Britains is a world-famous toy manufacturer known through the first half of the twentieth century for their extensive range of often stiffly-posed lead soldiers. Following the Second World War, plastic became a viable alternative material to work with. In order to take advantage of this development, Britains merged with the up-and-coming plastic soldier manufacturer Herald in 1955. Several ranges of plastic soldiers were subsequently produced.
It was in 1971 that the innovative, colourful and animated ‘Deetail’ range of 1:32 figures and accessories were introduced. Deetail figures certainly were, as the name suggests, nicely detailed, but their distinctive characteristics were that they were pre-painted and well-animated. Uniquely, the plastic figure was also mounted on a metal base, thus giving the figure stability and heft.
Now, the thing about toys is that they are meant to be played with. It follows therefore that a good toy is likely to be one that encourages play, or as I shall put it, has high ‘play value’.
What sort of play? The youthful, imaginative, physical type. Whether that means the more sedate pastimes of thoughtfully arranging dioramas, or rougher forays into imagined battle amongst the garden shrubbery, the important thing is that it is children we are talking about. After all, adults are perfectly content to collect and admire toys, but don’t tend to play with them. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but honestly, when was the last time you pushed a model tank along the floor with a “brrrrum”? Don’t answer that! I’m also not considering here the use of toys in wargaming, because although this is a type of play, the model is being used not as a toy, but as a game token.
Construction toys have always been popular. Some of the great toy brands have been construction toys. Think Meccano, Bayko, Lego.
Building structures from component parts can be an absorbing activity. When those parts are modular and can be combined in different ways to make different structures, then you have the freedom to exercise your imagination and build what you will. Furthermore, if the parts are reusable, then the activity can be repeated at will. If you don’t like what you’ve built or it has served its purpose, then break it down and reassemble it into a new structure!
Toy ranges often include items that work best in combination with others. Sometimes this combination is essential – without one item, a second has no purpose. For example, what use is a tank transporter without a tank to transport? At other times, items have a more generic role and can work well with many other models. A bridge-layer, for example, lays a bridge that a whole convoy can cross over, and a recovery tractor may pull a variety of wayward vehicles out of ditches or bogs, and tow them to a repair depot.
These combinations provide great play scenarios, and manufacturers like them as they encourage sales and provide natural subjects for sets. Dinky made many. Let’s take a look at one of the most well-known of these, the 25-pounder gun, limber and tractor.
Everyone has memories of toys from their childhood, but my most vivid recollection is of a toy that I never possessed. I can’t have been much older than a toddler when, visiting an older child’s house, I was allowed to view their latest possession. Set out on the floor of their living room stretched a magnificent sea scene of ships and port facilities. I remember being totally amazed by how realistic and detailed at all looked. Obviously, these were toys for sophisticated older kids! I wanted them, but by the time I might have been old enough, the range was gone.
Many decades later, recalling the memory, I did a little online delving and discovered that what I had seen was a collection of Tri-ang Minic ships.
Dinky Toys is a legendary brand in the history of British toys. It was created in the mid-1930s by Meccano Ltd as a name for their newly-introduced range of dinky (charmingly small) diecast model vehicles. Meccano, founded at the turn of the century by Frank Hornby, was already a highly successful toy manufacturer, with well-established ranges of construction toys (Meccano) and trains (Hornby Trains). Dinky was immediately successful, and by 1938 the range boasted of almost 300 items including vehicles, aircraft and ships.
After a hiatus during the Second World War, production picked up again and perhaps the 1950s was the golden decade for Dinky. Competition gradually grew, however. In 1964 the range was taken over by Tri-ang Ltd, and in 1971 with the demise of Tri-ang, Dinky passed to Airfix. A decade of frantic innovation to update the Dinky range came to an end in 1979, when manufacturing in the UK ceased.