Playtime with Cuddly Ken
The Ad of Christmas Past
Oh, the excitement of a real toy shop. Never mind the toy counter in Woolworths or the half hearted toy section in Boots (best for baby, not so for teenager till they sold VIC 20s and ZX81s). In the North West of England, Toy and Hobby was the place, and this 1980 advert captured the spirit of it pretty well.
Once more with Mind Your Language style “doo doo doos” (yep, typical for 1980 alongside usage of the Dynamo Black typeface), it shows our family heading into the Stockport branch. We see the welcoming staff and the hands-on approach where children are encouraged to play with some of its wares.
Voiceover for this advertisement and concurrent ones aired in Granadaland till 1985 was Liverpool’s very Maurice Cole. Yes, TV and radio legend Kenny Everett. (Who probably did voiceover between trips to Cosgrove Hall Studios for his Captain Kremmen sequences in The Kenny Everett Video Show).
The Shop of Christmas Past
Toy and Hobby’s hands-on approach predated the UK’s arrival of Toys’R’Us by nine years. The only difference, Toy and Hobby’s shops being situated in town centre locations. Back in 1980, only St. Helens, Chester and Stockport had branches. By 1985, there was branches in Oldham (at slightly below street level of Town Square Shopping Centre), Wigan, and Birkenhead.
Till the late 1980s, their child friendly layout and high shelves made for an experience unlike other toy shops at the time. Another aspect was its lime green Polyflor Noppe studded floor tiles – similar to those used by Greater Manchester PTE for its bus stations from 1980 to 1991.
By the late 1980s, Toy and Hobby abandoned its iconic yellow and red blocked logo in favour of a serif typeface. In spite of some market repositioning, it lost out to its American rivals Toys’R’Us. The spirit of Toy and Hobby presumably lives on in Smyths Toys and in any of The Entertainer’s stores.
After Toy and Hobby, its Stockport branch was subdivided between Shoemarket (now its only occupants) and Music Zone Trade Direct. Oldham’s branch, after its closure, became the ground floor of T.J. Hughes. After being closed for three years from 2012, it has recently reopened.
S.V., 11 December 2015.