With Christmas and Birthdays galore over the past couple of months, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at toys and there’s no denying that things have changed a lot since I was a child. Sure there are still dolls and Lego, but most children just want a xBox or an iPad.
So, while wandering around Toys’R’Us, which isn’t as magical these days, I found myself reminiscing about the toys of my childhood in the 80’s and realising that my daughter will not only never play with the sort of toys that I enjoyed, but will also probably think that those toys were a bit rubbish.
With that in mind, here’s my top pick of toys I played with in the 80’s that kids today (yes I did use that phrase) would probably be utterly unimpressed by.
These brightly coloured teddy bears had a pouch on their back which you could pull inside out to turn the bear into a ball. At it’s time it was amazing, a bear that could turn into a ball, imagine that! As with most kids toys in the 80’s the Popples had their own TV show and a mass of related household items like lampshades and curtains.
Of course most Popples didn’t last in good condition for long with kids kicking them about indoors and out, but kids loved them even after they had gone matted from the number of times they had been in the wash. At one point they also brought out mini popples which were small four legged things that could only be turned inside out by professional body builders and Jedi masters. I had one of these, it was infuriating!
I don’t think there is a single child of the 80’s who didn’t own one of these or at the very least have a friend who did. It was everywhere but goodness knows why. Essentially it was a small 2 room dolls house in the shape of a tree with two rooms and a family of peg shaped people. I seem to vaguely remember that there was some kind of lift to take the people from the ground to the tree house. It was all a little bizarre.
This was one of my favorite toys as a child. The principle was a little like etch a sketch. You had a black tablet and behind it there were glowing lights. The aim was to make patterns and pictures by punching holes in the black tablet with the tools provided… Of course the little tools were all lost within 5 seconds of the box being opened, but searching for them was half the fun.
The Big Yellow Teapot
I’m not sure what the person who designed this was smoking but the big yellow teapot was much like the treehouse. The same peg like people and the same two room dolls house, but this time in the shape of a teapot with a door on the back. The lid of the teapot could be turned to move the rooms inside around so that you could see one or the other, and if you were me, hide things in the room that wasn’t on show. This didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the treehouse on popularity scores (which was probably why I had one) but it was certainly one of those toys that most 80’s children would have played with at some point.
The Original NES
Most kids playing their xBox One, or PlayStation 142 (or whatever number we’re on now), will never know the joy that was the first real games console. With the NES, for the first time kids could play arcade games in their own home. Up until this point the most advanced games were on the ZX Spectrum or Commador 64 but both of these required you to sit around for 20 minutes listening to a tape play screeching sounds in order to load a game. Deciding to swap games was a major investment and it was absolutely maddening if you accidentally loaded the wrong game! Sure, to todays children the blocky characters, huge cartridges and inability to save is laughable, but to us, it was the future! Of course, Nintendo didn’t stay on the top of the pile for long before the SEGA took over and then Playstation came along, but even now whenever I see one of the massive cartridges with Mario pasted all over it, I get a little bit excited.
This was another perennial toy that every 80’s child had. Although, not many were ever used as it was inevitable that you would never be able to find the discs and the view finder at the same time. Nether the less, every now and then when the Earth aligned with Saturn on a Tuesday, you would find one slightly dog eared disc at the same time as the view finder and spend an enjoyable 10 minutes looking at a slide show of nature scenes or cartoons.
Traditional Spinning Top
This is one of those toys that probably wouldn’t pass health and safety these days. The metal spinning top had a spiral screw in the top which you would push up and down repeatedly to make the top spin faster before letting it go. Mine was an old, rickety metal thing with lots of sharp edges and a evil screw which, given the chance, would rip the skin off of your fingers.
Speak and Spell
This was an attempt by the toy companies to make learning to spell fun. It failed, but most parents of the 80’s tried to encourage their kids to spell with it anyway. As a child who was rubbish at spelling, I found this infuriating and was never happier than when it ran out of batteries.
Etch A Sketch
This 80’s toy is still floating around as a retro toy, mostly bought by adults who have forgotten how bloody annoying it was. The idea was that you would use the left and right knobs to move a point horizontally and vertically to draw a picture. Once you were done, shake it upside down and it would re-set. Yay! No more messy paper and pens. The only problem was that despite the advertisements which were filled with fantastic works of art, in real life it was absolutely impossible to draw anything but straight lines which somewhat limited your artistic vision.
And finally, My Little Pony
My Little Pony was very popular in the 80’s and as I was horse obsessed and my sister hogged all the dolls, it was an obvious choice for me. This was another toy which had its own TV show and just about every branded item you could think of. By the time I was 10 my room looked like a shrine to My Little Pony, with wall paper, pin board, curtains, sheets, pillows and not forgetting the ponies and houses themselves.
Every weekend we would go out to the boot sales and I would take my £1 pocket money (Remember when £1 a week was acceptable pocket money?) and head off in search of a new pony. By the time I grew out of them I had over 200 ponies, sea ponies, flutter ponies and baby ponies, not to mention all of the houses! I say I grew out of them, I still sometimes see classic My Little Ponies and find myself itching to buy them… I should really see someone about it.
What was your favorite 80’s toy and do you still own it?