Collecting Articles and Features

Psychedelic, Platforms And Patriotism – Dolls in The 1970s

1970s Punk  DollsThis was a fun era; nowadays, people look back and cruelly refer to it as the decade which taste forgot – but at the time, we didn’t realise we were living in a cultural wasteland!


The seventies was a colourful decade which still incorporated the sixties swirling psychedelic patterns. Large flowers – especially daisies – were on everything from ceramics to soft furnishing, and even baby items weren’t immune from the floral embellishments. A particular favourite shade was orange, often teemed with brown or green, while lilac, turquoise, purple and hot pink also featured strongly. Towards the end of the seventies, though, earth colours of sage green and sludge became fashionable, as designers rebelled. We were getting back to nature.


In Britain the decade was off to a flying start when the first ‘Jumbo Jet’, a Pan American 747, flew into Heathrow Airport in January 1970. Four years later, supersonic passenger service was inaugurated when Concorde took to the skies. The switch to decimal currency caused problems for a while until we all understood the new-fangled money, while 1973 saw the introduction of Value Added Tax.


Sandy Grease DollA lady politician with a penchant for blue suits, handbags and neatly permed hair became the first-ever British woman to head a political party when she was chosen by the Conservative Party as its new leader in 1975. Just a year earlier, the country was stunned after aristocratic Lord Lucan was named as the prime suspect after his children’s nanny was murdered, and his wife viciously attacked. He disappeared and has not been seen since, though reports of sightings still make the headlines.


The classic rock opera movie, ‘Tommy’, was released in 1975. It featured Elton John as the Pinball Wizard, towering over the other performers in an amazing pair of 4ft. 6ins high platform shoes. Other notable movies from the decade included ‘Cabaret’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Superman’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘Grease’, ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture’ and all-time favourite, ‘Star Wars’, which spawned countless toys and dolls. Television ratings were dominated by the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise who attracted viewers in their millions.


‘Glam Rock’ was very much the in-thing, with T. Rex, David Bowie, Gary Glitter and Queen topping the charts, and pop fans were still reeling from the shock of the Beatles break-up. The sudden death of Elvis Presley was another tragic blow to the music industry. Amongst the soon-to-be-indispensable discoveries were floppy disks, laser printers, video-cassette recorders, post-it notes, liquid crystal displays, food processors, cellular phones and walkmans. Walt Disney World opened in Florida, changing the face and expectations of holiday entertainment, while in Britain the 1970s was the decade of the package tour.


Palitoy Action GirlFlared trousers, platform soles, kaftans, maxi-dresses, cheesecloth tops, afghan coats edged with fleece, huge sunglasses, cowbells, braid, beads and fringing were all part of the fashion scene. Punks emerged in the mid-seventies, amazing Londoners with their spiky coloured hair, safety-pinned, ripped clothing and studded flesh, while, in complete contrast, delicate Laura Ashley dresses adorned fashionable young ladies.


Innovation was the keyword in the world of dolls. Manufacturers experimented with all kinds of movements; dolls danced, sung, cart-wheeled, roller-skated, blew kisses, wrote their names, grew their hair, laughed, inflated balloons and generally had a jolly good time. The majority of the performing dolls were battery-operated, though clockwork occasionally appeared. Another popular device was the pull cord mechanism, though this wasn’t so robust and was prone to snapping or to a deterioration of the device, causing it to spin.


Teen dolls were also big news, with Pippa, Action Girl, Daisy and Tressy all vying with Sindy, who was still going strong, while a beautiful baby doll called First Love was launched by Pedigree as a rival to Palitoy’s Tiny Tears. Larger size teens were in vogue too, especially those with ‘growing hair’ such as Sheena and the Crissy series. And, by complete contrast, simple rag dolls such as Holly Hobbie and Sarah Kay, or hard vinyl Sasha dolls with dreamy, barely-there features, were purchased by those who wanted to rebel against the high-tech playthings.


Flair Quant DaisyKatie Kopycat, Penny Puppywalker, Baby Won’t Let Go, Miss Happy Heart, Tracy Tea Party and Baby Alive are amongst those which today’s collectors seek out; they are remembered with affection and are classics of their time. Many of the dolls, despite being made or marketed in the United Kingdom, used American moulds or technology and therefore have US counterparts, though often bearing different names. Katie Kopycat, by Palitoy, was a distinctive girl with a hard plastic body and limbs which were unusually jointed at the elbows. Her head was of softer vinyl with blonde hair and painted eyes. Katie came with her own desk and could write or draw with the aid of a pantograph. Bradgate’s Penny Puppywalker was operated by means of an air-filled pump, which allowed her to take her puppy for a stroll, while Miss Happy Heart’s chest contained a ‘beating heart’, a controversial mechanism which unnerved many people. This doll, resplendent in a red and silver lame mini dress, was made by Bluebell.


Kenner BlytheKenner’s Tracy Tea Party, a pretty girl with a beaming smile, made herself useful by pouring tea and handing round the biscuits. She was distinctive with her jointed wrists and twist waist, and could also bow and seductively flutter her eye-lashes. Palitoy’s Baby Won’t Let Go had ‘magic gripping hands’, while Baby Alive, by the same company, could be fed a special food, sold in powdered form and mixed with water to make it palatable. This was one of their most successful dolls. Other Palitoy successes included a series of talking dolls operated either by pull cord or battery. As a tie-in with the nostalgia trend, many of these were dressed in Victorian-type print dresses and white pinafores. Perhaps the two most distinctive dolls from the era were Pedigree’s Popsy Posy and Palitoy’s Blythe. Popsy, clad in a flower-power trouser suit, could assume all kinds of strange positions, while Blythe, not overly popular at the time with her big head and colour-change eyes, leapt to fame in late 1990s when she was rediscovered by a photographer, gaining a whole new generation of fans.


Amongst the teen dolls, Palitoy’s Action Girl was distinctive with her multi-jointed body; she had an enormous collection of outfits and accessories in a selection of trendy 1970s styles, while Tressy with her growing hair, the diminutive Pippa and the dreamy-faced Daisy all had their fans. Daisy boasted a wardrobe designed by top fashion guru Mary Quant, who also designed the doll. The larger, elegant Sheena and the happy-faced Crissy were popular too. Just like Tressy, they featured growing hair which could be lengthened or shortened with the twist of a knob. Palitoy brought out a girl doll, as opposed to a teen, called Goldilocks, who also had this hair-grow mechanism.


Palitoy SheenaA decade earlier, a Swiss lady called Sasha Morgenthaler designed a doll intended to help children use their imagination, and during the 1970s this doll was manufactured in Britain by Trendon. It was, of course, Sasha, and is avidly collected today. Sasha was available as a girl, boy or bent-limbed baby, and the exceptional quality, wistful faces and unusual, p ale chocolate colouring of these dolls endeared them to many, although they were very expensive at the time.


Britain underwent a great show of patriotism in 1977 when Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Silver Jubilee. Street parties were held throughout the country, union jacks fluttered and shops brimmed with souvenir mugs, tins, pens, books, and puzzles. Mary Quant issued a special edition of her Daisy doll, wearing a dress made from union jack fabric, while the Amanda Jane company included a silver jubilee commemorative pendant with each of their dolls.


The decade ended with a high for women when Margaret Thatcher swept into power, in 1979, becoming the first British woman Prime Minister. She soon became known as the ‘Iron Lady’, and remained at the helm for the next eleven years, making her the longest continually serving prime minister in 150 years.


Dolls at WCN