OK! Many people refer to the 1960s culturally as the ‘Era of the 3 Bs. Bond, Beatles and Batman.’
However for kids growing up in that period it could also be referred to as the ‘Era of the 4 S’! Spooks, Spies, Super-Heroes and Space!
With Aurora monster kits, a MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E briefcase and a Berwick Batman costume I guess I kind of bought into all of that stuff but none of those subjects really had any basis in reality. Not so with the final ‘S’, SPACE.
As a child growing up in the 1960s, particularly the latter part, the Space Race was everywhere. No child watches current affairs or news programmes but if there was a piece on the Apollo mission to the Moon I was glued to the set. The television was for me babysitter. One with whom my parents felt at ease while they went about their daily chores at home. To this end I was cared for by Scott Tracy, Captain Scarlet, Professor Robinson and the crew of the Jupiter 2 along with Dr Who and later Captain Kirk and those under his command aboard the Enterprise. With these characters as my friends and heroes to whom I would aspire it was no surprise that come Birthday or Christmas time I was presented with figural counterparts of them or miniature versions of the vehicles which took them on their many adventures. Some of my earliest memories of reading were the Yuletide annuals from Century 21 Publishing.
Aware of my interest in all things ‘Outer Space’ my parents and relatives bought me many of the toys now achieving iconic status amongst collectors and pop culture enthusiasts. ACTION MAN Astronaut was perhaps my favourite of the non TV-related space toys I had. Running a close second, depending on my given mood, was Major Matt Mason and his bendy pals. Not forgetting JOHNNY ASTRO which to this day I defy anyone to be able to actually work properly. BILLY BLAST-OFF from Eldon was another little space man I enjoyed hours of exploration time with.
But why was I, along with millions of other children across the globe, so fascinated and drawn to these toys? As kids it probably just seemed natural and exciting but in retrospect I see that it was a definite subconscious attraction to these toys whether they were PROJECT SWORD vehicles, Airfix Saturn V kits or even that famous plastic children’s space helmet we all seemed to own with the microphone under the visor. Of all the subjects I was interested in none were ‘real’. Batman was Adam West, Napoleon Solo was actor Robert Vaughn and of course Gerry Anderson’s heroes were puppets. However there were real flesh and blood people involved in designing and building the craft capable of propelling men towards the Moon and I understood that. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were as much my childhood heroes as were those of fiction. These were real men who did what I dreamed of doing one day. Their mode of transport wasn’t perhaps as sleek as the Zero X or their suits as ‘cool’ as those worn by the crew of FIREBALL XL5 but even as I child I knew “These men are really doing it”.
How things change over close to half a century. As a middle-aged man I have discovered that I am completely unsuitable to travel into space as I once hoped I would. I am a terrible air traveller, I can’t even drive a car and on my one trip to Florida was horribly sick following a ‘Flight Simulation To Mars’! A highlight of that same holiday however was being able to see for real things I had only ever seen in books or on television and I felt privileged to be amongst such things of wonder. I still remember the look on the faces of other visitors to the Kennedy Space Centre when I pulled from my back a Major Matt Mason figure for a photo-op and whispering to him “Your home now mate!”
With sites like Paul’s along with DVD’s of my favourite childhood Science Fiction television shows and films I can again be that Space Cadet I was as a six year old. Even now I know Christmas will bring me something Space related so I guess after forty years for guys like us things are still the same.