On Santa’s list through the 1960s
IT’S here again – and by now, frazzled parents are hoping for a stress-free Christmas! But, will this year’s top toys be the ones the kids remember forever?
This year’s must-haves include: ‘Poopsie Unicorn Slime Surprise’ – the fabled creature pooping out glittery slime! Or, there’s the more prosaic, ‘Don’t Step In It’ game – promising ‘blind-folded poop dodging fun’. At just under a whopping £150, perennial favourite, Lego, has a ‘Creative Toolbox’ to keep dads and kids away from the washing up! While those normally averse to board games might enjoy the ‘Monopoly Cheaters Edition’ – where cheating, or ‘what you can get away with’ is obligatory!
Just like today, back in the 1950s and ’60s, our parents lost sleep over the must-have Christmas toys of the day. But, we still enjoyed traditional gifts like books and games – and most toys were simpler, then. There were no PCS, mobile phones or internet – and many toys didn’t even need batteries, let alone wifi. Scalextric or Meccano was about as hi-tech as it got.
But we were entering a new age. More families had TVS and kids craved toys influenced by pop stars, or film and TV characters – like Sooty and Sweep puppets, models of James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, or Thunderbirds models. Toys were still very gendered, dolls and dolls houses for girls, cap guns and Airfix models for boys.
Luckily for my sister and I, our parents embraced the swinging sixties vibe – hence our top present for 1964 was a stylish blue Dansette portable record player. Up until then we played our singles on the big Decca Radiogram in the lounge. As a toddler, my kid sister had twiddled the knobs on that so much the radio was permanently stuck on the Home Service. Now, we could retreat to our bedroom and play our favourite singles as much as we liked.
Perhaps it was portable record players and transistor radios that really triggered the modern phenomenon of kids living in their bedrooms.
Yet, back in the ’60s, we were all still family focused – eating together, watching TV and films together, playing cards and favourite board games. So, what did we hope to find in our Christmas stockings?
In 1960, Lego was seen for the first time in Britain, and the rest is history. The versatile blocks became a massive hit, outselling predicted favourites, that year. Lynne and I had a set – to build a miniature suburban house, complete with garden. A far cry from Lego’s ingenious designs, today. But it came with cute little flowers you could slot into flower beds.
The year before, we had a real dolls house, lovingly made by Dad, using bits and pieces he had in the shed. Mom made the curtains and carpets from scraps. They even made basic furniture and a pair of Mr and Mrs Peg Dolls – all done when we were safely tucked up in bed.
By 1961 Scalextric had really taken off, coming third in the best sellers list, just behind Noddy. Our friend next door invited us round – thankfully not to see Noddy – but his gleaming racing cars, which were rather wasted on us girls! We couldn’t wait to get back home to put on a magic show with our conjuring set – with the family as captive guinea pigs!
The same year American Barbie acquired a boyfriend, Ken – standing half an inch taller than his gal. Manufacturers Mattel fretted over whether or not to make him ‘anatomically correct’ – in the end putting him into a pair of unremovable ‘perma-pants’! Noddy probably had some, too.
In 1962, Airfix was one of the top toys as boys and Dads went model mad. Mousetrap also stormed on the scene, with the catchphrase ‘It’s fun to build this comical wonder, but woe to the mouse who gets caught under.’ Judging by the way he licked his lips, our old cat Billy thought he could do better!
In 1963 Barbie had a British rival – Sindy – ‘the doll you love to dress’. In contrast to the more buxom American blonde, Sindy was the fresh faced girl next door – and far trendier! Her outfits were straight from Carnaby Street – and before long she had her own mop-top, Beatlesque boyfriend, Paul. I can’t say whether or not Paul wore perma-pants as my own Sindy was more interested in her pony and riding stables. Later, my sister acquired Sindy’s little sister, Patch, both of them swanning around in Sindy’s fab Mini.
The same year, boys got Matchbox cars, with opening doors – and Diplomacy was top board game.
It was 1964 that saw the momentous arrival of our own Dansette portable record player, totally eclipsing other presents. Beatlemania continued apace, with fans coveting the new Fab Four Dolls. We stuck to collecting the series of ‘autographed’ picture cards given away with bubble gum. During a recent clear out at home, I found one of these featuring Paul Mccartney. If only the autograph had been real I’d be in the Seychelles by now!
In 1965 a model became the first ever Toy of the Year – James Bond’s famous Aston Martin DB5. I found one in my Christmas stocking, which was nice – but I think Dad got it as a substitute for the real thing! We were also given the amazing new Spirograph – who knew tracing intricate designs using coloured pens and serrated plastic shapes could be so absorbing?
1966 was the year of Tiny Tears – the first ‘drink and wet’ doll – and Action Man – the first doll in the UK for boys. These weren’t on our Christmas list, but Twister was, which we loved. That Christmas was a bumper year for us kids as we came down to find two, gleaming Raleigh bicycles taking up most of the living room. There were still far fewer cars on the roads then and we were free to cycle for miles.
1967 was a good year, with the fabulous Etch-a-sketch and Kerplunk. Classic naval warfare game, Battleships, was also popular.
In 1968, Sindy won Toy of the Year again (winning again in 1970). Younger kids loved Fisher Price’s Snoopy – ‘a dog on wheels’. He also barked. And fans of the ‘caped crusader’ went made for Batman’s Utility Belt – which came with handcuffs and super gun.
The last Christmas of the ’60s was all about Hot Wheels – its track system of ramps, loops and curves enabling death defying stunts – as long as you had a really smooth, flat surface to lay it on – and didn’t have a pet cat or dog! In the 1990s, we got a set for our son, but our Jack Russell thought it was a strange version of fetch!
Looking back, the Christmas toys I recall weren’t necessarily the most expensive or latest trend – but those that gave lasting fun, and the happiest memories.
As for me this year, if Santa happens to call at Greggs, I’d love one of their sausage roll phone cases! Merry Christmas!
Doodle dialing fun with the Etch A Sketch
Advert for the Dansette Diplomat
Sindy was the UK’S answer to the all-american Barbie
Lego arrived in the sixties, and has been a firm favourite to this day