Singing along – in toyland 

25 April 2016

Toyland 19620401From the TVTimes for week commencing 1 April 1962.

Television came into the life of Eileen Killeen the day an ABC outside broadcast unit pulled up at the Liverpool toy factory where she works.

Picked from the thousands of girls employed at the factory, 18-year-old Eileen and five of her workmates appeared before the outside broadcast cameras in the Sing Along With Joe[1] pretty girl contest. She won her heat, passed through the section finals and semi-finals, and at the end of last season was awarded the coveted title of Miss Industry 1961.

But success didn’t go to her head. Of her £250[2] prize money, Eileen gave a donation to her church, bought refrigerators for her mother and sister, and put the rest in the bank.

She also turned down the chance of starting a new career as a model and decided to stay in Liverpool[3] doing the job she knew best.

Today, however, Eileen is being constantly reminded of the time the blue-and-grey outside broad cast vans arrived at her factory. For every day thousands of them are passing through her hands – scaled-down versions of the real thing.

Eileen is a toy inspector. She has been since she left school at the age of 15. She is the last girl at the end of a 100 ft.-long conveyor belt down which the models travel while the finishing touches are being put to them.

Her job is to make a final inspection and give them a “test run” before they are packed and sent to toyshops all over the world.

The first of two model ABC vans – a micro-wave links vehicle topped by a moveable disc-shaped aerial which beams the programme from the outside broadcast site to the studios[4] – is already being mass-produced.

The second is a model of the heart of a £36,000[5] outside broadcast unit – the mobile control room. This goes into production in the next few weeks, and with it will be a tiny TV camera and cameraman.

Where to see the real ones

This is where you can see the real-life ABC outside broadcast units in action this weekend:

On Sunday morning, cameras will be in Malvern Priory for a special Mothering Sunday service. On Sunday afternoon, viewers will be able to see The Other Man’s Farm, from Alcester in Warwickshire. Another team will be at Bromsgrove, near Droitwich, for another programme in the round-the-factories musical, Sing Along With Joe.

The following Saturday there will be visits to Catterick races – the first flat racing to come from the Yorkshire course this year – and Silverstone for motor-cycle racing.

Putting a new model on the market is a long and involved task. Work on this outside broadcast unit started nine months ago, when photographer Warwick Bedford – who also took the pictures on this page – was asked to take colour transparencies of the vehicles in action. From these photographs. draughts men made detailed drawings and wooden models were prepared for engineers to make the die-casting tools which are now turning out zinc alloy castings at the rate of 2,000 a day.

From this stage the models have to go through more than 20 different operations and pass through hundreds of hands before they reach Eileen Killeen for final approval.

They are splashed with acid, plunged into hot and cold baths, go through nine sprayings and get plastered with tiny transfers in ABC colours[6] – all this before they are ready to start down the final conveyor belt.

Apart from Eileen, 56 other girls are employed on this last lap. It is one of the many production lines snaking through this six-acre factory.

Model vehicle bodies are being constantly fed in at the receiving end of the 2ft.-wide belt. And every few feet of the slow, 100-yd. journey they are being dexterously whipped off and replaced as one part after another is quickly fitted and revetted into position.

Said Eileen: “I cannot help thinking of the opportunities that were open to me after I won the title.

“But I have no regrets about staying in the factory.”

  1. A now-lost ABC Weekend TV talent show presented by Glaswegian pianist Joe “Mr Piano” Henderson (2 May 1920–4 May 1980).
  2. In cash, and allowing for inflation, this is £5,150 in today’s money. The average salary for a monthly paid professional employee was £800 a year (£16,500 in today’s money) – Eileen would have been weekly paid and earned far less – and the average price of a new-build house was £2,500 (£50,000).
  3. Meccano Limited, Binns Road, Liverpool. The factory manufactured Meccano, Dinky Toy vehicles, Hornby Dublo trains, Bayko building blocks, Kemex chemistry sets and Elektron electrical sets. It was bought by Tri-ang in 1964, but collapsed in 1971 and was sold to Airfix. Airfix closed the factory in 1979 and themselves collapsed in 1981. The remains of the companies are now owned by Japanese toymaker Nikko.
  4. If you have one in your attic, it is now worth £139.
  5. £750,000 in today’s money.
  6. See right.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Phillip Walton 25 April 2016 at 7:14 pm

I wonder where that young lady is now? She would be 71 or 72 today.

Paul Mason 28 April 2016 at 4:43 am

My grandparents lived a few steps up the road from the Meccano works where Dinky Toys were made. The site was demolished in the late 1980s and a Virgin cinema stands there. One Friday evening in late 1979 the management said “Thats it we close tonight. No notice or redundancy pay, just ” Bye Bye “. The factory was occupied into 1980 but all the loyal and strike-free workforce got was statutory redundancy pay.

Back to happier times I remember the theme from Sing Along With Joe from childhood. This type of show was of its era. The beauty contest wouldnt be tolerated and the songs would have been from the first half or so of the 20th century as would most of Meccanos workforce.

Paul Mason 28 April 2016 at 4:54 am

I forgot to add that Sing Along Wirh Joe came from the nearby Crawfords biscuit works in 1962 or 63. My grandma who worked there missed out having retired a WEEK before filming.
Alas Crawfords or United Biscuits closed that factory down, a loyal and strike-free workforce of 2,500 were made redundant and the works flattened by 1990. So I bet every place the late Mr Henderson took his piano has gone with any tapes of his show.

Denise Mcknight 15 March 2019 at 8:52 pm

Clearing my late father’s house I came across a toy outside broadcast van — I remember my father bringing it home for us. I was delighted to read this article as my father was the Derek Meakin who wrote it and presumably received the van when he was researching the story. The little van is well battered and used having passed through a lot of children and grandchildren’s hands but I think I might still have it somewhere.

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