Bringing must-have Turtle toys to South Shields

Displaying a Thunderbirds Tracy Island and TV Gladiator toys.
Displaying a Thunderbirds Tracy Island and TV Gladiator toys.

The recent article about “must-have” toys, and mention of the still-popular-today Teenage Mutant (Ninja) Hero Turtles, prompted reader Colin Campbell to get in touch with a wonderful tale of those “turtles in a half shell”.

Accompanied by a photo of an as yet unnamed woman in front of a display of playthings, including the Thunderbirds Tracy Island and TV’s Gladiators, the article told of the huge demand for Turtle toys back in the 1980s – something which Colin remembers well.

“I enjoy your features,” says Colin, generously. “All good local history, and I have this for you.

“Fads, Christmas crazes, kids must-haves – in late 80s I worked for a shipping company in New Orleans.

“When I came home one weekend, in late November 1989, my sister Sue gave me four-pages of A4, with lists of ninja turtles her friends were desperate for. ToysRus, didn’t have any, so I thought this is a good opportunity to make a bob or two.

“I went to ToysRus in New Orleans at 11pm and cleared the shelves into four trolleys. I had the manager and two staff following me – in case I was nuts.

“I next went over to Children’s World and did the same, only this time the staff helped me, and we filled four trolleys again.

“I sent them over to Newcastle airport in shrink wrap, my office partner advertised them, and they sold like hot cakes. By December 5, we’d sold about a thousand of them.”

Colin said by now, the word was out and people from the Lakes to the Midlands were ordering ninja turtles.

“I flew back to new Orleans, went back to ToysRus and Children’s World, and told the management the story about how rare ninjas were in the UK. I think I may have invented a charity link, so they co-operated.

“This time, they just gave me boxes of toys direct from the stockroom, easier to parcel up for airfreight to Newcastle.

“To make sure they all sold, I informed the Gazette that 4,000 turtles were on the way. When they arrived about December 12, I drove from Newcastle airport into Shields.

“The hoarding flyer outside the newsagents declared: ‘Four thousand ninja turtles arrive in Tyneside’ Wow what advertising! Inside, a full page was dedicated to the story. Unfortunately, it had its downside too,

“For I was ordered to the town hall by environmental health to make sure the toys were the real thing. The official pulled and twisted arms and legs whilst I prayed they stayed on. The reams of till receipts didn’t convince him the toys were genuine, but thankfully Donatello passed the test as did April Jones (very rare!)

“The Sunday before Christmas, more than a 150 people queued outside of our Coronation Street office waiting for us to open so they could pay for and pick up their children’s precious toys. They had travelled from all over the north of England.

“We opened our office at 10am and in trooped the folk who had come from far and wide. But the publicity hit home again. Along with the customers, in trooped, the council’s environmental health enforcement officer – he was there to make sure Sunday trading laws were adhered too, i.e. no money could change hands and no goods sold.

“Only a few people got their turtles because we had to close our office. One desperate couple from Cumbria waited outside and pleaded with me to sell them four ninja turtles, so I drove behind the gas tank in Coronation Street, looked around, opened the boot and gave them four.”

Colin had so many left that he sold them in friends’ shops.

“The last 800 I sold at less than cost to a market trader.

“It was fun for three hectic weeks. I’ve watched toy fads come and go since then, but the craze surrounding the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took some beating.”

Did you end up with one of the turtles?