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Fixed in the mind

Not so long ago, the temporary object of many a young boy's ardent loathing was the best friend who suddenly let drop the fact that he had a Meccano kit. Nothing wrong with that. The problem usually arose from the fact that his was always bigger and better.

The Wonderful World of Meccano exhibition, at The City Museum, Portsmouth, traces the history of the company that developed not only the famous construction kit, but Hornby trains and Dinky Toys as well.

It may have given way to more sophisticated gadgetry, but Meccano - seen here with a giant revolving Ferris wheel and articulated crane - still has the power to impress the youngest sceptics.

But size isn't everything, and it is the relatively small exhibits that offer most interest. A Dinky Toys display case holds tiny models of now defunct RAC and AA telephone boxes. Inadmissible by today's safety-conscious standards is a crude-looking electric motor from 1919 that could deliver a 115-volt jolt, while a tiny working model of a saw bench, minus finger guard, looks positively deadly.

Still, risks were probably thought intrinsic to such a manly pursuit as Meccano. Around the hall, advertisements, toy packaging and magazine articles promote a sturdy togetherness in young chaps. In 1935, an advertisement in Meccano Magazine urges "Meccano boys" to buy a "regulation Meccano jersey" (prices from 86d to 156d) as an aid to "mutual recognition".

And "Meccano boys" it stayed until the Sixties, when girls were allowed to join the club, though only on limited terms. The title of the current magazine for Meccano enthusiasts - The International Meccanoman - suggests that progress has been slow.

The Wonderful World of Meccano, Portsmouth City Museum and Records Office, Museum Road, Portsmouth, Hants PO1 2LJ. Open daily 10am-5.30pm. Admission free. Exhibition ends February 23

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