Will the Teletubbies, stars of 1997, join them or do they have the staying power of Action Man? Nadene Ghouri reflects on the fashions in child entertainment since the 1950s
Amid the mania that is Teletubby Christmas, try to spare a thought for Barcode Battler. In a large warehouse somewhere on a desolate moor languish thousands of boxes full of unwanted Battlers. Only a couple of years ago life looked so good for the toy designed to make shopping fun.
A sensation in Japan, the Battler read barcodes, which it then converted into ammunition for annihilating a friend's Battler. The British toy industry had it tipped for the number one Christmas spot and ordered in bulk. It was a spectacular flop.
And, according to Gerry Masters of the British Association of Toy Retailers, toy shops learn by their mistakes. Orders for this Christmas were placed last spring, just as a new children's TV series about four cuddly "tustard-eating" aliens first appeared on our screens. Cautious retailers ordered a few. It was, of course, a spectacular success.
And that, insists Gerry Masters, is the truth behind the great Teletubby shortage. He says: "There is no JFK-type conspiracy theory, the simple truth is retailers try to predict the future and gamble on a toy's success. Usually we get it right, but sometimes we get it horribly wrong.
"The biggest difficulty for retailers has been in how to pitch toys. Children grow up so quickly now. Just a few years ago a little girl wanted a Barbie at six or seven, now it's more likely to be three or four."
Mr Masters believes that although children now play with computers, traditional toys and games will always be winners. He says: "The Teletubby toys are basically cuddly teddies, antique porcelain dolls were the Barbies of their day and Action Man is an extension of the traditional toy soldier. Fashions change but the classic elements of play never do."
But that's not to say the oldies don't move with the times. Laptop Barbie hits the shops next year. And for the millennium, the humble Lego brick is set to become "smart". Intelligent bricks with micro-chips are the Lego of the future.
And those parents who didn't manage to acquire a Teletubby should relax. For Mr Masters thinks the sight of overnight queues to procure a toy is "obscene" and parents "so desperate to buy a child's affection need counselling".
He says: "The annual Christmas toy rush is almost like a national game. Pre-school children who are the Teletubby market shouldn't even know about peer pressure. You're not telling me they wouldn't be equally happy with a train set or something."
MOST POPULAR TOYS 1965 to 1997
1965 - James Bond Aston Martin Car
1966 - Action Man Soldier
1967 - Spirograph
1968 - Sindy
1969 - Hot Wheels
1970 - Sindy
1971 - Katie Copycat Writing Doll
1972 - Plasticraft modelling kits
1973 - Mastermind
1974 - Lego Family set
1975 - Lego Basic set
1976 - Peter Powell Stunt Kites
1977 - Playmobil play people
1978 - Britan Combine Harvester
1979 - Legoland space kits
1980 - Rubik's Cube
1981 - Rubik's Cube
1982 - Star Wars figurines
1983 - My Little Pony
1984 - Masters of the Universe figures
1985 - Transformers
1986 - Transformers
1987 - Sylvanian families
1988 - Sylvanian families
1989 - Sylvanian families
1990 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
1991 - Nintendo Game Boy
1992 - World Wrestling Federation figures
1993 - Thunderbirds Tracy Island
1994 - Power Rangers
1995 - Pogs
1996 - Buzz Lightyear
1997 - Teletubbies
THE GREAT SURVIVORS
Scrabble, Monopoly, Frustration, Twister These four have refused to budge from the top 10 bestseller list for almost 40 years. Star Wars Monopoly is this year's bestselling Christmas boardgame.
Football anything One of the bestselling boardgames of the Fifties was entitled Wembley. In 1997, football shirts and models of Manchester United's Ryan Giggs are flying out of the shops.
Plasticine The teachers' choice is an incredible 89 years old.
Disney Toys Back in the 50s, Disney began the merchandising spin with its latest releases Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. A wind-up Cinderella doll with dancing Prince was on every girl's wish list. Today, little girls covet seriously sassier 90s' heroines, Esmeralda, Belle, Princess Jasmine and Megana.
Slinky The toy that slithers down the steps is 44 years old. Given a new lease of life in 1996 due to a Slinky Dog character in hit animated film Toy Story.
Lego Those ubiquitous plastic bricks were launched at the Brighton toy fair in 1960 and quickly became worth Pounds 85 million. Will micro-chipped bricks keep it on top?
Barbie The pink-loving model girl was 36 this year. Some light cosmetic surgery and she stayed at number three on the bestseller list.
Action Man Toy of the year in both 1966 and 1996, Boys' toy of the year 1997, 1980s' toy of the decade. His latest incarnation, Moonraker Space Explorer complete with thermal suit, is selling second only to Po, Tinky Winky and co.
1997 TOP TEN
TOYS 1 Teletubbies
2 Action Man Moonraker
3 Pet Doctor Barbie
4 Tamagotchivirtual pets
5 Star Wars action figures
6 Lego Buckett
7 Beanie Babies
8 Magical Moving Polly Pocket
9 Buzz Lightyear
1 Star Wars Monopoly
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Atom Bomber Came complete with automatic release A-bombs. Definitely a toy of its time, every little boy wanted to nuke Santa in 1953.
Hula-hoop Hours of endless fun from a plastic circle. Sold 20 million in its first year which makes the one million Teletubbies sold this year look positively lightweight.
Space Hopper The craze of 1971. A bouncing rubber ball with ears. Did anyone not fall off after 10 seconds?
Sindy The pony-club girl was bought by an American company in the Eighties. They dumped her English middle-class image and pitched her against Barbie. She lost.
Ippy Opp Ball-cum-skipping rope which lost out to Twister in 1962.
Meccano Frank Hornby of Liverpool designed the metal construction set in 1901. Still manufactured in France, it's the oldest toy on the market. Cult appeal only.
Rubik's cube The coloured square brain teaser was the toy of 1980. Stories abounded of schools banning the cube as it disrupted lessons. Doctors reported cases of a new wrist strain. Spotted recently in a London store - first sign of a Rubik revival?
Cabbage Patch Kids Probably the ugliest dolls in the world. Each one came with its own adoption paper. In 1984 caused a media sensation.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles They came out of the sewer and swept all before them in 1990. But where are the Kung-Fu kicking Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael now?
Spice Girl dolls OK, so they've only just hit the shops. But no sensible child will want one in 1998.