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Children's Television by Alistair McGown
Introduction Scheduling Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
Drama Youth Imports Schools    
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The Toy Box
Still from Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds (1965-66)
Lady Penelope inspired her own magazine

The coming of popular television was fuelled by the consumer boom of the early 1950s. Life gradually returned to normal in the years following the war as shortages and rationing lessened and consumer confidence grew. A resulting baby boom brought in the first TV generation and this in turn led to a demand for 'character merchandise' - all sorts of products for children could be branded with the image of TV stars known across Britain. Puppets and books of characters like Muffin the Mule and Sooty became available - you could even buy a replica of Sooty's famous xylophone.

1950s children loved comics, and titles featuring the new TV stars soon appeared. TV Comic featured Muffin when launched in 1951 - by the '60s it included Gerry Anderson's series Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5. Anderson launched his own comic, TV Century 21, in 1965. At the peak of Thunderbirds' popularity in 1966 the combined weekly sale of TV21 and spin-off girls' comic Lady Penelope was an incredible 1.3 million copies. A publishing success of the '70s was Look-In, which featured pop music alongside TV comic strips.

Thunderbirds was one of the merchandising successes of the '60s - games, jigsaws, annuals and novels were everywhere. Particularly popular were Dinky toy models of the programme's futuristic vehicles. Almost thirty years later a model of the Thunderbirds Tracy Island base was the must-have toy for Christmas 1992. Another '60s sci-fi craze were the robot-like Daleks from Doctor Who - children wanted everything from slippers to child-size Dalek playsuits. The Magic Roundabout was another big name in toyshops of the mid '60s.

The worldwide success of tie-ins to the film Star Wars (20th Century Fox, 1977) suggested the way merchandising could financially support film and television production. TV cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the 1980s and '90s raised concerns from parents, who felt the programmes were just extended adverts for toy ranges.

Today, spin-offs from series like Teletubbies and Tweenies, aimed at toddlers, bring in millions for their makers.

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