Shropshire Star

From games consoles to outdoor fun - a tour of favourite Christmas toys through the years

I am the malevolent, cursing ghost of Christmas past, a festive fossil from an age when the seasonal bags of assorted nuts didn’t carry health warnings.

Slinky from Toy Story

I am the curmudgeonly, cursing ghost of Christmas past, so old I recall excitingly dragging a satsuma from the heel of my Christmas stocking.

Yes, I was underwhelmed and filled with false expectation because mum insisted on wrapping the fruit.

She did the same with the grapes, which must have taken an inordinate amount of time. But, then, she began in early November.

I am the grey haired ghost of Christmas past, made garrulous by Grouse whisky and fragrant by Faberge’s Brut aftershave. I jigged giddily to Slade’s festive classic first time around. I walked wide-eyed through Beatties’ toy department.

Therefore, the list of this year’s top Christmas gifts for children, compiled by The Toy Retailers Association, means nothing to me. It is a strange language from a sci-fi world. It is a baffling newspeak of names and numbers.

MINTiD Dog-E Interactive Robot Dog is expected to fly off the shelves. Squishmallows are very big. The Christmas night will be spent playing Twister Air, the packaging informing purchasers: “Match your wrist and ankle bands to the spots on screen.”

I vaguely remember a distant version of Twister, a game that involved closely knit groups of people contorting their bodies.

1966 - Co-inventors of the game "Twister" Charles Foley, left, and Neil Rabens demonstrate the game

I think students used it as a stumbling pre-curser to intimacy. I now indulge in an OAP version of Twister that requires the same balance, dexterity and physical exertion. I tie my shoelaces while standing.

I am the scowling, wrinkled ghost of Christmas past, a mean spirit from the time when children were allowed and encouraged to sit on Santa’s lap.

My Santa had nicotine-stained fingers and the store manager told him: “Big queue this morning, Dave.”

In 1969 – a year when there was only one Tardis sized computer that simply spat out Premium Bond numbers – I received the most hi-tec, what would be described today as “jaw dropping”, gift available. Those who possessed Slinky – eight feet of shiny, coiled spring – were presented with a portal to a distant future world.

It walked, unaided, down stairs. It was a “one trick pony”, a miracle that wore thin after mere minutes, as hinted by the irritating TV jingle:

“What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs and makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvellous thing.”

Those children who watched in awe as Slinky did its one and only thing would probably faint when coming face-to-face with Nintendo Wii.

Slinky had actually been with us since the 1940s, accidentally invented by American naval engineer Richard James while developing a new suspension system.

It was, therefore, a mistake which begs the question: how did something so terribly wrong turn out so right? It even won a starring role in the Tory Story films.

Slinky from Toy Story

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia states: “In 1960, after his wife filed for divorce, Richard James became an evangelical missionary in Bolivia.”

Interestingly, Bolivia was a Slinky free zone.

On Boxing Day, dad trod on mine and it never walked alone again.

I am the bellicose ghost of Christmas past, bloated by brandy butter, bilious on snowball cocktails.

And I, therefore, view with interest the historical list of toys most unwrapped on December 25, compiled by online retailer musicMagpie.

The children of 1971 were easily pleased. The product that left the rest lagging in the Christmas consumer rush was Space Hopper, a large orange ball with antlers that children bounced on until they could bounce no more.

The smiling rabbit face branded on the rubber hid evil intent, with Space Hopper, which set parents back £2.25, possibly only eclipsed by skateboards on the “accidents waiting to happen” scale of infant playthings.

The problem was children bounced everywhere on them, bar the M6 fast lane.

On website toys-toys-toys, one former owner recalls: “Almost the most dangerous toy kids from the pre health and safety generation could acquire. School grounds across the country were buzzing with urban legends about kids who had maimed themselves in various horrific ways, all with the aid of the dreaded Space Hopper.”

Spacehopper's were huge among a certain generation

'Nostalgia Central' states: “The Space Hopper bounced into the UK in 1969 and served absolutely no useful purpose.

“The TV advert promised some sort of wonder device that would see the end of cars and bicycles as a means of transport. In reality, of course, they didn’t allow you to go faster, bounce higher, or run further than you could on foot.”

In a nutshell, that was the fundamental flaw.

Parents were pestered for a more dangerous toy in 1972, the skateboard Christmas: a landlocked surfboard that would spread cold fear on pavements for years to come.

Things were to become decidedly more surreal in the decade, with Pet Rock topping Santa’s list in 1975. For £1.75, a stone, in custom cardboard box with ventilation holes and straw bedding, was yours.

My dad thought outside the box – quite literally – and gave me a brick.

Inventor Gary Dahl had a light-bulb moment while listening to drinking companions bemoan their living pets. He may now be making a lucrative living selling snow to Eskimos.

Back then, it was fun. Today, those who have a rock for companionship are urged to seek help. Those who speak to their stone are avoided on public transport.

I curse 1985 for giving the nation Trivial Pursuits, a torturous brainteaser that has allowed armchair boffins and family know-it-all’s to bask in fleeting glory for a succession of Christmases. May they choke on their plastic cheeses.

It is the game that forced this writer to leave the room in embarrassment after being asked: “What does a peacock mate with?”

Simpler times, when you received an orange and were grateful

“Is it his beak?” I answered.

“Peahen!” shrieked the family know-it-all.

From there, Christmas gifts reflected the power of the silver and small screen. The number one in 1988 was “Ghostbusters Proton Pack”, costing £19.99 – a gift that enabled owners to imprison their own poltergeist.

In ’89, it was the Batmobile, a year later Ninja Mutant Ninja Turtle figures were flying off the shelves, followed by Power Rangers in 1994.

But the days were numbered for such simple childish things and in 1991 the computer age truly arrived on our doorsteps. Hand-held Nintendo Game Boy, back then a pricey £69.99, was the “must have”, selling, during its lifespan, near 119 million units worldwide.

Soon shouts of “you’ve been on that computer all day!” would ring from every home. Playstation - £287.95 – topped ’95, Nintendo 64 (£150) ruled the roost in ’97.

Simple Slinky had slunk into oblivion by 2000 as Teksta Robot Dog, a motorised mutt that could bark, walk, eat and sleep, strutted through homes.

Santa’s grotto was filled with gizmos in the naughties: Xbox 360 in 2005, Nintendo Wii a year later.

I am the moaning ghost of Christmas past, chained to another age, perhaps 1973 when youngsters wanted nothing more than to see the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle career into living room walls.

And amid the noise, clatter and blinding lights from a barrage of computer games this Christmas, the grinch in my soul will yearn for an even darker time.

It will cry out for 1950 and the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, a chemistry set that came with four samples of uranium ores and a Geiger counter.

A gift near guaranteed to bring the house down and make the season glow. After gorging on Quality Street and indulging in the anaesthetic of wine and spirits, I dream of barking: “Alexa, detonate my nuclear device.”

Top toys 1970-1999


70, Nerfball; 71, Space Hopper; 72, Skateboard; 73, Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle; 74, Rock Em Sock Em Robots; 75, Pet Rock; 76, Cher Doll; 77, Atari 2600; 78, Hungry Hippos; 79, Strawberry Shortcake.


80, Rubik’s Cube; 81, Star Wars AT-AT; 82, GI Joe Figures; 83, Care Bears; 84, Optimus Prime; 85, Teddy Ruxpin; 86, Lazer Tag; 87, Sylvanian Families; 88, Ghostbusters Proton Pack; 89, Batmobile.


90, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Figures; 91, Nintendo Game Boy; 92, WWF Action Figures; 93, Talkboy; 94, Power Rangers Action Figures; 95, Playstation; 96, Tickle Me Elmo; 97, Nintendo 64; 98, Furby; 99, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue.