About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 60-year-old Aspergic gardening 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”. Likewise, 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. I will 'bite the hand that feeds', to remind it why it feeds.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

P is for Playplax Plastic Play Pieces by Patrick Rylands

This is one of those nostalgia hits for people of a certain age, as if you didn't have them yourselves, you knew someone who did! In our case we never had these, but various other friends did, and they tended to be kicking around, but didn't get that much play, as we were older, as friends, and these were leftovers from earlier childhood.

I can't remember the exact date of this Sunday-supplement cutting, or the title, but they were a batch from mostly 1969-74'ish. The toy had won it's designer a Duke of Edinburgh's Prize for Elegant Design in 1970, among a tranche of other toys he, the Patrick Rylands of the post's title, had designed for Trendon Toys. He would go on to work with Ambi Toys in Denmark, not in the Tags yet, but I think there is something in the files for the A-Z entries!
He was - and I believe remains - the youngest ever recipient of the award for which the citation, as published in the June edition of the Design Journal that year, reads;
"The Duke of Edinburgh's Prize for Elegant Design 1970 has been awarded to Patrick Rylands for a range of toys designed for Trendon Ltd. The judges were impressed by Mr Rylands's creative approach to the design of toys and by his sustained contribution to toy design in the development of this range. They particularly commended the abstract qualities of the toys, which encourage children to use their imagination and introduce them to ideas of structure, form, colour and balance.

The best known of Patrick Rylands's toys is Playplax and this illustrates all the features which the selection panel praised. Playplax consists of simple tubes and flat squares of transparent polystyrene slotted so that they can be constructed in a multitude of ways. Red, yellow, blue, green ond clear pieces are included in each set so that children learn about colour combinations while exploring the wide variety of constructions which can be achieved."
He had originally designed them in ceramics, which he read at University (Hull and the Royal Collage of Arts), before creating these for Trendon in ABS/Acrylic, which was quickly replaced with polystyrene. There's plenty more on the internet, under Patrick Rylands or PlayPlax!

My own memories of them are mixed, I did have a few plays, the friend's samples tended to have lots of broken and cracked pieces, it was, in fact, far too easy to break them, either by forcing, or just sliding them together or apart at slight angles, and equally - they cracked easily.
As you can see from this shot, they were also quite wobbly constructions, that needed a flat surface, and steady hands, if one was to produce anything lasting and/or memorable! And actually, they had a pretty limited spacial-geometry, the tubes being far better for constructing substantial things, than the plates, which tended to spread quickly in space, without producing much of practical application!

Colours varied over the years, or between sets, and the one thing you can say for them is that they were colourfully eye-catching, especially when new and shiny! One US licensor (or pirate?), added triangles at some point which you see on evilBay from time to time, but what would have really given the line 'legs' would have been square or triangular tubes, like the round ones, or . . . and why did nobody ever do it, small joining clips, which would have allowed for long, flat runs, or side-by-side mounting?
The stuff is apparently still made, by Portabello Games, in the original colours and the original factory, still polystyrene (still brittle!) but no further innovation since the 'flower' pieces were added, or, are they knock-offs?

Instruction sheets from the first two sets, I don't know when the flowers' hit, but it must have been quite late, as you don't often see them in feeBay lots? And they may be a piracy thing, but I do seem to remember some of our mates having them in the larger samples?

Where they come into their own however, is in futuristic settings, think: Logan's Run, Babarella, or some of the early alien city's in Dr. Who or Star Trek! Not to mention half the props in Blake's Seven! Here I've managed a garage for space car number five! But it is huge, and you still have a very low ceiling!
Slightly more success with a rocket tower, but the inspection platforms are breaking all the rules of Playplax, being half-set at an angle and not locked in! But not too shabby for what was basically an infant's hand/eye coordination, 'early learner' toy.
There were the inevitable knock-offs, here made for a US 'jobber' (The Toy house), in the British Crown Colony (should we call it the long-term lease, now?) of Hong Kong. Pluses were more colours or - at least - different shades, minus were that they sometimes had different dimensions which either made them looser, or more likely to jam and split/break the not so cheap UK production ones!

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