Every small boy’s new car dream!

David Cooke and his collection of Dinky Toys and buses. Photo: Bill Smith

David Cooke and his collection of Dinky Toys and buses. Photo: Bill Smith

WE all clearly remember our first car, I am sure. The excitement that had built up after a long wait was understandable, and we were eager to show it off to friends. It was a moment of one-upmanship…or, in my case, two-upmanship!

GREAT YARMOUTH MARKET PLACEMessrs Smith and Daniels, Market Place premises at Yarmouth are for sale

GREAT YARMOUTH MARKET PLACEMessrs Smith and Daniels, Market Place premises at Yarmouth are for sale by auctionDated 17th March 1964Photograph C0592 Gould - Credit: Archant

Yes, I bought a pair of new cars in one go, a bright green Lagonda coupe and a navy blue Frazer Nash two-seater sports model. I have not espied either marque on the road for at least six decades.

Their rarity was not just in the makes, but also because they were both open to the elements, just as their proud owners wanted them. Both were fitted with stand-up fixed windscreens, very sporty and up-market.

The same dealer in Great Yarmouth sold me both cars. I was well aware that demand was keen but luckily, I called in at just the right time and he was pleased to sell me both although I had feared he might have an “only one purchase a customer” rule in an era of supply shortages.

The Lagonda and the Frazer Nash launched my collection of Dinky Toys when they were beginning slowly to seep back into toy-shops after manufacture either halted altogether or was very restricted because factories and metals were vital to the war effort.

It was a similar story for Hornby Trains, Meccano sets and Triang Minic wind-up toy vehicles. Shops were resuming stocking them, and the search was on for the toy hunters.

Smith & Daniels on the Market Place, premises today occupied by Vodaphone, became a regular calling place for me on the way home to Gorleston from Yarmouth Grammar School, depending on whether or not I had any pocket money left that was not earmarked for sessions at Gorleston Rollerdrome off-season at the Super Holiday Camp.

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Ex-Gorlestonian David Cooke, who lived on Middleton Road as a lad until a half-century ago, began collecting Dinkys a generation later than me and by then they were in more plentiful supply. Most of his acquisitions came from one of the terrace of shops on the lower promenade in Gorleston.

The main factor then was money so buyers could pick and choose whereas in my day, you took pot luck that the shop had any at all in stock. If it did, and I had a spare couple of bob, I bought one of whatever was available, although I always declined military vehicles.

Mine was a boyhood thing whereas David became a life-long enthusiast, his zeal undiminished despite the passage of years.

Now 70, he is president of the nationwide Dinky Toy Collectors Association, displayed many of his vehicles on BBC-TV’s Antiques Road Show a decade ago, has 1000 of his die-cast models on permanent display at the Bressingham Steam Museum, sold more than 1000 at a Christie’s auction, wrote a book on the subject, examined 100 different cars on a DVD, often broadcasts on BBC Radio Norfolk, gives talks to clubs and organisations, and recently was featured in the Great Yarmouth Mercury’s companion magazine, Let’s Talk, sharing his passion for the exquisite scale replicas.

From his home in Norwich, retired stockbroker David reveals: “The Dinky Toys Collectors Association has many members in the Yarmouth area.”

Currently he is seeking information about Dinky stockists from the past, particularly the shop of A A Francis on The Green at Martham where Hornby Trains were also on the shelves – and in the windows, no doubt. He is hoping that any members of the Francis family reading this column will get in touch so he can learn more about the shop and its Dinky outlet.

“Do your readers have memories and/or photographs?” wonders David. “John Lacon, a DTCA member formerly a director of the (family) brewery once resident in Ormesby but now living in Spain, used to buy his toys at Francis’s shop.”

Ex-Yarmouth Grammar School pupil David Cooke also finds time for cycling, another lifelong enthusiasm, and also is president of the Norfolk Lymphoma Group which he founded after being diagnosed with this type of cancer involving cells of the immune system.

Though lower-profile than some cancers, he says that last year there were 900 new patients in the Norfolk and Waveney area alone. Next Monday sees the start of Lymphoma Awareness Week, with events throughout county and country to raise public awareness.

Last month he gave a talk to Yarmouth Rotary Club, recalling Eastern Coachworks, that long-gone Lowestoft manufacturer of buses and coaches. To his delight, at the end of his address he was not only warmly thanked but also handed a cheque for £1300 for the lymphoma charity.

As for Smith & Daniels, purveyor of most of my Dinky fleet, its entry in my 1937 Kelly’s Directory lists it as “manufacturing cutlers, tool merchants, bread and bacon slicing machines and knives”. In 1964 when the business closed, the shop front was proclaiming: “Tools for all trades.”

That Martham stockist in which David is interested, A A Francis, says in its Kelly’s entry: “General ironmonger and hardware stores, photographic materials, hairdresser, tobacconist, fancy goods.”

So neither Dinky stockist – Smith & Daniels and A A Francis – mentioned toys in general or Dinkys in particular in their listings.

Smith & Daniels’ decision, perhaps postwar, to add Dinky and Hornby products to its range came when one of the Daniels family realised that “the boy buying Meccano parts will be tomorrow’s apprentice buying his tools from us.”

The Smith & Daniels premises were sold for £38,000 in 1964 to neighbouring Woolworth although I cannot recall the national retailer extending into its acquisition.