Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: James May's Toy Stories

Tie-in books for TV programmes are usually rubbish. Often nothing more than a collection of stills from the series, you read it and quickly realise that the presenter had very little involvement in the words. There aren't many of these either as the book is aimed at telly watchers who unlike the sort of people who read this blog, aren't very good at that sort of thing.

Despite this, I bought the Toy Stories book. OK, it was a present for my Mum along with the DVD because I wanted to read it and she liked the series as much as I did.

What a shock - the book is better than the series !

You see, for the telly there can't be very much actual history or facts. That gets in the way of endless shots of crowds building Lego bricks or plasticine flower followed by some nice visuals of the finished product. For example the Airfix programme we spent most of the time with a group of kids having a go at building plastic kits for the first time.

In the book they get less than a page.

The history of Airfix in quite a lot of detail, history of the Spitfire, advice on building plastic kits (thanks to Chris Ellis), some stuff on the making on the telly bit but with lots of behind the scenes details and a page telling you how to blow up your completed models. I was fascinated about the section on blowing up a plastic car with turps soaked rags and burning meths. I might have to try this out one day...

For the real enthusiast, there are appendixes with list of all the Hornby and Airfix products year by year, colours of Lego bricks, Meccano parts and 101 uses for plasticine. On top of the main chapters this makes for a hefty tomb of 272 pages.

What I don't understand is how the BBC allowed this out. Even the text is funny and as far as I can tell, actually written by Mr May - although I see Ian Harrison credited as co-author. The styles and humour certainly fits his TV persona (please don't write in and say he is vile in real life, I don't wish to know) even the slight Jane Asher obsession.

Oddly, the programme in the series that did least for me is replaced by my favourite chapter - plasticine modelling. The railway stuff I ought to love is interesting but left me a little cold, maybe I have been too close to it in the past. More likely I found the labyrinthine history of who owned who and took over others a little dull. The same thing goes for Meccano where there is a heck of a lot of depth that might loose some readers to dim to skim over it. After all, you either need to know the changes of colour of the parts over the years or you don't. I don't. Yet.

Even Lego gets a decent write up. I might be picky and suggest that the history of the Minifig (little Lego people to the uninitiated) ignores the very early models with no expression and arms firmly moulded into their sides, but I couldn't disagree that with the suggestion that at one point the company had too many special bricks in the range. What didn't occur to me was that this problem was an issue with manufacture as the change over time between moulds takes a long time and the larger then number of "specials", the more changeovers you need.

Anyway, I haven't enjoyed a book this much for ages, go out and treat yourself, you won't regret it.

Buy the book from Amazon

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