Gameboy? You need a Spacehoppa!

Nostalgia-afflicted parents are fuelling a Seventies toy revival. Dominic Lutyens goes in search of retro fun

Strange things are afoot in Toyland. The wasp-waisted queen bee Barbie and piranha-proof Action Man are selling better than computer games. And with another Star Wars trilogy looming, action figures of Luke Skywalker & Co will soon be joining their ranks.

According to Nicola Bell of the market research company NPD, "sales of video games were down 34 per cent in 1994 compared with 1993, while those of traditional toys went up 4 per cent in the same period. Video game sales peaked in 1993, but the novelty has begun to wear off."

"Parental endorsement", to use marketing jargon, is largely to blame. First-time thirtysomething parents abound, and many toy manufacturers put down the appeal of retro toys from the Sixties and the Seventies to parents' "recall", nostalgia in other words. As Jon Salisbury, editor of UK Toy News, says: "Adults love nothing better than to give children the toys they once had."

While toy collectors have long been tracking down original figures from Sixties and Seventies television series with train-spotter passion, the retro toy craze hit the mainstream in earnest in 1992 following TV reruns of the Sixties series Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90. Demand for a model of the International Rescue base, Tracey Island, was such that shoppers camped outside toy stores to beat early-morning stampedes. Gerry Anderson mania is here to stay. I recently spotted a model of Lady Penelope's classy pink Rolls, FAB 1, in uncharacteristically chipped condition, going for pounds 65 at the Camden Passage antiques market in north London - a bargain. Last year an original Captain Scarlet puppet went for pounds 12,075at a Phillips auction.

People have never had a problem with accepting Sixties nostalgia, thanks to Sixties aficionados. But Seventies retro? Five years ago hardly anyone took it seriously. Now, as if to make up for lost time, the floodgates have opened. Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) has been resurrected, while Kenny Everett shows really are in the best possible taste.

And we are not only talking about television. "The fashion for Seventies toys," says Mr Salisbury, referring to healthy sales of Spirograph, Spacehoppas, Creepy Crawlies, pogo-sticks and the like, "is just another facet of the Seventies revival we've already seen in fashion and music."

This year, Hot Wheels, the car toy with funky, orange loop-the-loop tracks (Argos, pounds 11.95), has been given a huge marketing push. Meanwhile, Stretch Armstrong, the Neanderthal figure that stretches to four times his length (Argos, pounds 8.25), is back from the grave - as are the more esoteric Liddle Kiddles, minuscule dolls with glossy, Troll-like tresses. Wrist-crunching Clackers - balls on strings that swung dangerously - are unlikely to be revived. But the much safer tiddlywinks-style game Pogs (originally a 1972 playground craze) is Hamleys' best-selling toy at pounds 3.49.

Does it matter that Nineties kids won't share their parents' nostalgia? More to the point, might they not take one look at a dated-looking doll, Joe 90, say, and think: this toy ain't us? Mr Salisbury thinks not: "Power Rangers and Thunderbirds figures have a lot in common. Both are cartoon- like, colour-coded and adventure-based."

In any case, most toys that make a comeback, such as Meccano and Action Man, are updated. When Meccano replaced its tightening key with a power tool, purists were horrified, but kids less hung up on the work ethic still hanker after the classic toy. Action Man - reborn in 1993 and Britain's fastest-selling toy - now comes complete with laptop computer. Ironically, second time around, the pint-sized he-man some dads forbade their sons (Boys playing with male "dolls"? Never heard of anything so queer!) boasts pneumatic pecs just like the gay doll Billy Boy. And news is that Gladiator Trojan is to play Action Man in a TV tie-in.

Barbie always keeps abreast of fashion. But last year, as Nostalgic Barbie, she sported a 1959 party frock to celebrate her 35th birthday - the first in a series of Barbie-through-the-ages dolls. This year's model, Solo in the Spotlight (Hamley's, pounds 34.99), is kitted out in a 1961 Monroesque cocktail dress. Judging by this Thursday's sale of Sixties and Seventies Barbie outfits at Christie's, she has her adult and kiddie fans.

That other diehard, Airfix, purveyor of Spitfires to several generations, is also still a hit with kids and grown-ups. A recent ad campaign featured female models, model planes and the slogan: "Super models of the year!" It's all very Seventies "Fly me, I'm Linda" stuff.

As with retro toys so with sweets. Introduced in 1948, Spangles melted into oblivion in the mid-Eighties but now are back. So too are the Cadbury's bars Old Jamaica and Grand Seville and the chocolate frog Freddo. Mars, the maker of Spangles, says it chose radio to air this year's zingy relaunch jingle "Spangles - sucked back in time" (aimed at adults over 25) because it seemed an appropriately retro medium.

For tuck-shop memories, there's always the inadvertent retro of sweet wrappers: Crunchie's telltale loveheart dotting the "i", Chewits' bubble- writing logo. Better still, this summer's fashion for Juicy Fruit T-shirts, Love Heart jewellery and liquescent Refresher-packet pastels. As for where to flaunt them, you could do worse than head for the London club Ker-Plunk.


Introduced Old Price Relaunched/Price Now

Meccano 1901 1971: from pounds 1.25 1987: from pounds 4.99

Action Man 1966 1976: from pounds 7 1993: from pounds 9

Liddle Kiddies 1966 1968: from pounds 1 1995: from pounds 3.99

Stretch Armstrong 1974 untraceable 1993: from pounds 8

Airfix 1939 1971: from 18p 1995: from pounds 2.99 (not relaunched)

Spangles 1948 1971: 21/2p 1995: from 30p

Freddo 1973 1973: 2p 1994: from 10p

Grand Seville 1971 1971:10p 1987: from 69p

Old Jamaica 1971 1971:10p 1987: from 69p

The Action Man Enthusiasts' Club is run by Chris Stevenson, White Lodge Stables, Main Street, Whissendine, Leicestershre LE15 7ES.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

1st Line Support Technician / Application Support

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...

Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices