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9th January 2015
Location: Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Interviewer: Lizzi Humphreys
Videographer: Dan Cash

Gordon: I had a Meccano set which my father made a case for. He made a wooden case for me for me for it. I used to make cranes particularly, and bridges. Winding up bridges and so on. And the cranes. And I had wheels, cogs and fabulous, a fabulous set, quite a few girders, and, you don’t find them now, but the triangular shapes of the metal. Good for bridges and stuff. I had other toys. I’m trying to think what would be of interest. Ah yes, the Lott’s bricks.

Lizzi: Lott’s bricks, yes

Gordon: I thought they were great. They inspired me. They were comforting too, because they were repetitive to make. But you could vary the model making enough to be of interest along the line as it were. And you had the green roofs. And I’m not quite sure what the stone was, some sort of marble with the colours printed on, which I thought was great. And later, my Dad made a dolls’ house for my sister, about this big [gestures] , and you could buy the green roofing paper and the brick paper, to make it look like a dolls’ house

Lizzi: Oh, lovely

Gordon: It had little rooms in, two at the top with a staircase down the middle, and a front door, and two downstairs.

Lizzi: Do you know how old you were when you had your Lott’s bricks?

Gordon: Yes, I was, let’s see, about four

Lizzi: So was it a birthday present, or …

Gordon: They just kind of appeared.

Gordon: The Meccano set was more or less stolen by a boy in the street I used to play with. He borrowed it and I never got it back.

Lizzi: Oh, right.

Gordon: So that was the story there. I was upset about that as well.

Lizzi: I imagine you would be, yes. How old were you when that happened then?

Gordon: 14.

Lizzi: Right

Gordon: 13.

Lizzi: So that was in?

Gordon: No, that was in Surrey. Derek.

Lizzi: So you’d had your Meccano set for quite some years then.

Gordon: That was about the first thing I had, I remember. ‘cos it was partly Dad’s I think when he was a boy. Gave him his interest in engineering possibly. And I inherited it. And he added to it. And I used to buy bits. And of course the train set, I mustn’t forget the train set.

Lizzi: Oh you had a train set?

Gordon: So, I’ll finish in a minute [laughs]. And yeah, he bought me this for a Christmas present and I was fascinated. And we, I added pieces to it. You know, in those days there were quite a lot of shops selling Tri-ang and stuff. Hornby 00. And I added a level crossing and a bridge and a platform and things like that. But the main thing with it, and it’s taken me a long time to realise how to do it. For some reason I wanted a ghost train made of it. And he would paint these pieces which in theory had a light behind them so when the train went over the rails the bulb lit up. But things overtook us, so it never got made. But I was fond of – I never wanted to be an engine driver but of course I had the books. Thomas the Tank Engine and Gordon and all those

ENDS – 4m 20s

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9th January 2015
Location: Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Interviewer: Lizzi Humphreys
Videographer: Dan Cash

00.06 – Lizzi: Good afternoon Gordon and thank you very much for coming.

Gordon: A pleasure.

Lizzi: That’s very nice of you. As I guess you know, this is really about teddy, dolls – in their widest sense – and construction toys. Maybe we could start with teddy bears and you could tell me anything – if you had a teddy bear or not?

Gordon: Yes I did have a teddy bear. One eye. And it was a bit moth eaten as well. I’m not sure where it came from. It could have come from my grandfather. It had quite a sharp pointed head and all the arms and legs I think were intact but one may have been missing, I’m not sure. And the teddy bear, because there was always something about teddy bears at that time. Well, there was Rupert as well of course. And Edward, the original teddy. And I used to play with that. And I had a monkey doll, had kind of fake fur. It’s funny, because I was in a school play playing a monkey at one time, and it turned into 2001. Those were the two main toys of that kind. I also had, I mentioned, Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Alice and Wonderland, which were twin knitted dolls with tubby bodies and rounded heads, quite similar to the illustrations.

Lizzi: Did you know where they came from?

Gordon: They just appeared. I think they were from my grandmother. And then there was a black doll, like a golliwog, and I was quite fond of that too. Then my sister had a wedding dress doll we called it, which came in quite a long box, and she had it for Christmas one year, and I had hoped to have a spaceship, but it couldn’t run to both, so that got passed by. And that had a, I think it was elastic bands in the neck to hold it together, so the arms and the head could turn round

Lizzi: I see what you mean

Gordon: And that was – I didn’t play with that really but she liked it, Sylvia, and the other toys were constructional in a way.

Lizzi: Just to take you back for a moment to you teddy bears. Did they have names?

Gordon: Well no. He was Teddy.

Lizzi: Suitable names

Gordon: And the monkey was Monkey. And they didn’t really have names. I didn’t do anything original with those.

Lizzi: I think that’s fine. My teddy was called teddy. Do you know how big they were?

Gordon: It was about that big.[gestures] And the monkey was the same size. A bit bigger maybe. And the golliwog was bigger, like that. [gestures] And Tweedledum and Tweedledum was like this too. So all about the same size, except for the toy bear, the toy golliwog. And what else can I say? They did play a role, but mainly as bystanders to everything else. And I’d place them there and play with my farm toys. Pigs and cows and things. Only one or two. And they’d be comforting because they were there. And of course, I mean, when we first lived in Suffolk there were still air raid sirens and things going off so it was quite a tense time. Strange people would call and things like that. So it was nice to have them because they were comforting really. And I didn’t really enact them in particular scenarios. As I say, they were there, and that was enough.

Lizzi: Did you, during the air raid warnings, did you go down to the shelters or did you …

Gordon: No, we didn’t have to, they were only just testing them. There was a pier building project on, and they made noises with the drill on Sundays which was disturbing. But this was a sort of backdrop to the house where my grandparents lived, which had four bedrooms, and we had the two bedrooms above the warehouse, and as I mentioned earlier, I could play with these boxes of detergent and soap and things and it gave me a sense of design which I came to use later. I also had – shall I go on?

Lizzi: Yes, yes, please.

05.54 – Gordon: I also had other toys. I had a Meccano set which my father made a case for. He made a wooden case for me for me for it. I used to make cranes particularly, and bridges. Winding up bridges and so on. And the cranes. And I had wheels, cogs and fabulous, a fabulous set, quite a few girders, and, you don’t find them now, but the triangular shapes of the metal. Good for bridges and stuff.

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: I had a 16 mil projector, which, because he’s an engineer, he built a transformer for. So we didn’t have to pay for batteries. And I used to run, when he came home from work we used to have little film shows on the glass bead screen he’s made up at work. With, the coronation was one. Ice skating and skiing. Not the coronation, Trooping the Colour. And we actually had a Trooping the Colour coach which my grandfather used on the coronation cake, which we still have of, some pieces of it left. And, I had other toys. I’m trying to think what would be of interest. Ah yes, the Lott’s bricks.

Lizzi: Lott’s bricks, yes

07.52 – Gordon: I thought they were great. They inspired me. They were comforting too, because they were repetitive to make. But you could vary the model making enough to be of interest along the line as it were. And you had the green roofs. And I’m not quite sure what the stone was, some sort of marble with the colours printed on, which I thought was great. And later, my Dad made a dolls’ house for my sister, about this big [gestures] , and you could buy the green roofing paper and the brick paper, to make it look like a dolls’ house

Lizzi: Oh, lovely

Gordon: It had little rooms in, two at the top with a staircase down the middle, and a front door, and two downstairs.

Lizzi: Do you know how old you were when you had your Lott’s bricks?

Gordon: Yes, I was, let’s see, about four

Lizzi: So was it a birthday present, or …

Gordon: They just kind of appeared.

Lizzi: I can’t see that without my glasses

Gordon: Is this going to be edited or?

Lizzi: Yep. Oh yes, don’t worry about that. So you were four did you say, they just appeared?

Gordon: They may well have been a Christmas present. They were, we had. Christmas was a very exciting time. We eventually had some electric tree lights. And he always bought in a real live tree. And I had, my aunt worked for Swanmills in Kent and we used to get all the seconds of the paper decorations so we’d festoon the whole place with these things. And I was given a helicopter model. I think you can still get them. And I was naughty, because I used to pull the cord and the thing would go up and rip the decorations.

Lizzi: I bet you were popular

Gordon: Yes, I was punished for that. Had a goldfish and a toy bird and a cat

Lizzi: A real goldfish or a toy goldfish?

Gordon: A real goldfish. Real goldfish. And he made a, he painted a backdrop for the tank which he’d made up at work. Made a tank, bolted it together. And that’s about it really.

Lizzi: Can I take you back to, you were saying that you played with the boxes, made things out of the boxes. Did you make any models as well?

Gordon: Yeah, I made, I made Plaster of Paris models

Lizzi: Oh right.

Gordon: And rubber moulds, which I bought with my pocket money. I used to have to help my grandfather get petrol, get paraffin from these tanks at the back, so he used to give me pocket money for doing that. And I used to get some plaster of Paris from the shop, that they didn’t want, or I’d buy it from Boots or somewhere trying to sell these things. And I had a soldier, and I used to spray flock onto its head for a busby, and all this stuff. Paint little cottages. And a duck. A mallard. And then I made, later on, one Christmas, I had two Pelham puppets, ‘cos Dad knew I was interested in that side of it and they were two, and I put them together and made some outfits for them. And this came from an interest in a book called The Suitcase Theatre I was given, and also I learnt a lot of conjuring tricks, I used to put on shows with those. And I had . . .

Lizzi: Who did you put the shows on for? Your family, or . . .

Gordon: My family, mostly

Lizzi: Yeah

12.24 – Gordon: That was after we moved. I took a book on conjuring with me, and Houdini, and all these guys, and I had a set of conjuring. David Nixon, it was called. And I had a , there was like the trick with the cups and little pellets that you moved them all around so you didn’t really know, and then there was the bendy magic wand which was this, and the paper wallet which would disappear. All standard things. And my favourite was the tubes which interlocked and you pull out streamers and silk scarves and things out of them. And that was apart, from that, the puppet theatre and I painted the scenery for it. Never actually put on a show with that. I actually did eventually produce the proscenium which was a huge thing.

Lizzi: How old were you when you were doing this? Do you remember?

Gordon: When I did the conjuring I was about 10. And then later with puppets, 12ish, 11.

Lizzi: And when you were making the plaster models?

Gordon: I gave that up. And I stopped doing that when I moved. So I was about 5, 6 would be. And painting. I had a lot of paints. I was very lucky because the lady, my aunt, who worked for Swanmills, also got me cartridge paper, so I was very lucky. Bound to lie flat spirello. So I had access. And beautiful paint sets someone, my father, gave me. Watercolours. So I had a background in that as well. And I knew all the colours. Like vermillion, cobalt and so on. Payne’s Grey and white. What was the white? I can’t remember that. I was quite interested in art at that time. And I did quite a few paintings. With the film, the art and the cinema. Quite into Disney at the time. Peter Pan and stuff. I got my interest in animation from flipper books and things. And eventually I ended up at the Royal College of art doing this.

Lizzi: One moment. Your microphone’s just fallen off.

Gordon: Oh has it?

Lizzi: We’re doing really well today here aren’t we?

Gordon: I didn’t notice that. How long’s it been off?

Lizzi: No, it just fell off now. It’s alright, it hasn’t been off for long.

Gordon: Is this what you want? Is this okay?

Dan: Yep, absolutely fine, yeah.

Lizzi: Without all the technical hitches we’d be doing a really good job! All right, okay. Let’s just check it’s going again. Could you just say hello to me?

Gordon: Speech. Testing, testing, one two.

Lizzi: That’s fine

Gordon: Testing.

Lizzi: Right, sorry about that. Right, where were we?

Gordon: We were somewhere in the middle of my five year childhood.

Lizzi: Childhood lasts a lot longer than that.

Gordon: Yes. It did.

Lizzi: Your Meccano and your bricks. What did you? Because you were saying your bricks led you onto your interest in …

Gordon: An interest in architecture. Yes. It was partly the feeling behind them when 5 they’d been made into a house. And this was something I liked. I liked the idea of this mock Tudor gable and red brick front and the green roof. And it kind of interested me in other areas of design later on, apart from that. And although they bought a house similar I then drifted away from that idea and the bricks went. And strangely enough, I had an opportunity to buy them again in Reigate. They had them for sale and I didn’t and that was sad. But you’ve got them here, so that was as good really.

I had an interest in spatial design from that and I was able to construct interiors. And I developed an interest, because my grandfather sold wallpaper and paints.

Lizzi: Oh right. So he had the hardware shop under where you lived, yes.

18.03 – Gordon: Well we lived above the warehouse in an annex. But yeah, he had wallpaper, so I had wallpaper books to play with when they was old. And it was great. And we wallpapered the doll’s house with the stuff from the shop. And the other things he sold were paints and what became vinyl tiles, linoleum. So I had a background in that field which included beeswax, and nuts and bolts, and detergents, as I said, paraffin, and all the things that people needed to supply themselves with after the war really. And we had, eventually we got an open fire, we had coal delivered as one did, and it was my job to go out and get it in the hod and bring it in of course. But that task was offset by the toys I had. I thought I was very lucky. And books. Shall I?

Lizzi: Your sister – is she older or is she younger than you?

Gordon: My sister. She’s three years younger than me. She was an infant school teacher, head of school, in a private school. She lives in Nutfield. She’s now a governor, a school governor. Like me, I live on voluntary work. So … No, I think that’s wrong. She didn’t have my problems mentally. Because I had, I slipped on some rocks when I was about three and I never had any treatment. And eventually I contracted bronchial pneumonia when I was four. And left me disfigured really. But apart from that I’ve done quite well. She went from strength to strength and when we were both at college in London we used to visit each other. I went to the University of Westminster and she was in Roehampton.

Lizzi: Teacher training I guess, yeah.

20.48 – Gordon: Yes. I did Communication Studies. I read the history of animation, the history of Allen Poe. It was great, because they had to do production and I was able to apply stuff I’d learnt about set design through that. And eventually I majored in journalism here, in Brighton, and it took off from there really. Just finished helping promote a book, two books, three books. Plus Chris Ellis’s. And one called ‘Rethreading my Life’ which is a story of. It’s like a requiem of her late husband. Which was good. And this one, Bible in Worksheets and the Three Kings. So I became Christian back in the 70s. With respect of other things I’m not sure what else to tell you.

Lizzi: One question I’d like to ask you. It’s a little bit like Desert Island Discs. But if the seas came racing in, which of your toys would you have saved?

Gordon: Well teddy bear immediately came to mind actually. Which of my toys? Probably the Meccano outfit.

Lizzi: Teddy and Meccano? Or?

Gordon: Oh teddy and Meccano. Can I have two?

Lizzi: Mm, oh I guess so. Which one if you really had to choose?

Gordon: Well I’d choose the Meccano, because it’s more constructive. [laughter] I mean teddies are great but … My former wife loved teddy bears. She had a big collection actually. And one thing I wanted to mention was books I had. Well apart from Rupert which I really adored. I used to get those for Christmas of course in the stocking. And Beano and Dandy books. The Eagle Annual. A book of science fiction stories and rocket development stories. Noddy. I always wanted to paint the frontispiece on my wall. It was a matter of patience really. And I had a couple of other children’s books. Wizard of Oz.

Lizzi: With your toys, you said earlier that you teddy bears and your dolls one day just weren’t there. Do you know what happened to your Meccano set or?

Gordon: The Meccano set was more or less stolen by a boy in the street I used to play with. He borrowed it and I never got it back.

Lizzi: Oh, right.

Gordon: So that was the story there. I was upset about that as well.

Lizzi: I imagine you would be, yes. How old were you when that happened then?

Gordon: 14.

Lizzi: Right

Gordon: 13.

Lizzi: So that was in?

Gordon: No, that was in Surrey. Derek.

Lizzi: So you’d had your Meccano set for quite some years then.

Gordon: That was about the first thing I had, I remember. ‘cos it was partly Dad’s I think when he was a boy. Gave him his interest in engineering possibly. And I inherited it. And he added to it. And I used to buy bits. And of course the train set, I mustn’t forget the train set.

Lizzi: Oh you had a train set?

Gordon: So, I’ll finish in a minute [laughs]. And yeah, he bought me this for a Christmas present and I was fascinated. And we, I added pieces to it. You know, in those days there were quite a lot of shops selling Tri-ang and stuff. Hornby 00. And I added a level crossing and a bridge and a platform and things like that. But the main thing with it, and it’s taken me a long time to realise how to do it. For some reason I wanted a ghost train made of it. And he would paint these pieces which in theory had a light behind them so when the train went over the rails the bulb lit up. But things overtook us, so it never got made. But I was fond of – I never wanted to be an engine driver but of course I had the books. Thomas the Tank Engine and Gordon and all those as well. So that was …

Lizzi: Did you ever use your Meccano with your train set? To sort of make bridges or

Gordon: A bit. Not a great deal. Somehow they were separate from each other. I think we made a gate. Two gates. At one point. But I can’t remember quite to be honest.

Lizzi: Well thank you very, very much. That’s been really interesting.

Gordon: Thank you. I hope it’s been helpful

Lizzi: Yes it’s been lovely. And thank you for putting up with our technical problems.

Gordon: I was an AV technician for four years.

Lizzi: Well that’s alright then. Well why didn’t you say so? You could have helped! [laughter]

Gordon: I still could.

INTERVIEW ENDS – 26m 48s

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9th January 2015
Location: Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Interviewer: Lizzi Humphreys
Videographer: Dan Cash Audio only until 16.59
NB – Born Stone, Staffordshire, 1947

Lizzi: The research that we’re doing is based primarily around teddy bears, dolls of any description, however wide that is, and construction toys

Gordon: Oh okay

Lizzi: You seemed to perk up a bit at the mention of the construction toys rather than the teddy bears, yeah?

00.24 – Gordon: Well I did have a teddy bear, and it was a bit moth eaten but I was very fond of it. I had a monkey as well. And construction toys – sorry, are we recording? Yeah, well construction toys, I had a Meccano set, which was never big enough and Lott’s bricks.

Lizzi: Well maybe if we start off with your teddy bear and monkey first then. Do you remember how you got them?

Gordon: My father gave me them I think. We lived in Lowestoft at the time, and it was just the start of the 2nd war, and I had quite a lot of cuddly toys actually. Apart from teddy bear and the monkey I had Tweedledum and Tweedledee dolls

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: And a Black Sambo doll, which was a current book of the time in school.

Lizzi: Mm

Gordon: I also. My sister had a wedding dress doll.

Lizzi: Right

Gordon: Which is very chic for her, but I thought it was in my stocking as some sort of spaceship, so I was very disappointed that I didn’t get the spaceship and it had gone to her [Lizzi laughs]. The monkey had pencilled in eyes. It had a kind of oval face, nearly, a figure eight face, with the lower part smaller than the top, and Dad pencilled in a face on this. So I don’t know where he got from really, except my grandfather may have had them

Lizzi: Oh right

02.16 – Gordon: Because we lived with him

Lizzi: yeah

Gordon: in a flat by his shop. And talking of constructional toys, I had access to all the detergent and soap packets and things like that so I was able to construct things from those. And it was a unique opportunity, because no one else did. And I used to play in the boxes and make toy theatres and things like that.

Lizzi: So you were the forefront of Blue Peter and sticky backed plastic weren’t you?

Gordon: Well kind of. It was before Blue Peter of course. But yes. I made, well constructional again. I used to make Plaster of Paris models. I had a duck, and a cottage and a soldier. And I loved doing this, and I found the shop stocked plaster of Paris, so I had a ready supply. And I used to spend my money on buying plaster of Paris from Boots or wherever as well. And that was a fascinating thing. I had jigsaws.

Lizzi: Yes

Gordon: 500 piece. Which were 50. And I didn’t have that many toys, but what I did had I made full use of. And I don’t know if this is relevant, but I for example, I had a 16 millimetre projector which my Dad bought me. And he worked for a glass bead company at the time, and so he had a string coated in glass beads which was great for resolution on the films. You could buy these for, I think it was one and nine in old money, for two or three feet, a loop. He put in a permanent transformer and lightbulb so I didn’t have to keep buying batteries. And he came from work, we used to have film shows, me winding this thing up. I had Trooping the Colour, a spear, ice skating, Charlie Chaplin and wrestling. Black and white. So I had a good supply of images for that. So that tied in.

I also had kind of funny things like I had a toy sewing machine, a working model. And I used to enjoy to enjoy doing that. Tapestry. I wasn’t very good at that. I used to enjoy trying anyway with these things.

Lizzi: So did you make outfits for your monkey or your teddy bear or anything like that?

Gordon: No, no I didn’t. I just did basic sewing machining. [Laughter] That came with my puppets. You remind me. I had a book called The Suitcase Theatre and it was how to make a model marionette theatre, with all the instructions, and the plays and colour schemes and things. I went with this idea of conjuring for quite a while. And I eventually made the theatre. The proscenium was black cotton, about this wide. And the puppets, Pelham made them. And I made suits of clothes for them. And it was disappointing in the end. I’d waited so long to create this thing. I’d painted the scenery and all this. And then I found it didn’t intrigue me anymore. Strange, having done it. That was quite a bit later.

06.25 The Lott’s bricks were my favourite. That introduced me to architecture. I nearly went, did a course in it. I saw them here.

Lizzi: Yes

Gordon: They were a fabulous thing. I was quite taken with them. So satisfying to have this simple construction where you had a roof and sides and all this. Yes, that was enjoyable. What other toys did I have? I had farm animals, which interested me in farming, and … Not really Dinky toys. I wasn’t really that into cars at the time, that came later. And anyway they were expensive too, and couldn’t altogether afford them.

One of the toys my boyhood friend had, Archie. There was a craze for a quiz using a robot which you may remember? And it would point like this. [gestures]

Lizzi: Oh right.

Gordon: And that was popular. And I had a set of questions about football teams. And it was an earlier, it was a kind of. You put a cursor on one of the questions, and then an answer with a light pen, and if it happened to fit the silver underlay which was tracking to the answer, it lit up.

Lizzi: Oh right

Gordon: So that was good. That took a pencil battery in it. And I think that’s all I can recall. I did have run of the house, my grandparents, they had four bedrooms and we had two. And it was unique in that sense, because I had . . . And there was a big cellar, that was all spooky and funny, and I used to go there.

8.40 – Lizzi: Do you remember what happened to your teddy bear or your monkey?

Gordon: One night I went to bed with all my dolls either side, and they’d gone in the morning. And my parents had taken them. And I don’t know why, other than I’d had some kind of psychological thing, I’d had bronchial pneumonia

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: and maybe that’s the reason, to make me sit up.

Lizzi: How did you feel about that?

Gordon: Well, I felt terrible. Because I was quite happy, and they’d all gone,. But having said that, there were quite a lot of people in the street who weren’t as well off, and they might have gone to them.

09.25 – Dan: Can I stop you there? I think I’ve got a problem.

Lizzi: Oh, have you?

Dan: Yep, I think so. Ah, I just need to check this. I’ll be back in a minute.

Lizzi: Yes, that’s fine

Dan: Just talk among yourselves.

[Laughter]

[Dan leaves the room]

Gordon: I hope it’s recorded

Lizzi: It always happens with technology doesn’t it? You see, you’re better off with those crank things

Gordon: Yes, that was a long time before video of course

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: But it was great. I mean, as a part, it was fabulous really, having all these toys. I like, I liked to be able to play and create things. Quite creative. For example, I made a dinosaur at school and it went in an exhibition. Not so much in school really. We used to play cigarette cards.

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: Got a set of those still. And painting. And we did. Well the school now is like Steiner really. Very creative

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: Considering these were trawler men’s children. A lot of them.

Lizzi: So where did you grow up?

Gordon: Well we moved from Stone when I was three months. And I lived in Lowestoft until I was 10, 9. ‘57, yeah, 10. And I went to school there. Then my father got a job with the Monotype Corporation and he had to move, we had to move to Reigate. And my parents are 94 now and they’ve been there ever since.

Lizzi: Wow

Gordon: So they celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary this year.

Lizzi: Goodness me

Gordon: And he then, from the glass bead company and making cans for Zephyr, he went to become technical manager of Monotype Corporation, and he helped design the laser print computer, word processing and all those innovations in the 70s

Lizzi: Wow, that was . . .

Gordon: So that was quite a fascinating background, ‘cos I used to go in, well into the R and D offices

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: And they made them for China, the Arab States. Five awards for industry. So apart from all the troubles I had it was good. My breakdowns and stuff. But. . .

[Dan enters the room]

Gordon: did it work?

Dan: Not sure yet.

Lizzi: The memory card’s just stopped has it?

Dan: It’s just full. Hasn’t been cleared after the last few interviews

Gordon: How many have you done?

Dan: Well, we did a few hours over at St Dunstan’s with the Blind Veterans

Gordon: Oh yes?

Dan: Yeah, that was interesting. And there’s a couple of hours . . . This is really getting on my nerves.

[pause while video recorder set up]

Gordon: Is there any on there?

Dan: Um.

[pause]

Dan: Don’t know. I will need to ask Andrea. I think it’s okay though. I think it was just running low

[Dan leaves the room]

Lizzi: So your parents still live independently do they?

Gordon: They live together yeah, independently. I moved down here after a marriage breakup

Lizzi: Every bee has its reasons to come to Brighton I think

Gordon: Well, I lived by the sea and I never really got over not living by the sea.

Lizzi: It’s strange you say that because I’m exactly the same. I like to be on the edge of land. And it wasn’t until I was in the middle of land that I realised this. Yeah

14.20 – Gordon: Well that’s interesting too, because I was in Prague, and I went down – just for a week – and I went down to Lichtenstein and I just couldn’t believe, this massive area that had no water. Just horrible, I couldn’t live there at all

Lizzi: I know it’s strange isn’t it? Because I keep – when I was in Reading I kept going over hills expecting to see the sea and nothingness and of course you just don’t.

Gordon: It was the summer that really alienated me from Surrey because I could never get to the water. And at one point they stopped the direct trains to Brighton so you had to change all the time. And it put people off.

[Dan enters the room]

Dan: Well I’ve spoken to Andrea and unfortunately we didn’t catch any of what you’ve just said.

Gordon: Take two

Dan: Yes I’m afraid so. If that’s alright?

Gordon: Well, I’ll do my best.

Lizzi: Okay, we’ll start all over again. [Laughter]

Dan: Well sometimes it’s better that way, because it gives you a chance to refresh your memories about some of the toys

Gordon: I did a shoot the other week, Brighton Housing Trust, and I did 20 takes on this, so I’m kind of used to it. If that’s possible.

15.35–

Dan: We won’t be so cruel. We’ll just let you speak

Gordon: Well start me off again.

Lizzi: We’ll start you off again. Good afternoon Gordon and thank you very much for coming.

Gordon: A pleasure.

Lizzi: That’s very nice of you. As I guess you know, this is really about teddy, dolls – in their widest sense – and construction toys. Maybe we could start with teddy bears and you could tell me anything – if you had a teddy bear or not?

Gordon: Yes I did have a teddy bear. One eye. And it was a bit moth eaten as well. I’m not sure where it came from. It could have come from my grandfather. It had quite a sharp pointed head and all the arms and legs I think were intact but one may have been missing, I’m not sure. And the teddy bear, because there was always something about teddy bears at that time. Well, there was Rupert as well of course. And Edward, the original teddy. And I used to play with that. And I had a monkey doll, had kind of fake fur. It’s funny, because I was in a school play playing a monkey at one time, and it turned into 2001. Those were the two main toys of that kind. I also had, I mentioned, Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Alice and Wonderland, which were twin knitted dolls with tubby bodies and rounded heads, quite similar to the illustrations.

Lizzi: Did you know where they came from?

Gordon: They just appeared. I think they were from my grandmother. And then there was a black doll, like a golliwog, and I was quite fond of that too. Then my sister had a wedding dress doll we called it, which came in quite a long box, and she had it for Christmas one year, and I had hoped to have a spaceship, but it couldn’t run to both, so that got passed by. And that had a, I think it was elastic bands in the neck to hold it together, so the arms and the head could turn round

Lizzi: I see what you mean

Gordon: And that was – I didn’t play with that really but she liked it, Sylvia, and the other toys were constructional in a way.

Lizzi: Just to take you back for a moment to you teddy bears. Did they have names? Gordon: Well no. He was Teddy.

Lizzi: Suitable names

Gordon: And the monkey was Monkey. And they didn’t really have names. I didn’t do anything original with those.

Lizzi: I think that’s fine. My teddy was called teddy. Do you know how big they were?

Gordon: It was about that big.[gestures] And the monkey was the same size. A bit bigger maybe. And the golliwog was bigger, like that. [gestures] And Tweedledum and Tweedledum was like this too. So all about the same size, except for the toy bear, the toy golliwog. And what else can I say? They did play a role, but mainly as bystanders to everything else. And I’d place them there and play with my farm toys. Pigs and cows and things. Only one or two. And they’d be comforting because they were there. And of course, I mean, when we first lived in Suffolk there were still air raid sirens and things going off so it was quite a tense time. Strange people would call and things like that. So it was nice to have them because they were comforting really. And I didn’t really enact them in particular scenarios. As I say, they were there, and that was enough.

Lizzi: Did you, during the air raid warnings, did you go down to the shelters or did you …

Gordon: No, we didn’t have to, they were only just testing them. There was a pier building project on, and they made noises with the drill on Sundays which was disturbing. But this was a sort of backdrop to the house where my grandparents lived, which had four bedrooms, and we had the two bedrooms above the warehouse, and as I mentioned earlier, I could play with these boxes of detergent and soap and things and it gave me a sense of design which I came to use later. I also had – shall I go on?

Lizzi: Yes, yes, please.

21.30 – Gordon: I also had other toys. I had a Meccano set which my father made a case for. He made a wooden case for me for me for it. I used to make cranes particularly, and bridges. Winding up bridges and so on. And the cranes. And I had wheels, cogs and fabulous, a fabulous set, quite a few girders, and, you don’t find them now, but the triangular shapes of the metal. Good for bridges and stuff.

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: I had a 16 mil projector, which, because he’s an engineer, he built a transformer for. So we didn’t have to pay for batteries. And I used to run, when he came home from work we used to have little film shows on the glass bead screen he’s made up at work. With, the coronation was one. Ice skating and skiing. Not the coronation, Trooping the Colour. And we actually had a Trooping the Colour coach which my grandfather used on the coronation cake, which we still have of, some pieces of it left.

23.07 – And, I had other toys. I’m trying to think what would be of interest. Ah yes, the Lott’s bricks.

Lizzi: Lott’s bricks, yes

Gordon: I thought they were great. They inspired me. They were comforting too, because they were repetitive to make. But you could vary the model making enough to be of interest along the line as it were. And you had the green roofs. And I’m not quite sure what the stone was, some sort of marble with the colours printed on, which I thought was great. And later, my Dad made a dolls’ house for my sister, about this big [gestures] , and you could buy the green roofing paper and the brick paper, to make it look like a dolls’ house

Lizzi: Oh, lovely

Gordon: It had little rooms in, two at the top with a staircase down the middle, and a front door, and two downstairs.

Lizzi: Do you know how old you were when you had your Lott’s bricks?

Gordon: Yes, I was, let’s see, about four

Lizzi: So was it a birthday present, or …

Gordon: They just kind of appeared.

Lizzi: I can’t see that without my glasses

Gordon: Is this going to be edited or?

Lizzi: Yep. Oh yes, don’t worry about that. So you were four did you say, they just appeared?

Gordon: They may well have been a Christmas present. They were, we had. Christmas was a very exciting time. We eventually had some electric tree lights. And he always bought in a real live tree. And I had, my aunt worked for Swanmills in Kent and we used to get all the seconds of the paper decorations so we’d festoon the whole place with these things. And I was given a helicopter model. I think you can still get them. And I was naughty, because I used to pull the cord and the thing would go up and rip the decorations.

Lizzi: I bet you were popular

Gordon: Yes, I was punished for that. Had a goldfish and a toy bird and a cat

Lizzi: A real goldfish or a toy goldfish?

Gordon: A real goldfish. Real goldfish. And he made a, he painted a backdrop for the tank which he’d made up at work. Made a tank, bolted it together. And that’s about it really.

Lizzi: Can I take you back to, you were saying that you played with the boxes, made things out of the boxes. Did you make any models as well?

Gordon: Yeah, I made, I made Plaster of Paris models

Lizzi: Oh right.

Gordon: And rubber moulds, which I bought with my pocket money. I used to have to help my grandfather get petrol, get paraffin from these tanks at the back, so he used to give me pocket money for doing that. And I used to get some plaster of Paris from the shop, that they didn’t want, or I’d buy it from Boots or somewhere trying to sell these things. And I had a soldier, and I used to spray flock onto its head for a busby, and all this stuff. Paint little cottages. And a duck. A mallard. And then I made, later on, one Christmas, I had two Pelham puppets, ‘cos Dad knew I was interested in that side of it and they were two, and I put them together and made some outfits for them. And this came from an interest in a book called The Suitcase Theatre I was given, and also I learnt a lot of conjuring tricks, I used to put on shows with those. And I had . . .

Lizzi: Who did you put the shows on for? Your family, or . . .

Gordon: My family, mostly

Lizzi: Yeah

Gordon: That was after we moved. I took a book on conjuring with me, and Houdini, and all these guys, and I had a set of conjuring. David Nixon, it was called. And I had a , there was like the trick with the cups and little pellets that you moved them all around so you didn’t really know, and then there was the bendy magic wand which was this, and the paper wallet which would disappear. All standard things. And my favourite was the tubes which interlocked and you pull out streamers and silk scarves and things out of them. And that was apart, from that, the puppet theatre and I painted the scenery for it. Never actually put on a show with that. I actually did eventually produce the proscenium which was a huge thing.

Lizzi: How old were you when you were doing this? Do you remember?

29.20 – Gordon: When I did the conjuring I was about 10. And then later with puppets, 12ish, 11.

Lizzi: And when you were making the plaster models?

Gordon: I gave that up. And I stopped doing that when I moved. So I was about 5, 6 would be. And painting. I had a lot of paints. I was very lucky because the lady, my aunt, who worked for Swanmills, also got me cartridge paper, so I was very lucky. Bound to lie flat spirello. So I had access. And beautiful paint sets someone, my father, gave me. Watercolours. So I had a background in that as well. And I knew all the colours. Like vermillion, cobalt and so on. Payne’s Grey and white. What was the white? I can’t remember that. I was quite interested in art at that time. And I did quite a few paintings. With the film, the art and the cinema. Quite into Disney at the time. Peter Pan and stuff. I got my interest in animation from flipper books and things. And eventually I ended up at the Royal College of art doing this.

Lizzi: One moment. Your microphone’s just fallen off.

Gordon: Oh has it?

Lizzi: We’re doing really well today here aren’t we?

Gordon: I didn’t notice that. How long’s it been off?

Lizzi: No, it just fell off now. It’s alright, it hasn’t been off for long.

Gordon: Is this what you want? Is this okay?

Dan: Yep, absolutely fine, yeah.

Lizzi: Without all the technical hitches we’d be doing a really good job! All right, okay. Let’s just check it’s going again. Could you just say hello to me?

Gordon: Speech. Testing, testing, one two.

Lizzi: That’s fine

Gordon: Testing.

Lizzi: Right, sorry about that. Right, where were we?

Gordon: We were somewhere in the middle of my five year childhood.

Lizzi: Childhood lasts a lot longer than that.

Gordon: Yes. It did.

Lizzi: Your Meccano and your bricks. What did you? Because you were saying your bricks led you onto your interest in …

Gordon: An interest in architecture. Yes. It was partly the feeling behind them when they’d been made into a house. And this was something I liked. I liked the idea of this mock Tudor gable and red brick front and the green roof. And it kind of interested me in other areas of design later on, apart from that. And although they bought a house similar I then drifted away from that idea and the bricks went. And strangely enough, I had an opportunity to buy them again in Reigate. They had them for sale and I didn’t and that was sad. But you’ve got them here, so that was as good really.

33.20 – I had an interest in spatial design from that and I was able to construct interiors. And I developed an interest, because my grandfather sold wallpaper and paints.

Lizzi: Oh right. So he had the hardware shop under where you lived, yes.

Gordon: Well we lived above the warehouse in an annex. But yeah, he had wallpaper, so I had wallpaper books to play with when they was old. And it was great. And we wallpapered the doll’s house with the stuff from the shop. And the other things he sold were paints and what became vinyl tiles, linoleum. So I had a background in that field which included beeswax, and nuts and bolts, and detergents, as I said, paraffin, and all the things that people needed to supply themselves with after the war really. And we had, eventually we got an open fire, we had coal delivered as one did, and it was my job to go out and get it in the hod and bring it in of course. But that task was offset by the toys I had. I thought I was very lucky. And books. Shall I?

Lizzi: Your sister – is she older or is she younger than you?

Gordon: My sister. She’s three years younger than me. She was an infant school teacher, head of school, in a private school. She lives in Nutfield. She’s now a governor, a school governor. Like me, I live on voluntary work. So … No, I think that’s wrong. She didn’t have my problems mentally. Because I had, I slipped on some rocks when I was about three and I never had any treatment. And eventually I contracted bronchial pneumonia when I was four. And left me disfigured really. But apart from that I’ve done quite well. She went from strength to strength and when we were both at college in London we used to visit each other. I went to the University of Westminster and she was in Roehampton.

Lizzi: Teacher training I guess, yeah.

36.20 – Gordon: Yes. I did Communication Studies. I read the history of animation, the history of Allen Poe. It was great, because they had to do production and I was able to apply stuff I’d learnt about set design through that. And eventually I majored in journalism here, in Brighton, and it took off from there really. Just finished helping promote a book, two books, three books. Plus Chris Ellis’s. And one called ‘Rethreading my Life’ which is a story of. It’s like a requiem of her late husband. Which was good. And this one, Bible in Worksheets and the Three Kings. So I became Christian back in the 70s. With respect of other things I’m not sure what else to tell you.

Lizzi: One question I’d like to ask you. It’s a little bit like Desert Island Discs. But if the seas came racing in, which of your toys would you have saved?

Gordon: Well teddy bear immediately came to mind actually. Which of my toys? Probably the Meccano outfit.

Lizzi: Teddy and Meccano? Or?

Gordon: Oh teddy and Meccano. Can I have two?

Lizzi: Mm, oh I guess so. Which one if you really had to choose?

Gordon: Well I’d choose the Meccano, because it’s more constructive. [laughter] I mean teddies are great but … My former wife loved teddy bears. She had a big collection actually. And one thing I wanted to mention was books I had. Well apart from Rupert which I really adored. I used to get those for Christmas of course in the stocking. And Beano and Dandy books. The Eagle Annual. A book of science fiction stories and rocket development stories. Noddy. I always wanted to paint the frontispiece on my wall. It was a matter of patience really. And I had a couple of other children’s books. Wizard of Oz.

Lizzi: With your toys, you said earlier that you teddy bears and your dolls one day just weren’t there. Do you know what happened to your Meccano set or?

Gordon: The Meccano set was more or less stolen by a boy in the street I used to play with. He borrowed it and I never got it back.

Lizzi: Oh, right.

Gordon: So that was the story there. I was upset about that as well.

Lizzi: I imagine you would be, yes. How old were you when that happened then?

Gordon: 14.

Lizzi: Right

Gordon: 13.

Lizzi: So that was in?

Gordon: No, that was in Surrey. Derek.

Lizzi: So you’d had your Meccano set for quite some years then.

Gordon: That was about the first thing I had, I remember. ‘cos it was partly Dad’s I think when he was a boy. Gave him his interest in engineering possibly. And I inherited it. And he added to it. And I used to buy bits. And of course the train set, I mustn’t forget the train set.

Lizzi: Oh you had a train set?

Gordon: So, I’ll finish in a minute [laughs]. And yeah, he bought me this for a Christmas present and I was fascinated. And we, I added pieces to it. You know, in those days there were quite a lot of shops selling Tri-ang and stuff. Hornby 00. And I added a level crossing and a bridge and a platform and things like that. But the main thing with it, and it’s taken me a long time to realise how to do it. For some reason I wanted a ghost train made of it. And he would paint these pieces which in theory had a light behind them so when the train went over the rails the bulb lit up. But things overtook us, so it never got made. But I was fond of – I never wanted to be an engine driver but of course I had the books. Thomas the Tank Engine and Gordon and all those as well. So that was …

Lizzi: Did you ever use your Meccano with your train set? To sort of make bridges or

Gordon: A bit. Not a great deal. Somehow they were separate from each other. I think we made a gate.
Two gates. At one point. But I can’t remember quite to be honest.

Lizzi: Well thank you very, very much. That’s been really interesting.

Gordon: Thank you. I hope it’s been helpful

Lizzi: Yes it’s been lovely. And thank you for putting up with our technical problems.

Gordon: I was an AV technician for four years.

Lizzi: Well that’s alright then. Well why didn’t you say so? You could have helped! [laughter]

Gordon: I still could.

INTERVIEW ENDS – 42.23

Gordon S

Gordon was born in 1947 in Stowe in Staffordshire but until the age of ten lived in Lowestoft with his parents and grandparents in an annex above his grandfather’s warehouse. His father was an engineer and the family moved to Reigate when Gordon was ten and his father got a job with the Monotype Corporation. In the short version (4m 20s) of his interview he talks about Meccano, Lotts Bricks and his train set. In the full version (26m 48s) he also discusses cuddly toys, plaster of Paris models, and his puppet theatre.