Must-have toy of yesteryear returns

It was the must-have toy for generations of boys - and some have never grown out of it.Now Meccano is enjoying a comeback and a display of intricate models at a Norwich department store is helping to inspire the young engineers of the future, as well as bringing a nostalgic glow to many dads and grandads.

It was the must-have toy for generations of boys - and some have never grown out of it.

Now Meccano is enjoying a comeback and a display of intricate models at a Norwich department store is helping to inspire the young engineers of the future, as well as bringing a nostalgic glow to many dads and grandads.

The models, including a replica of King's Lynn Custom House, a Stuka dive bomber and a giant crane, are on show at the toy department of Jarrold.

They are the work of members of the East Anglian Meccano Set (TEAMS), a group of enthusiasts who meet three times a year at Carleton Rode Baptist Church, near Attleborough.

The centrepiece of the show is the novelty ball roller, made by brothers Maurice and Tony Rednall, of Diss.

The model, a prize winner at last year's SkegEx Meccano exhibition, features a system of lifts, gates and chutes which keep 28 balls on the move. Maurice, 76, first started playing with his elder brother Arthur's Meccano set as a boy of seven or eight, and was enthralled. “I liked its pure flexibility,” he said. “You could get your pocket money and go and buy a part. You could build what you fancied - you didn't have to copy.”

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Nearly 70 years on, Maurice, a retired telecommunications engineer, is still building Meccano models. “You don't grow out of it,” he said.

“It's a good time-filler, and you can learn a lot as well - you would be surprised what you can learn mechanic-ally. It keeps you young at heart. It keeps the brain going - I feel as mentally active now as I did 30 years ago.”

Meccano was tremendously popular but sales started to slump in the 1960s.

“I think it's because firms like Lego came up with toys that could be assembled by simply pushing together,” he said. “The present generation would find Meccano too fiddly. It isn't instant enough: you have got to spend time and effort on it. They want to press a button and have things happen immediately. You won't get that with Meccano.

“But things like Lego wouldn't stand the same stresses. It would just shake itself to pieces and come apart. You can't do any real engineering with it.”

The display brought back happy memories for Beatrice Tice, 65, who will shortly move to King's Lynn from Northamptonshire.

“I think it's absolutely fantastic - it's second-to-none,” she said. “My brother used to have a big Meccano set. We were allowed to sort out the nuts and bolts for him but not allowed to touch it. I used to play with it on the quiet.”

Bill Hunter, 69, of Wymondham, said: “It's amazing. I used to do Meccano and it certainly fired an interest in engineering. The children these days are more into electronics.”

His grandsons, Christian and Connor Flood, were impressed. Christian, 11, said: “I think it's good as well. I have some Meccano and I have made some little model cars. You do need a lot of patience for it.”

Connor, eight, said: “We were trying to make a model car but we couldn't really understand the instructions.”

Carole Slaughter, marketing mana-ger for Jarrold, said: “Meccano is making a comeback. Our toy department has noticed an upturn in interest in Meccano and related products.

“The display is proving very popular with dads and grandads. Meccano spans a really wide age range and it's terrific that it's still going. We hope this will inspire a new generation.”

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