What they really, really want for Christmas - and won't get

Spice Girl dolls will be on sale this Christmas. But only between 75,000 and 100,000 will make it to the shops - and then not until the end of the second week in December.

Kim Sengupta fears this will be a recipe for `toy rage'.

Expectations from children would be sky high, and the pressure on their fathers and mothers intense, and some, say the toy shops, will see failing to get a Spice Girl doll as a failure in their parenting duties.

Waiting in a queue for hours just to see the last little Posh or Scary disappear in front of your eyes could well be enough to send normally mild-mannered people into "toy rage".

The problem has grown in tandem with the dramatic hype-driven rise in the popularity of designer toys. Ninja Turtles, Buzz Lightyears, Teletubbies and Spice Girls will, say observers, be the sociological signposts in the study of this phenomenon.

The British Association of Toy Retailers has held meetings with shop- owners on how to cope with aggressive customers, and they are to print leaflets advising shops. The Entertainer Group, the fastest growing toy chain in the country, is planning a courses on the matter next year.

But one person's frustration is another's commercial opportunity. The shortage of the prized toys had led to a black market. "Toy touts" and their agents are queuing up to get the toys and then sell at a profit. The Spice Dolls are due to be retailed at just under pounds 20 each, but could be resold for four times that amount.

The Dolls were originally due to be released next year. But as the highly managed profile of the band went up and up, the decision was taken to rush through production for the festive season. The most the manufacturers, Toy Options Ltd, can hope to have in the stores is between 75,000 to 100,000 - a fraction of the expected demand.

One of the main reasons for the lack of supply, says the company, has been more than two months of negotiations with the band and its management about the product. As well as their various advisers, all the members of the group were keen to check every detail.

"The girls know this will be a sort of public heritage of them, and they want to get this absolutely right," said one executive. A prototype, which had Posh Spice smiling, had to be scrapped because of course, her speciality is pouting.

The company intends to ration out the limited supply of the dolls, made in China, equitably among the outlets. This means most small neighbourhood stores would get just a few, or none at all. Even larger chains, like the Entertainer Group will get around 25 at their shops - which will go in about 20 minutes.

Gerry Masters, secretary of the BATR said: " The supply of spice Girls is certainly nothing like enough. You can easily add a zero to that number and still sell the lot. We do fear there will be a toy rage, some customers seems to think there is some kind of conspiracy between the manufacturers and the shops to keep publicity and prices up. This of course is not the case".

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