Playmobil: Forty years young

Playmobil might not have the box-office appeal of its plastic peer Lego, but after four decades, it's still a big hit with children – as well as their parents.

Along with Bagpuss, the Early Learning Centre and Rubik's Cube, Playmobil, the toy company that created those stocky plastic people with the hat-like plastic hair, turns 40 this year. That's right, 40. I'm afraid to say that if you played with its figures when they first launched, you are getting on a bit.

Playmobil is still making the same miniature scenes as it always has, with pirate ships, cowboys, soldiers and secret agents, so if you have children, or young relatives, you can share your old toys with them (or play with new ones and show them the ropes when it comes to providing sound effects for Wild West battles).

Hans Beck was the designer employed by the German toymaker Horst Brandstätter, who came up with the idea in 1967 for a play system where all the pieces would be interchangeable and all to scale (1:24), with a 7 ½cm figure as its focus.

Three ranges were launched at the Nuremburg toy fair the following year: construction workers, Native Americans and knights, and they are still made today. Now, though, there are 18 different "play worlds" but if you still have any pieces left from the set you had as achild, you'll find they'll still fit exactly with the modern-day sets. A 40-year-old knight can wield a modern sword and a 40-year-old cow can still graze on today's plastic Playmobil grass.

Jax Blunt, 43, is one of the elite members of the Playmobil fan club, known in the Playmobil world as a "superfan". She tests Playmobil's latest toys and also retains fond memories of playing with them as a child. It's no surprise, then, that her daughter Romy Marchant, four, is hooked. She enjoys the fact that all the Playmobil scenarios are grounded in reality. "It looks like real things," she says, "and I can make my toys move and jump around when I am playing."

Her current favourite is the Easter set that comes with a miniature set of eggs, a bunny and a tiny paint palette with little pots of paint the size of a child's fingertip. There are none of the big-budget Star Wars or Harry Potter products that rival Lego might go in for, nor, it has to be said, has it the same success at the box office. Remember The Secret of Pirate Island? No, I thought the straight-to-DVD film might have passed you by. Instead of Hollywood hijinks, Playmobil's scenes are totally timeless rather than tie-in based.

"Playmobil is based on everyday themes with things that exist in the everyday world. This helps to teach imaginative play skills" says Jamie Dickinson, brand and marketing manager at Playmobil.

Blunt agrees. "I've always liked them. There's something about how the arms come down from the body and they are wide on the waist, and the heads aren't huge. They're properly in proportion. As kids, we used to go to a particular farm with my grandparents, there was a place in Derbyshire they used to take us. It had a big awning so we used to play under the awning with the safari [set] when it was wet and when it was sunny, we used to help the farmers with the milking."

Becky Gower, 26, is another superfan who blogs about her children, Dillon, three, and Archie, 14 months. She thinks that the 40-year-old toys are a hit with her young children because, aside from being virtually unbreakable, kids still love to take part in interactive play.

"I like that there are no buttons and no noise and it's the same thing it was 20 years ago," says Gower. "All my memories are of being at the end of the garden with blankets over our heads and playing with the toys. We'd crash planes in the 'jungle', which was the long grass. My mum has still got the Playmobil plane from back in the Eighties, and when my boys go to stay with her, they love playing with it."

For little toys, they've managed to stick around to hit a big birthday.

Playmobil is hosting a year of special events for its 40th anniversary. For more information, go to playmobil.co.uk

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick