TV and Film


The link between toys and broadcast entertainment has been established for a great deal longer than many may realise; Lesney - producers of the Matchbox range - were commissioned very early on in their history to produce parts for a toy gun, on the back of the growing interest in the 'cowboys and indians' films which were the staple of Saturday morning cinema trips in the UK in the years shortly before and after WW2. It may not have been the overt franchising of specific movies and characters which was to follow, but without a doubt toys were in production so that children would be able to emulate their heroes from the 'silver screen' - as long as they were able to pester their parents with sufficiently unwavering diligence... The scene was set with early comic-book stories such as Buck Rogers, which went on to appear on radio, then in cinema and ultimately television. Several other characters followed the same path, The Green Hornet, any number of Marvel superheroes, even those of outwardly more mundane pursuits such as Casey Jones on his steam train; it was clear that programming aimed at children was a viable concern, and it was abundantly clear that themed merchandise was going to be equally successful. For all of these iconic names, though, it's a far less well-known title that was the first to prompt its own 'merchandising' - the long forgotten 'Supercar' TV series. This was produced by Gerry Anderson for ATV during the early 1960's, and almost immediately Budgie Toys brought out their own die-cast model of Mike Mercury's jet-propelled, underwater, space-travelling rescue vehicle. Clearly, as Supercar is not what you immediately think of as the first broadcast-themed toy, in the same way that Budgie Toys are not widely revered as the makers of iconic playthings, the marketing of both must have fallen some way short of the mark - or perhaps the world wasn't quite ready for such things. However, the die had been cast, and by the time that Anderson had followed up with Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet the entire package had been more properly thought through and developed, and the genie was well and truly out of the bottle. Of course, it wasn't just based on what was essentially children's entertainment; fictional characters for the more adult market warranted similar treatment. Corgi's die-cast take on James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 remains the most popular toy car of all time, and both The Saint and The Man From Uncle had spawned models of their own featured vehicles, at the same time that scaled-down replicas of The Prisoner's candy-striped golf buggy was trying to make good its escape across the living room floor... The 1970's saw something of a movement away from such terrestrial characters, with Space 1999, UFO and Blake's 7 grasping the imagination of youthful viewers and cynical marketeers alike, but this was all to pale in to insignificance with the advent of Star Wars in 1977 - the cinematic genesis of what was to become the merchandising and spin-off behemoth to eclipse all others. By this time, the delay between the advent of a series or film which proved popular and the release of dedicated merchandise had shrunk to virtually no time at all, and more recently, of course, the two debut simultaneously. No sooner have you been alerted to the advent of a new series showcasing the telekinetic abilities of cloud-dwelling axelotls, who display both empathy with the human condition and extraordinary martial-arts skills - than you can also eat the branded breakfast cereal, download the app, stream the enhanced version of the programme you haven't yet seen and probably participate in a virtual rendering of some darker aspects of fandom via niche on-line communities... We're not sure that this 'instant gratification' is really the way that things ought to be approached, but then again if I hadn't had to wait what seemed like months to get hold of my SHADO 2 Mobile launcher back in the 70's, I don't think I'd have been unduly bothered - it certainly wouldn't have made the small, plastic missile any less likely to have continually disappeared under the sofa...

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