The 80s gave us some great toys… and a few to forget


I had to smile when I read that sales of LEGO were up by 25 per cent in the first six months of this year.
Astonishingly those little plastic blocks and their assorted figures currently account for seven per cent of the global toy market.
Which just goes to show that, in spite of fads, fashions, gadgets and gizmos, not much can compete with the simple pleasure of building with your imagination and then starting again from scratch.
As a child I loved LEGO. In fact, LEGO is one of my claims to fame. No, really, it is.
I’ll have you know that my space station was judged third in the Christmas LEGO building competition at the Lewis’s department store in Hanley.
The year was 1983. I was 11 at the time and it was my single greatest achievement – surpassing even the moment when Glyn Shelley and I won the wheelbarrow race at Holden Lane First and Middle School’s sports day.
Never mind the phrase ‘Like a kid in a sweet shop’, the toy department at Lewis’s was quite literally my favourite place in the world.
It was worth a trip to Hanley and the associated trudge around clothing stores for the treat of a Tiko’s pasty with gravy and a gander at what we couldn’t afford in the Aladdin’s cave that was Lewis’s toy department.
Apart from anything else that’s where Santa’s grotto was – the magical appeal of which never faded, for me.
Being a lad in the Eighties it was all toy soldiers, Action Man and the like for yours truly. Not forgetting, LEGO, of course.
Back then, the range of LEGO was far more modest. None of this movie tie-in mullarky that you get these days.
I was the proud owner of two space sets (still in mum’s wardrobe) while my brother Matthew was given the very dull airport and far more exciting castle set.
LEGO, which takes its name from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’ which means ‘play well’, is one of those toys which I associate with my childhood in the Eighties.
But you may be surprised to discover that it’s not just LEGO that is still filling Christmas stockings and Santa sacks a quarter of a century later.
Many iconic Eighties toys are still in production and selling by the bucketload as parents like me try to inflict their childhood passions on their children.
For example, last year one of those toys I always wanted but never got made a comeback.
Who could forget BigTrak – the six-wheeled tank which looked like something from Star Wars?
It had headlamps and a keypad into which you could programme instructions like ‘move forward five lengths’, ‘turn 30 degrees right’ or ‘fire phaser’ and such like. Genius.
In 1984 I was just the right age to be hooked by Transformers – AKA robots in disguise.
You know, the big red truck Optimus Prime and his mechanical buddies versus the evil (and much cooler) Megatron – leader of the Decepticons.
I distinctly remember spending a big chunk of my Sentinel paper round money on the Transformers comic and loving the cartoon series which had spawned it.
Despite the best efforts of critics, today’s youngsters (and their dads) are still lapping up Transformers action nearly 30 years later thanks to three eminently-forgettable movies.
Slightly less complicated and far more infuriating is the toy which screams Eighties louder than shoulder pads, big hair and ripped jeans – the Rubik’s Cube.
A staggering 350 million cubes have been sold since the 3-D mechanical puzzle debuted in 1980.
I knew plenty of people who owned them but not one who could actually solve the puzzle.
Having said that I owned the cheapo version which was in the shape of a ball and I could fashion something which vaguely resembled a cobra snake. If you squinted, anyway.
Still going (I won’t say strong) with its third animated series planned for next year is the absurdly-named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I was never a fan of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello but millions of children were – which explains the comics, cartoons, toys, video games and a turkey of a movie.
Oh, and the phrase ‘Cowabunga’. Sorry for the flashback.
It isn’t just boys’ toys that have stood the test of time, either.
The Eighties has to take responsibility for inflicting The Care Bears, My Little Pony and the Cabbage Patch Kids on an unsuspecting public.
Three decades later, because I’ve got two little girls, I’m still dodging the first two on children’s TV channels while doing my best to pretend the latter never existed.
I love the Eighties but some things are simply indefensible.

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