Friday 7 November 2014

merchandising and cult TV

Merchandising associated with TV series is something we take for granted these days. But when did the practice start?

Corgi Toys in Britain were producing diecast models of the vehicles featured in series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers by the mid-60s. I suspect though that it may have started on a large scale with the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series of the 60s. I knew they were producing merchandising for Stingray in 1964 but it appears that there were Fireball XL5 models earlier than that, and the Fireball XL5 series dates from 1962.

I can remember the Lincoln International remote-control Stingray which could even submerge. I’m fairly sure that the same company also made a Z Cars remote-controlled Ford Cortina police car.

Of course merchandising really took off in a huge way with Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The Corgi die-cast Captain Scarlet vehicles were very cool. Another treasured memory is the Airfix Angel Interceptor plastic kit.

The Corgi “Thrush-Buster” car from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a bit odd, being really just a saloon car. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was slightly unusual in not putting its heroes behind the wheels of sexy sports cars, perhaps because the concept of the series was that they were law enforcement officers and law enforcement officers don’t drive sexy sports cars. The Corgi Avengers Gift Pack with Mrs Peel’s Lotus Elan and Steed’s 4½-litre supercharged Bentley was rather nice.

Tie-in novels were also well-established by the mid-1960s with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series eventually running to two dozen titles and apparently selling very well indeed. I still have vivid memories of Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin battling vampires in The Vampire Affair.

Even more exciting (to me at least) were the TV21 Annuals that represented a bold attempt to link all the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series into a single unified universe. And with lots of cool technical details of the equipment.

Merchandising would really explode with the Star Trek and Star Wars phenomena but it was already big business in the 60s.

I just wish I'd had the brains to keep all the stuff of this type that I used to own. Especially those TV21 Annuals!


  1. That's a good point, that Solo and Illya were law enforcement officers and thus wouldn't have had sexy sports cars to drive. They drove a Chevy convertible -- not a Corvette, the big Impala -- and later on Chryslers, including a Dodge Charger. But don't forget the special gullwing-style U.N.C.L.E. car, the two-seater with movie-Bond gadgets. I expect the actors disliked working in it (it had no air conditioning and the windows didn't roll down), and it was hardly suitable for undercover work! Fortunately it was in only a handful of Season Three episodes and one in Season Four.

  2. I had a Supercar toy, which had discs to control the pattern it took, for Xmas 1963, when the series was showing in syndication, about the time FIREBALL XL5 was on network Saturday morning kids TV.....and got a nearly complete set of the UNCLE paperbacks many years ago for a pound, in a big box with some of the old STAR TREK ones from around the same time.....