The Toys our parents played with in the Sixties and Seventies
On this page we take a look at some of the toys that our parents played with in the 1960s and 1970s. During the period Woolworth lowered its prices in response to strong competition. During the Sixties the toy range was given a major overhaul, with many new lines, but compared to today's standards most look quite tame. Very few items needed batteries, let alone a mains adaptor. The firm stuck with its tried and tested personal service formula as other retailers moved to self-service. This left most of the branches looking old-fashioned. Most of the photographs on this page were taken for publicity purposes and show the company at its most modern.
A number of Sixties toys celebrated the space programme. These are covered in a separate feature.
The Government's decision to decimalise the currency forced the High Street chain to modernise. Between 1969 and 1975 most of the stores were given a new look. The period also saw the arrival of new ranges of battery-operated and electronic toys, which were sold at discounted prices and were heavily advertised on TV.
The Leicester store (left), was the testbed for a new look in city centres. When it opened competitors had started to adopt self-service, but Woolworth chose to keep tills dotted about at each counter. Shoppers had to pay as they went along, just as they had for fifty years. The single-tiered islands of earlier years were replaced by taller shelved and hanging displays.
The upgrade heralded a further move up-market. Many of the new items were at higher prices, like the dolls in the foreground of the photograph. Before World War II not a single item in the store cost more than sixpence (2½p); by 1965 some of the branded dolls were fifty-five shillings (£2.55), a hundred-and-one times more. At today's prices the most expensive doll would be £45 or $62. But sixpence still bought a three minute go on the sit-and-ride horse in the background !
The picture above shows Atherstone, Warwickshire in 1973, just before it was modernised. It had first opened in 1935 and seemed to have been trapped in a time warp ever since. Larger items like tennis racquets had not been in the range when the single tier counters were installed. But, despite this, the ramshackle display has echoes of the original US Woolworth's in Utica, New York in 1879!
The picture on the left shows the contrast after modernisation. Two hundred Woolies branches were updated each year from 1969 to 1975 as the firm was belatedly switched to self-service, after the government decision to decimalise the currency in 1971 forced the issue.
One-by-one the older stores closed for a week. The counters were dismantled and cleaned in the stockroom, as walls and ceiling were repainted. In parallel wooden floors were given one last clean, and then entombed under a new layer of modern thermoplastic tiles. Finally the old counters were rebuilt in a taller configuration at the back of the store, making way for new shelving and cash desks at the front.
By 1975 every older store received a makeover, which some commentators described as 'every expense spared' !
To give a flavour of the toys that children chose in the 1970s, we've picked out some typical pages from the Christmas Catalogues of 1973 and 1975. The brochures were a new idea, reflecting changing buying patterns. If you have a broadband connection you can download a high resolution PDF of the extracts shown below.
By the late 1970s Toys had begun to play a more important part in the overall Woolworth's offer. The largest stores had enough space to offer more toys than specialist Toy shops, allowing them to experiment. The flagship Oxford Street store in London W1 allocated a sixty foot (18m) run of counter to Lego. There were similar-sized displays of soft toys, Fisher-Price pre-school, sports and leisure, and camping.
The toy counters at the flagship store in London's Oxford Street were over 250 feet (80m) long!
They tempted tourists to buy soft toys as gifts. The top sellers included British Bulldogs, Ladybirds, Penguins, Snails and a cuddly octopus.
In the late 1970s there was a craze for radio-controlled and electronic toys. They first appeared on the shelves in 1977, and sold out quickly. The following year the range was extended and advertised on television.
In 1979 electronic gadgets featured strongly in the Christmas campaign. Two celebrity endorsed products, Kenny Everitt's Captain Kremen Krenometer, and Rolf Harris's Stylophone, were the winners,along with an electronic games machine called 'Merlin' (below). The ads also featured Milton Bradley's Simon. Supplier advertising promoted Invicta's Electronic Mastermind and two other MB Games hits, Computer Battleships and Logic 5, which were also available in-store.
The modern age was dawning and Woolworth was determined to be part of it. Find out more in our Eighties toys feature, here in the Woolworths Museum.
"Sell a toy, spread some joy"