It was mid 1977, Don Revie had resigned as the England football manager, the bunting was being taken down from the Silver Jubilee and dad was shouting at some “bloody idiot” on the TV called Arthur Scargill. I was on my summer holidays. To try to keep me entertained, mum borrowed a large box of plastic bits and pieces from a neighbour.
It didn’t seem like much fun at the time, and I’m told I said it was broken when I first opened the box. But it was my first exposure to LEGO, and this box of colourful plastic squares and oblongs with knobs on kept me occupied for the entire six week break.
What a toy – or rather, what a series of toys. By the end of the summer I’d made a house, three cars, a tank, an aeroplane, a spaceship and something that – if you squinted hard enough – sort of resembled Blackpool Tower.
To me, that’s the beauty of LEGO. Of course you can buy LEGO Star Wars or Harry Potter kits, but the basic little bricks can become whatever you want them to be. Especially if you squint hard enough. TBWA’s stop- motion Kipper commercial, narrated by Tommy Cooper, sums it up perfectly.
Does LEGO really warrant the title of a “design classic”? It’s very hard to argue no. It has been around since the 1930s. In that time over 320 billion blocks of one colour or another have been made. That’s roughly the equivalent of 52 pieces for each one of us on earth. By exercising the imagination, these bits can be made into anything from trains to tower blocks. If you lose a few pieces it doesn’t really matter, and if you get more, it just means the next skyscraper is even bigger.
LEGO is now the world’s fourth largest toy manufacturer, and has been voted the ‘Best Plastic Toy of All Time’, as well as ‘Toy of the Century’, twice. It’s virtually indestructible, often handed down from generation to generation, and how to work it needs no explaining.
Bigtrak and Simon might have grabbed my attention for a while before heading to the back of the toy cupboard, but the humble LEGO brick remains the strongest of my childhood memories.