Saturday, 23 February 2013

A 1950s boy - collecting.

Here my father - the children's television producer Dan Maddicott - talks about collecting as a child in the 1950s.
A fifties’ boy – collecting 

I was born  in 1947 and grew up in the 1950s. We made our own amusements then. Creating collections of things was one of these for me and most of my friends. We’re not talking here about necessarily things of any value – one of my  collections when I was nine  was a series of cards of football teams (I had no interest in the actual game) that came free with a brand of bubble gum that came in a flat sheet the size of the card - it was the sheer pleasure of building a collection that appealed.

My first and longest lasting collecting passion was for Dinky Toys. Living in Cheltenham, our house had a small conservatory and my Mum and Dad let me use the trestle table there to build a layout. They gave me an old bit of pink asbestos (!) salvaged from a re-opened fireplace as a kind of “play-mat” and on this I painted roads and rivers, built little bridges and toy trees and did everything a seven year old was capable of to create an imaginary world. But such a world needed vehicles!
Luckily for me, this was the heyday of Dinky Toys. Such was their popularity that there was even a magazine which announced new models and gave tips on building layouts. The Meccano Magazine was delivered every month to our house (Meccano and Dinky Toys were both owned by the same company.) On the back outer cover of the magazine, the month’s (usually) two new model vehicles were illustrated, and if I had saved enough money, my Mum would take me down to the toy shop in the High Street to buy one of them. It is difficult to imagine now having an eagerly awaited regular release schedule for new toys. But going to the toy shop in the High Street to see if my saved-for model had come in was a recurring highlight of my life at that time. No nasty bubble wrapping in those days - the large vehicles came wrapped in tissue paper in proper blue and white striped cardboard boxes.


The smaller vehicles, like cars and delivery vans, came in their own little cardboard boxes, usually yellow as far as I can remember.

Of course, Dinky also made petrol pumps (for my petrol station), pillar boxes (I have still got one of those) and racing cars. By the time I grew out of them I had a huge collection including a complete set of the racing cars.  

 Much later in life, in 1978, I met someone who, unlike me, had managed to save all his Dinky Toys from his mother’s efforts to de-clutter, and we became lifelong friends – a friendship sealed when, the first time I visited his flat I saw a glass case containing the complete set of racing cars, with, underneath the case, a pile of Meccano Magazines!  He even has some still in their boxes – a basic requirement for the real, usually adult, collector of Dinky Toys these days. They are most valuable if they have never been played with. But what’s the point of that!

Of course, as an avid reader of Meccano magazine I soon also developed an obsession for Meccano but I kept this separate. I built up my set year by year. Starting off I think with something like Set 3. The great thing about Meccano was that you could buy intermediate sets and build gradually. So Set 3A, would turn Set 3 into Set 4. It was great for my parents at Christmas time.  I think I got to about Set 7, when my Auntie Allie (not a real relation) decided to get rid of her eldest son Tony’s Meccano and gave it all to me. With this addition I calculated that I had enough to make all the models from the Set 9 instruction book. (Set 10 was the ultimate – sold in a huge multi-drawered wooden box like a plan chest. I never got that). Soon I was producing cranes, buses, planes and even a three foot long ship.

 In between times, I still found time to build a huge collection of Airfix model planes (1s 9d from Woolworths in the High Street) and one giant Revell Sikorsky helicopter, which took me weeks to make and  managed to fall off its stand and smash on the day I completed it. 

 I suppose the obsession with Dinky Toys and construction sets flourished because in those days, life was so slow and there seemed to be so much time. We didn’t have a television set and we didn’t have a lot of money to go out anywhere so we were left to our own devices at home. 

Like any boy now or then, crazes came and went, and most of them were related to collecting. The craze for collecting coach numbers in the coach station opposite my primary school was relatively short lived (though it was with great enthusiasm that I completed the complete fleet, more or less, of the green Southdown coaches), but as one craze petered out, another started. Having a school in the centre of town and being allowed to go home alone, generated some odd passions. The alley from the school to the bus stop housed a small printers and me and my friends vied with each other to see who could collect the largest pile of paper off cuts! We never used them for anything, but somehow we liked having them. Then there were the car brochures – cars were still in sufficiently small numbers to retain an air of exclusivity, and we tried over the months to visit all the garages in town to collect every brochure for every make. It says a lot for the tolerance of the motor traders at that time that we never got sent packing. But then we were very polite and, in our school uniforms, probably quite cute, or at least quaint! 

Collecting things that were free or cheap was an enjoyable and harmless hobby. One of my longest lasting collecting phases was that for Brooke Bond PG Tips cards. The same size as the old cigarette cards, these were stored by Brooke Bond in the between the paper outer and tissue paper inner of a packet of tea (loose leaf of course, no tea bags in those days.) Every Thursday my mum would have a grocery delivery from Mr Tilley the grocer in Bath Road, and when I got home from school, my first priority was to carefully open any new packets of tea and find the card. The cards were free, and you could send away for a free album to stick them in. I have still got my collection of Out Into Space, Wild Flowers and British Birds. Luckily most of my friends at school also drank PG Tips and so there was a thriving trade in swaps.

As I got older, my passion for collecting anything but things of real intrinsic interest faded. Nowadays I only really collect records and CDs and then only of people I really like. But a friend of mine, Phil Swern, a music buff a year younger than me, music question setter and Radio Two producer continues  an obsessive collecting habit which started when he was very young. He still collects every record that has made it to No. 1 in the British charts since the charts began in 1952. I doubt he listens to many of them very often. But I remember him telling me a few years back the thrill of finding the one disc he lacked at the time the 1953 hit Poppa Piccolino by Diana Decker. He found it in a car boot sale. I guess he would have been prepared to pay the earth. He got it for 50p. That’s the thrill of being a real collector.

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