Dinky toys were my childhood favourites

CHILDREN of my generation lived in almost a toys-free zone during the 1939-45 war, mainly because the factories had turned over to making munitions and other essentials to help keep our armed forces supplied and operational.

CHILDREN of my generation lived in almost a toys-free zone during the 1939-45 war, mainly because the factories had turned over to making munitions and other essentials to help keep our armed forces supplied and operational. And anyway, raw materials were in short supply and put to more important use.

Against that background, it is easy to comprehend why we treasured the toys we acquired when they began to trickle back into the shops after the war. Like many other lads, my favourites were Dinky Toys, not only because of their faithful reproduction of vehicles and robust construction but also because most were within pocket money range (perhaps after a fortnight's scrimping) whereas, say, Hornby trains or Meccano construction sets involved a heavy initial outlay that meant adults had to buy them for us as presents.

My own modest collection, accumulated slowly, was only for gentle play on table tops and floors and in toy garages. The private and commercial vehicles were treated with great respect, but my two or three military vehicles were propelled at speed on pavements, crashing, rolling over and chipping their paintwork.

There were several shops in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston that sold Dinky Toys, but my usual retailer was Smith and Daniels on the Market Place, a cutlery and tools specialist that included this sideline, as did a local sports store and a cycle dealer, I now learn.

They were hard to come by, and buyers had little range from which to choose, having to take whatever was on sale, or order them and take pot luck on what arrived. When I had enough money, I would call in Smith and Daniels' shop on the way home to Gorleston from school in Yarmouth in the hope that something new had come into stock. Often there was disappointment: perhaps nothing, perhaps only military vehicles in which I was disinterested, perhaps only doubles of models I already had.

I recall clearly the first two that became the foundation of that small collection: a green Lagonda coupe and a blue Frazer Nash open sports car, both with a little imitation steering wheel and sharp Perspex windshield. After that came cars, lorries, the inevitable London Transport double-decker bus, a sleek coach…

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Even when I had long grown out of them, and had left the family home for National Service and then to pursue a career in journalism, they stayed in their boxes in my bedroom drawers, along with pristine filled-in Yarmouth Speedway programmes, roller-skating magazines and other reminders of my boyhood and youth.

One day on a home visit I could not find them, and found my old room - to which I would never return, in fairness - had been cleared and my precious possessions had long gone. Had that not happened, they might have been passed on to my grandsons, or I might still have them…and the knowledge that they were probably worth a bob or two to collectors.

A correspondent who managed to retain his precious Dinkys is David Cooke, a 63-year-old semi-retired stockbroker who lives in Norwich but hails from Gorleston where his family home was on Middleton Road until he left in 1964, aged 21.

“As a child I loved Dinky Toys and had a big collection but playing with them meant some had lost tyres or had been repainted,” he tells me. “I discovered them in the loft of my old family home on Middleton Road -my good old mum kept them in the attic until I came back to collect them. Most mothers threw them away.

“So I searched all over for some nice copies of all those old ones - at car boot sales, specialist toy auctions, bric-a-brac and antique shops, on the internet auction site e-bay… I found the copies I was looking for and built up a collection of 1000 or more which I sold for a good price at auction at Christie's in London last year.

“They were nearly all in mint condition and boxed, and were offered in 350 lots of three items.

“My old original ones are on display at the Bressingham Steam Museum, of which I am a trustee. They built me a shop to show them off.

“I still seek out Dinkys and there are auctions nearly every week all over the country. Round here they have them at Bury St Edmunds, Keys of Aylsham, Hornors at Acle… I still have some other mint Dinky Toys at home.

“Recently I bought an empty Dinky Toy box through e-bay because the boxes are now rarer than the actual models. In the 1940s Dinkys used to he delivered to the shops in boxes of five models and I always hoped I was buying the last in the box because I would ask for it, otherwise the dealers would chuck them away.”

David Cooke and his friend Michael King - now a Lowestoft resident and a regular Peggotty correspondent - used to scour the local shops for Dinky Toys. “Most of mine came from a shop in Market Row, a sports and toy shop on Regent Road (Doughty's?), one in the terrace on Gorleston sea-front, and Wally English's cycle shop on Lowestoft Road,” he continues.

“Cycle shops often sold Dinkys, and as we were both keen cyclists - we had racing bikes and belonged to Yarmouth and Gorleston Wheelers - we had two good reasons for searching in them.

“My son, who is now 35, collected Dinkys as a child and realised their value as toys. And my grandson aged two and a half is absolutely into Dinky cars and looks after them. Today when he visited us he told me he had an Aston Martin in one hand and a Cadillac in the other.”

I was surprised to learn that David and Michael were customers of one in the sea-front parade of outlets and at English's cycle shop, for I was unaware until now that those two places sold them. That surprise was because the Wales family who ran the promenade toy business were my neighbours and friends, and I was often in the bike retailer's shop having my Humber sports model that was bought there repaired by the guv'nor, a long-time acquaintance of my father.

My toy vehicles included wind-up Triang Minics, tinny but not bad although requiring frequent rewinding, and a Manchuria-made Schuko, very streamlined and American-looking with proper style rubber tyres (not rings like Dinkys) and front wheels that turned by moving a spotlight on the front bumper. It was a tad bigger than my Dinkys.

The philosophy behind the decision by the owner of Smith and Daniels to stock Meccano and Dinkys was “because the boy buying Meccano parts will be tomorrow's apprentice buying his tools from us”, a member of the Daniels family told me years ago.

The owner, and his long-serving assistants Robert Keenan and Sidney (Tubby) Wells, also appreciated that when a lad cajoled his parents into the shop so he could look at Dinkys, the father would browse around the tools and the mother might remember that she needed a new pair of scissors…

Older readers might well remember a travelling belt machine constructed from Meccano parts displayed in the window, attracting the attention of Market Place passers-by.

The business closed in 1964, and today a mobile phone shop occupies the premises.