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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

B is for Bluebird Toys - An Overview

So - Bluebird Toys (UK) Ltd Huh? They came, they made, they went! And contributed more to the small scale world in their short time than much bigger, longer lived companies...or did they really?

The 1997 Argos catalogue page annoncing the launch/availability of Havok.

Bluebird were formed in 1980 by Torquil Norman who was an old Model Toys man ( Berwick-Timpo owned), and one has to assume he had ideas about how to do things differently in a new decade with new mores. He started well with a 'Big Yellow Teapot' pre-school toy and other 'activity' toys for tots, and the company got off to a flying start.

Zero Hour catalogue pages from 1990 & 1992

However, all was not rosy in the garden and the company seems to have grown too fast, cash flow tightened and within ten years it was struggling. The answer was Polly Pocket, which quickly became very successful and refilled the companies coffers, she was then joined by Mighty Max, who sadly only lasted about 4 years. However Polly wasn't necessarily a Bluebird invention, she was licenced from a company called Origin Products Limited, possibly a wholly owned subsidiary?. Google gives about three 'Origins', one making trouser-presses in the Far East, a group of engineers in London and a dead homepage, so no clarity there!

Manta Force and Viper Squad pages from the 1990 catalogue.

A look at the acknowledgements 'small print' on the back of a late catalogue shows that - in fact - all the products being issued by Bluebird have dues to another source. The Manta Force, for instance was in the Tomy stable.

The fact that Hasbro have bought Mattel (a long time partner and eventual purchaser of Bluebird) while Takara and Tomy have married doesn't help with the research, this was all happening at the start of the 'modern' period of toy production where Tomy will re-use Starriors as RATS and use the cockpits on some Zoids while issuing separate licences to Hasbro and Kenner! It's all about quick profit, quick turnaround, making moulds pay and shovelling the residue to clearance houses for repackaging in Spain, Mexico or the souks of Istanbul.

If you go to the London Toy Fair regularly you'll know that companies come and go so fast, seem to grow and then disappear, or turn out to be no more than a brand or trade mark with a separate stand, it's hard to know who's what, and they're not that interested in the customer either. "The Customers Always Right" has become the customer will buy what we present to them or what we present to the kids until they pester the customer to see things our way!

So we find that Kenner/Parker, Fredrick Warne, BBC Enterprises, Tomy, DC Comics, Disney, Lewis Galoob and others were all getting a slice of the Bluebird pie.

Clockwise from top right; Polly pocket Catalogue page; 40mm Prince Charmings (?); and a Batman card.

In the end - which came at the end of 1997 - Mattel won a bidding war and bought their old trading partner and moved production to the US, swallowing Galoob as well...just before Hasbro swallowed the lot!

Mr Norman? Well, 'Sir' Norman went off to spend a lot of money on a theatre, which might help the more cynical among us (Me Sir! Me!) understand who was behind Origin Products? Note; Mattel are still crediting an Origin on the PP website...

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