One of the best things about no longer being a serious collector of anything these days, is that I don’t often get hung up about being a completist. This is a double-edged sword, however, because the money saved on “collecting them all” can now be put towards those white whales of plastic that have haunted me for decades. You know what I speak of. Those pieces you’d missed out on as a youth, or read about as a teen, or have vague memories of seeing somewhere as an adult. They don’t necessarily add to whatever subjects you happen to collect, and some you might even be sheepish about admitting you lust after. And they all seem to be in the realm of ‘pricey’. They’re out there, they exist, and they’re just waiting for you to finally bring them home to fondle. For me, there is one particularly bizarre case in point: the legendary Doctor Who Tardis Tuner.
When I first discovered there was a monthly magazine devoted to Doctor Who called, fittingly enough, ‘Doctor Who Monthly’, I scooped up as many back issues as I could immediately. Being 11, this wasn’t always easy. I found an ad in the back of Starlog magazine for a cool mail order service in the UK, and they became my information and merchandise dealer for a couple of years. The really wild thing was, you’d get a 40% discount if you sent US cash (!!!), which I did, taping coins onto index cards and folding bills into smaller envelopes, to ship away to Blighty and get goodies in the mail around 5-6 weeks later. Not long after I found these folks, I discovered that the magazine used to be called ‘Doctor Who Weekly’, so naturally, I had to snatch up those issues as well. On the inside back cover of issue #1 was a horribly drawn comic strip ad for the Tardis Tuner. It appeared to be an AM radio, but it promised to do all sorts of interstellar things, and I HAD to have it. I should also make clear that in 1981 in the US, besides the Pinnacle Doctor Who paperbacks, trying to find merchandise for the series was like looking for Hoffa’s Teamster ring. I’d already convinced myself I’d never see toys from the show, but this thing, this thing was close. But how to get it? Turns out, it didn’t matter. After a closer look, it seemed that the ad was from 1979, and it was a mail away item, so they were long gone. Besides, they were 20 UK pounds in 1979, which I still find insane, so I wouldn’t have been able to afford one. Well, thanks to the internet and the collector friendships that spring forth from it, 30 years later, I am the proud owner of the Doctor Who Tardis Tuner.
(That’s not mine, just a shot off the internet). Isn’t it great? Don’t you all want one in your homes? Nevermind, don’t answer that. The point is, I finally have it, that silly bit of merch I saw in the magazine all those years ago is finally mine. And, truthfully, it is completely ridiculous. Yes, it’s an AM radio, but those “Morse Warp” and “Laser Bleep” sounds should only be used to bring abuse to neighborhood dogs. It is far and away one of the silliest items ever made in the name of Who. And I absolutely love it. And that’s all that matters, right? If we’re talking only of obsessing, not about items we know are all kinds of awesome that everybody wants. So it got me thinking about all those other bits of tat floating around this planet that I need to get my paws on before I die. Some are clearly more beautiful specimens than others. But let’s not judge too harshly, because to me, they’re all Perfect 10’s.
THE PRISONER MINI MOKE by DINKY
The Prisoner is kind of THE definition of a cult TV series. Only one season was made (technically two, with the second batch of four episodes), but it has a large devoted following. I’m not even a huge fan myself, but I like it enough to keep dipping into it every few years. I recently picked up the Blu Ray set of DVDs, and am coming to terms again with what a great show it is. Merchandise is very scarce, but I’m kind of fascinated that Dinky chose to make a die cast of the little car that residents tooled around The Village in. Since the series had such a limited run, and wasn’t exactly ‘toy friendly’, I wonder what the thinking was behind this little piece. Popular as Patrick McGoohan’s previous series Danger Man was, it didn’t spawn any merchandise, and as such things need to be planned in advance for show/retail shelf life, someone at Dinky took a chance and put this beauty in motion. I’ve never even see one in person, but I know that a mint, boxed piece could set you back over $300.00, easily.
DIE CAST KING KONG by ARK
This metal monkey and his cohorts have haunted me since the late 70’s, when I received the Baltan figure from this set for my birthday. That toy got more love than almost any of my childhood, and as I got older, I began to scour ads in the Toy Shop monthly (anybody out there remember it?) looking for them but never had any luck. Then one day I found Kong, but it was in different, English language packaging. I snagged it, and had it for a few years before I sold it along with loads of other stuff when I moved out to LA. And I’ve been kicking myself since, because none of them seem to pop up often, and when they do, none are under $150.00. They’re all a little insane with their design and accessories (and sheer amount of metal!), but Kong is especially crazy, as he comes with a glider plane that shoots out of his chest! Need. That. Ape.
THE AVENGERS JOHN STEED BOWLER HAT by LONE STAR
Another series that was shortchanged in the collectible department was The Avengers. There was little made during its life time, and even less has been made since it’s first airing. I’m lucky enough to have what is considered to be one of the prize pieces, the John Steed Sword Stick, made by Lone Star in 1966. You don’t see many these days, and when you do, they go for exorbitant sums of money. Released around the same time, was the John Steed Bowler Hat, you know, for the debonair child in the house. Now this, I’ve never even seen a picture of. I have photocopies of some old Lone Star catalogs circa 1966-69, and there is a drawing of it next to the Sword Stick, but that’s about as close to a visual as I’ve ever found. I’d imagine that those little hats must have been pretty fragile when they were released, even more so when put on children’s heads, so finding a healthy example may be the proverbial needle in the haystack. But I won’t stop looking!
BUCK ROGERS /TWIKI and CAPTAIN KREMMEN FIGURES by BENDY
While I have a fondness for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and have the odd, rare piece in my collection, I am not particularly a fan of the series, and find it really hard to get through. But when I was 10, I loved it! And on my first trip to the UK, while visiting Hamley’s Toy Store, I came across these giant bendy figures of Buck and Twiki. They seemed to be made of a foam rather than hard rubber, with Buck’s head a hard plastic. I don’t for the life of me know WHY I didn’t beg my mom for the set while we were there, but I didn’t, and outside of seeing a tiny picture of them in the back of that epic ‘It’s a Small World’ catalog back in 1990, have never come across them since that trip. Even more intriguing, I would swear on my life that right next to Buck on that shelf at Hamley’s was a similar bendy in the form of Captain Kremmen, the animated character from Kenny Everett’s Video Show. I was semi-obsessed with that show, so it’s even more frustrating that I didn’t pick that one up way back when. And it gets worse: I can’t seem to find photographic or printed evidence that a toy Kremmen even existed. Could it be I saw something else and the ravages of time have led my brain on this goose chase for a phantom toy? I must know! Anyone?
JAMES BOND LOTUS ESPRIT DIE CAST by EIDAI GRIP
The Holy Grail, the Maltese Falcon, the Mona Lisa of James Bond collectibles. Corgi had been doing Bond die casts for over a decade at this point, but leave it to the Japanese to pull out all the stops. I first found out about this beauty back in 1990 or so, in an issue of ‘James Bond Collector’ magazine. According to the article, this was about the time most of the world found out about it too. Back in those pre internet and Google days, publications like ‘JBC’ were major resources for the collector, when a hunter in Japan could unearth such an item and make cover story news. Obviously, these days collecting is a much more thorough activity, a few finger strokes confirming the existence of such treasures in a matter of seconds, and hypothetically delivering said items to your doorstep in a matter of days. What makes the Grip Lotus so amazing? Well, it’s frustrating in a way, because it has all kinds of stickers on it which take away from its authenticity. But in the other departments, it puts Corgi’s efforts to shame: the doors open, missiles shoot out from a pop up panel on the hood, the periscope slides up and down, the back hatch opens, and best of all, the wheels fold inward for submersible mode. Oh, and did I mention it has cool pics from The Spy Who Loved Me all over the box too? It’s incredibly rare, even in the Japanese market, and there’s one that’s been living on ebay for months now, with an asking price of around a grand. Something tells me this one may never find it’s way into my home…
There is more than that, to be sure, like the full set of Denys Fisher Doctor Who toys, those completely mental Indiana Jones action figures and accessories by Star Toys of Spain, and another item I may have imagined since I can find no proof of life for it whatsoever, a Magnum P.I. Detective Set, complete with gun, holster and Magnum’s ring. ( I mean, why? I don’t even own a single episode of the series!). But the above list has kept my detective skills busy for over twenty years, and I’m pacing myself. With so much out there and most of it so easy to obtain, it’s good to have some goodies that remain out of reach. There’s no denying the large dose of pleasure you get from finally getting a long sought after toy under your roof, but sometimes the hunt is more satisfying than the capture. Oh, and it’s also much easier on the bank account. What about the rest of you, any long time obsessions that need to be acquired?