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James May's Top Toys

Reviewed by Chris Warrell

I wonder how many of you saw James May's Top Toys on BBC2 on the Wednesday before Christmas 2005. (He is a presenter on Top Gear, by the way).

This is the programme (you may remember, if you were at the September 2005 meeting) that we were contacted about; they were after an engineer or architect who had been inspired by Meccano as a boy.

Unsurprisingly, no one in the club was keen (we thought they might make us look silly – mind you, some of us have no trouble without the help of television!) so it went no further, but the programme did feature Paul Joachim and his daughter of, I think, the West London Meccano Society. One thrust of the programme had been changed because he didn't talk about how Meccano had influenced his career, but they both recalled how his Glasgow tramcar and track took up the entire landing at home.

Rowan Joachim reminisces about her father Paul's models

Later in the show James presented some 11-year olds with the contents of a 1954/62 No. 4 set and a photocopy of the instructions for the Elevated Jib Crane, No. 4.4, and they were given about an hour and a half to build the model. The results were hilarious but, as James pointed out, there were frequently errors in the instruction manuals to trip small children up! None of the models were remotely similar to the original.

The kids present their handiwork to 'teacher' James

He didn't have any good words for the current Meccano sets, having few parts and the ability to make only one model – and he expressed horror when he saw that they were made in France too!

The programme also featured Dinky Toys, Corgi and Matchbox, as well as Hot Wheels; Scalextric; Etch-a-Sketch (where some art students produced some amazing portraits of Mr. May when the best he could do was draw a box); Action Man; the Escape from Colditz board game which was ridiculously complicated (I think our family played it just the once); and Hornby Trains.

He probably upset a few Hornby purists by outbidding everyone at an auction to win an old Hornby Trains set – and then he threw away the box because he wanted to play with the trains! – or was that just for the cameras?

» This article appeared in the January 2006 issue of SELMEC News.

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