Design dinosaurs: 14: The Spudmatic

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PARENTS protested, teachers protested, but its appeal was too great. This was not an electric potato-peeler (if you thought that, then you had a deprived childhood), but a toy pistol for which the ammo was pieces of potato. The natural and obvious successor to the Biro-barrel pea-shooter, the four-in-one Spudmatic combined all the essential technologies of classroom warfare - cap gun, water pistol, pellet shooter and spud gun - and in the Seventies no nine-year-old male's hardware department was complete without one.

Properly loaded (by digging the barrel into a tuber), and fired at point-blank range, the stinging red marks which the compressed-air trigger mechanism could inflict will be remembered by anyone who wore short trousers at the time. If a paper percussion cap (available for toy guns since the 1870s) was added, it would also emit a bang and a puff of smoke.

Versatility of function in the Spudmatic, which was manufactured by the Lone Star toy company at its Hatfield factory in the early Seventies, combined with versatility of styling. Crazes and obsolescence were side-stepped by a cleverly universal design. This melded the clean lines of the military Luger, the sliding trigger action of a police Browning or a Mafiosa Beretta and the pocket size of the secret service Walther PPK (handy for avoiding confiscation). It also came in a range of colours. Whether the bearer was escaping from Colditz or landing on the Planet Zog, the side-arm was right.

Like so many traditional toys, the die- cast metal Spudmatic (which even has to be oiled, like a real gun) looks antique beside the computer game and the transient tat of the blockbuster-film merchandising industry. Following successive liquidations of Lone Star, the Spudmatic's moulds have now found their way to China, but it still survives here - perhaps something to do with the recent repeats of TV series such as The Professionals, The New Avengers and Thunderbirds, or to an unbelievably low price tag of around pounds 3.