rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Although, the BBC - in its infinite wisdom - decided 'Ninja' wasn't politically correct (or something) and rebranded the cartoon, and ultimately, all the products sold in the UK -Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

Turtle toys are still popular in the 21st Century. They're also Ninjas again.

Nintendo won its first toy of the year award in 1991 with its Gameboy handheld console.

The black-and-white screened machine included the game Tetris which became one of the most iconic games of that era. The success of the Gameboy opened the door for other Nintendo handheld products like the Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance and all the Nintendo DS lines.

Being a professional wrestling fan, I was glad to see that WWF Wrestling action figures were the items on most Christmas lists in 1992.

And there's a good reason why.

1992 was the year that the World Wrestling Federation's popularity had began to droop in the US so the company ended up touring more in Europe. The most notable show of 1992 was SummerSlam from Wembley Stadium which had a main event of Bret 'Hitman' Hart going up against Britain's own -Davey Boy Smith.

WWF, or rather WWE, toys are still going strong and have gone through two toy licenses since '92.

The 1960s puppet show, Thunderbirds, was re-aired on British television in the early 1990s. The success of this series brought with it the award for best toy of 1993.

A model of the base -Tracy Island - caused mass hysteria in the UK when stock sold out in shops. It apparently resulted in fights between customers as well as a number of Tracy Islands being sold on the black market.

Tracy Island playsets are still being produced as of 2013. I doubt people are still fighting for them, though.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television programme was a hit with children in the mid-1990s. As a result, the Power Rangers toys became the big Christmas seller of 1994.

The Power Rangers brand shows no sign of letting up. Television series' based on the characters are still being produced as are Power Ranger action figures.

The rest of the list, up to last year, looks like this:

1995 - POGS
1996 - Barbie
1997 - Teletubbies
1998 - Furby
1999 - Furby Babies
2000 - Teksta
2001 - Bionicles
2002 - Beyblades
2003 - Beyblades
2004 - Robosapian
2005 - Tamogotchi Connection
2006 - Dr Who Cyberman Mask
2007 - In the Night Garden Blanket Time Iggle Piggle
2008 - Ben 10 Action Figure
2009 - Go Go Hamsters
2010 - Jet Pack Buzz Lightyear
2011 - LeapPad Explorer
2012 - Furby

It will be interesting to see which will win this year. I have a feeling Furby will win for a second straight year, which will mean its fourth victory overall.

We'll find out in early 2014.

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