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Bluebird A La Cart Kitchen
None-too-subtle reinforcement of gender stereotypes for the Daily Mail readers of the future
Ah, another rough diamond from the school of "training the housewives of tomorrow". Many is the generation of little girls that was saddled with plastic ironing boards and carpet sweepers from an early age (all the better to brain your little brother with), and many the house that was cluttered with all the paraphernalia of pretend cleaning without any real cleaning actually getting done. This particular primary-coloured party-pooper was a complete kitchen set with oven, hob, sink and fridge on a handy moveable cart - hence it's "a la cart", geddit? However, it's ingrained itself on the nation's collective memory primarily through the advert, in which a small girl got up unfeasibly early in order to potter around for a few hours, knocking bits of plastic together in a brisk but pointless way, and eventually arriving in the parental bedroom to feed her dad cold baked beans and arctic roll in bed from a plastic saucepan ("Wake up daddy, breakfast's ready"). He at least had the unshaven grace to pretend to look happy - we can only imagine how a genuine parent might react. However, whilst this sorry display surely says something rather serious about the division of household labour in the late 20th century, we're not quite sure what (although we'd love to know the whereabouts of "mummy"). Besides, if that child is so keen on cleaning, surely "daddy" can find a chimney to shove her up? NB - We know the product illustrated left is not yer original Bluebird kitchen, but for some reason we couldn't track down a photgraph of the blessed thing. Has all record of this estimable gender reinforcement plaything been wiped from the Earth? If you have evidence, we'd love to hear from you.
Terrahawks Action Zeroid
Spherical metallic Windsor Davies
Surely any right-thinking merchandiser scanning through the enviable Windsor Davies CV would realise that the prime plum to squeeze here was tied up in Never The Twain and churn out those Oliver Smallbridge action-figures double-quick? Alas not, and doubtlessly beguiled by the brand awareness that comes with anything Gerry Anderson, Bandai threw their lot in with that World of Sport-warm-up, Terrahawks. Never a real favourite here at TV Cream (bar for that Zeroid vs Deadly Cubes noughts and crosses tournament across the end credits), this puppet series did at least usefully contribute the word "Zelda" as a pejorative term to describe any particularly wizened old ladies. The toy line, however, was another matter altogether. With Bandai putting together what was basically a low rent version of the hugely successful Hasbro Star Wars action figure collection, there was some top stuff on offer here. Aside from fairly representative models of Tiger Ninestein, Kate Kestrel et al, there were also bags of great hardware knocking about - none moreso than the Action Zeroid. This was a Bandai "deluxe" toy, featuring a 5.25-inch high model of the 'Hot Mum star-voiced Sergeant Major Zero sat atop of his pedestal poised for action. Winding the thing around cranked up a spring below which would then ping the spherical Zero off the pedestal and onto the floor where it would wobble around for a bit. "The Zeroids are fighting and reconnaissance robots," read the underside of the box. Alternatively they were also relatively expensive playthings for cats once they'd been pinged into action. For many, however, the Action Zeroid represented the bridge too far in their Terrahawk collecting as mum and dad refused to shell-out for that "bauble" that would both complete the set and buy you some level of kudos amongst those of your peers whose Star Wars collection inevitably started and ended with a one-armed C3PO.
Stretch Armstrong
Elastic lump in blue underpants
Stretch Armstrong. Make him stretch. Watch him return to his original size. And that's it. On the one hand, it's hard to understand the appeal of this giant of the Cream era toy market but that's only if that hand belongs to a kid who never had one. He might have looked like He-Mans soppy cousin but he had the amazing power of s-t-r-e-t-c-h to make up for it (necessitating the use of dashes between the letters of the word stretch in an attempt to convey exactly how amazing). You could pin his legs to the floor with your feet, then try and stretch his arms above your head. Get a friend round and the two of you could try and make Stretch stretch from the front to the back of your house. If you did this outside, and tried stretching him round the corner of a brick wall, you also found out the other brilliant secret of Stretch - he was filled with some weird carcinogenic ooze. Of course, if you did split Stretch in this way, your fun would be short-lived as the ooze was the source of his power. Once it oozed away, your bendy-limbed wrestler-alike turned into a larger, human-faced version of a used johnny. But whilst he was still s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g and being pulled more often than Britt Ekland in a Carnaby Street cocktail lounge, Stretch Armstrong had no equal. Unless you count Stretch Monster, his lurid green but crap rival (crap due to his snotlike appearance when at full pull) or Stretch X-Ray, the incredible see-through version, which resembled a used (but coloured) johnny even without splitting him.
CGL Galaxy Invaders 1000
Space Invaders clone
The tradition began with Grandstands Invaders From Space (wed like to think that the name was the result of a poorly-administered Japanese translation), a bulky white unit that sported a huge "target" screen decoration, only a tiny part of which actually constituted the display. Possibly the best remembered variation, Astro Wars, had the added excitement of a "docking" bonus round. Featuring a painful joystick operated by the thumb and early use of the magnified display, the units score only went up to 9999 - like so many of these things - but did change to "good" when the bonus round was completed successfully. The daddy was, however, CGLs Galaxy Invaders, which we recall had a horrible flimsy fire button and the same blister-inducing thin joystick as Astro Wars, but sported a revolutionary phallic shape which meant that it was the only product that could fit easily into a cream-brown Army and Navy satchel (with "The Jam" etched in biro on the flap). Consequently, this was one of the first electronic games of any kind to get confiscated at school. Grandstand's Firefox F-7 stood out amongst its peers for two reasons. Firstly, it featured a crazy 3-D screen and secondly, it appeared to be an attempt at cashing in on the latest (and crappiest ever) Clint Eastwood film. It didn't in any way capture the thrills of piloting a gadget-filled supersonic jet fighter, nor did it make you feel like a granite-jawed hero, but it looked bloody great. The many web sites devoted to table-top and hand-held console games tell us that neither Grandstand nor CGL were, as you might expect, off-shoots of huge Japanese corporations but in fact trading names for two very Creamy-sounding UK importers - the Adam Leisure Group PLC (based in Harrogate) and Dennis Baylin Trading Ltd (based in London) respectively. Another illusion shattered.
Shrinky Dinks
Make-and-bake marvel
Shrinky Dinks sat at the end of the craft hobby scale marked "high concept". We can only imagine the phone call that took place when these puppies were pitched over the phone. (Alternatively, we could just bastardise the famous Bob Newhart "Walter Raleigh" monologue. Here goes.) "Yeah, Bob, so you get the kids to colour-in a line drawing that's been pre-printed on what looks like an overhead projector transparency, right? Okay, then what? You get them to cut it out. Fine. So it's like a window sticker, right, Bob? No? Okay, so what do the kids do then? Oh, they put it in the oven! Right, of course they do. And the whole thing shrinks! Bob, why haven't we thought of this before?" Like most high concept ideas, though, it scored well with kids. Turning floppy plastic shapes into solid, hardened, frosted keyrings was industrial alchemy of the finest order (and although the adverts might have led you to believe that you could use them as badges, fridge magnets and for all manner of ingenious purposes, at the end of the day, we all knew they were good for keyrings and nothing more). The choice of designs was much the same as the every other kids' art range, with superheroes for the boys and animals for the girls, plus a TV tie-in at every available opportunity. However, it wasn't too long before the younger generation figured out that the plastic used to make crisp packets was pretty much the same plastic employed for ver Dinks, and took to baking them too. Thus, bicycle-lock, suitcase and school-locker keys the land over were soon enhanced with mini bags of Outer Spacers, Smiths Tubes and Football Crazy dangling off them. We're not sure, but we think it was around this time that TV Cream's schoolmates took to sticking their conkers in the oven in the hope that they would go hard and be more useful for playground combat. (Please insert your own double entendre here.) And we still don't understand what a "dink" is, in any case. (Please insert another one here.)
Electronic Detective
Computerised Cluedo, with Atari-style console full of suspect data"
Were lumping this early 80s effort from Ideal in with the lesser-known (and earlier) Parker Bros' Stop Thief, even though theyre not even superficially the same game, on the basis that nobody ever asked Father Christmas for two electronic crime-solving games in one lifetime. Starting with the premise that a single police computer could hold all the details of over 130,000 committed murders (presumably with the institutionalised racism programmed out), each player takes it in turns to ask questions of the Electronic Detective. Roughly translated, that means keying in stuff like 1,3,A,1,0,1,6 (I was on the West Side, Uptown, at an Art Show with two suspects called Jeremy and Sadie), and the computer responds in typical-for-the-time LED display fashion. One of twenty suspects (cards) would be selected for you to interrogate by the computer. Make an incorrect accusation based on your deductions (kept on data sheets) and you yourself would be shot (with accompanying electronic "peeow" noise). Which seems a little harsh. A demotion back to uniform we couldve accepted. Stop Thief, on the other hand, loses Cream points on account of veering slightly too much towards the frighteningly realistic in its presentation. Like a sinister version of TVs Puzzle Trail, it was a case of finding the correct square on a board that contained the thief. The thief is out there! Can you stop him? Use the handheld scanner to collect clues! Buy tips from the squealing slags on the streets! Break down doors and burst into tenement flats! Nail the little toe-rag! Kick him whilst hes down! Kick him! Go on, kick him in the head, the bastard!
Average board game saved by genius contraption
Probably the original "board game plus", MB Games' epochal Mousetrap led the charge to leaven the drab, 2D world of the dice 'n' counters board game with a plasticky, vertical dimension - the well-loved trap of the title. The inspiration for the device came - we're pretty sure - from the old Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoons, in particular a recurring motif where a character (usually Sylvester) rigs up a ridiculously complicated mousetrap consisting of ropes, pulleys, safes, fridges, irons, electric fans blowing model boats, roller skates with pool cues tied to them, upended tubs of water, etc. etc. all setting one another off in a long line. Which made great viewing, but Jones and co. were always careful to leave out the doubtless long, tedious hours spent hammering, sawing and constructing the trap in the first place. MB attempted, bravely, to incorporate this into the game itself, with pieces (the diver, the barrel, the drawbridge, the boot, the marble, et al) going up one by one as mousey counters moved round the board. As with the likes of Ker-Plunk and Buckaroo! this turned the actual game itself into one protracted, suspense-filled build up to the "money shot" when the trap went off, which it did with a perhaps surprising, if not massive, success-to-failure rate, at least until one of the crucial bits went missing down the sofa. In which case (due to the shameful absence of a Spare Drawbridge Hotline) you were sunk. Our in-no-way-scientific reckoning puts the ratio of completed games of Mousetrap to occasions when you just built the thing and set it off, counters be damned, at about 1:8 (see also Cascade).
Tomy Cue Ball
Electronic mini-snooker
Pre-Game and Watch, the cutting edge of electronic game playing (never "gaming", please) was led by "Only From" Tomy, who loved to package an array of red LEDs with a little joystick and two buttons in various guises. The variety of things you could get away with representing with little flashing lights was, of course, extremely limited, and only two categories really made the grade in these formative years - space battles (light on dark - perfect) and sport (balls - round, see?). Among the latter were a variety of golf games that were never much cop, and a big old yellow thing called The Big Game, a Keegan-endorsed football two-player from that bastion of rehashing other people's consoles under different names, Grandstand. But Tomy's Cue Ball, riding high on the first wave of snooker mania, really cleaned up. Now you too could rub metaphorical shoulders with Ray Reardon and Terry Griffiths, albeit in a jerky, red-on-black version of their domain, where the delicate "tok" of cue on ball was replaced by a guttural electronic grunt, and the laws of physics were, to say the least, variable. The main disappointment with the game was the ratio of the game unit footprint (promisingly massive) to size of actual playing area (dismayingly minute). It was like buying a snooker table and finding it encased in its own life-size beige plastic Crucible Theatre. The days when computer games would actually live up to the haywire anticipatory imagination of a child were still a long way in the future, but there was a sort of satisfying, simple sturdiness to these games, especially the way they still carried on sort of half-working when you'd got really bored and pried them apart with a screwdriver. Try doing that with a DVD-ROM!
Mister Frosty
Plastic snowman-shaped flavoured escapades
Out of any of the toys and games in our top 100, this was probably the one that was most consistently denied us in our youth. Paradoxically, Mr Frosty is neither a toy nor a game. Its just a thing we wanted, though it was very much situated somewhere within the last forty-or-so pages of the catalogues, so it counts. The parental argument went something like this: itll join that collection of stuff you only use once and then leave in the back of the cupboard forever. This, of course, was completely correct (as anyone whos ever owned a Soda Stream will be able to corroborate). But, whilst acknowledging that one indisputable truth, dont forget that we're talking about the time when a frozen drink normally came in a clear plastic tube that gave your fingers frostbite. A Slush Puppy, or anything approaching it in those days, was a luxury. So to own something that promised to recreate the "crushed ice soft drink" experience in your own kitchen seemed like a crazed futuristic fantasy. And so it was. For what was Mr Frosty if not merely a plastic machine for breaking ice cubes into bits? Essentially, the best he could hope to deliver from the flue at the base of his polar innards was something akin to a Lilliputian "sno-cone" (the American non-slushy sort). Percy Penguin, claimed the blurb on the box, was there to provide a fruity flavour ("Thank you, Percy!") - for which, read "squirt some cordial over the top". However, these were not drawbacks by any stretch of the imagination. The potential parties you already had planned in your head cast you as barkeep in your road's coolest crushed ice soft drinks nightclub. And Mr Frosty was the resident in the chill-out room.
A radio controlled car
Adrenalin on rubber wheels
Let it be known that the law of remote controlled toys of any sort must adhere to these commandments. First, any remote control that connects to its parent vehicle by means of a wire is an abomination and shall never bring sunshine to a child's face. Second, the greatness of the remote control shall be proportional to its size. Lo, small "forward or reverse turn only" remotes that operate the base of those inflatable robot butlers shall be deemed rubbish after a few hours of buffeting into the skirting boards. (Additionally, the flimsy metal wire aerial on both vehicle and control shall be used to flog friends and siblings across the back of the knees.) Only double thumb-joystick controllers like animatronics blokes use on Making Of documentaries are acceptable. Third, massive radio controlled boats with battery powered outboard motors shall remain at the funfair where they belong (or in sitcoms, as painstakingly built by grown-up electronics enthusiasts who should know better and smashed up during their maiden voyage by a real boat at the episode's climax). Fourth, the toy shall not be used to replicate in miniature the mundane tasks of normal cars, such as loading up with shopping at ASDA or the school run. Thus shall ramps be built out of plywood and driven over at high speed. And shall jumps over kerbs, wheelies, skids and rolls be attempted at every opportunity. Fifth, where replicas of rally and racing cars are good in the eyes of the Christmas Day owner, they are as nought when compared to an accurate scale version of the General Lee, KITT (with proper sweeping scanner light in the bonnet, mind) or the Ford Gran Torino that Starsky and Hutch used to drive (but not Herbie, thanks). Sixth, a helicopter would be the dog's bollocks, actually. So mote it be.