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Furby frenzy to infinity and beyond – how must-have Christmas toy fever hit the north-east

Shoppers rush to get their hands on the latest Christmas craze.

Some Christmas traditions are simply timeless … putting up the tree, turkey dinner with all the trimmings and the mad scramble to get the must-have toy of the year before the shelves empty.

In 2020 it’s been the turn of the Playstation 5, the new console that has created a frenzy as parents – and grown-ups – scrabble to get their hands on one as stocks dwindle to nothing.

The scrabble is on to get a Playstation 5 for Christmas this year.

From unfulfilled online orders to tales of delivery drivers handing over empty boxes, the great PS5 scramble has been headline news.

Mayhem played for real

But for all it’s a hi-tech piece of kit, there is nothing new about the rush to buy the “have-to-have-it-under-the-tree” toy of the year sweeping the north-east. Each year seems to be bring another “gotta-get-it” shortage in the Christmas shopping splurge – a trend that reached its height during the 1990s.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All The Way – a movie played out in real life in some shops some years.

In 1996, the same year the film Jingle All The Way came out – with Arnold Schwarzenegger battling to get his hands on a Turbo Man action figure for his son – that screen mayhem was being played out for real in Aberdeen.

Buzz Lightyear action figures were all the rage – and conspicuously absent from the shelves with parents prepared to go to infinity and beyond to get the Toy Story hero. The Evening Express reported on the panic, with a warning thousands of kids could be disappointed.

To infinity and beyond… crowds waiting to buy Buzz Lightyear at The Disney Shop.

Betty White, manageress of the Toy Bazaar on Schoolhill, told the paper: “I would say something like Jingle All The Way has already started. Every second call to the shop is for Buzz Lightyear dolls.”

Parents in tears

And over at Jolly Giant, the toy store in Kittybrewster, manager Norma Chirino said: “It’s quite possible people could be imitating Schwarzenegger this Christmas. Everyone wants to get their hands on Buzz Lightyear.”

Buzz went flying out of toy shops at the height of a Toy Story frenzy.

The following year the sequel arrived … this time with a mad dash to claim a Teletubby toy after the cuddly characters ruled among pre-schoolers. The Press and Journal even reported the fruitless search was reducing north-east mums and dads to tears and reported parents “battling it out” in Argos in the Trinity Centre as 60 Dipsy, Po, Laa-Laa and Tinky Winky dolls sold out in two minutes.

Shoppers queue for Teletubby dolls at Christmas 1997.

“I have been in the retail business for 38 years and I have never seen anything like this before,” the store’s general manager Bob Brett told the P&J.

“The only thing that springs to mind is when I worked in the supermarket field years ago and there was a sugar shortage.”

Meanwhile, over at John Menzies in the St Nicholas Centre, it was reported a delivery of 600 Teletubbies three weeks before had sold out within an hour with no sign of anymore arriving.

Say eh-oh… Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po.

Worried about shortage

But all of that was as nothing compared to the most memorable shopping dash of all time – the great Furby frenzy of 1998. The animatronic critter that spoke rubbish sparked an outbreak of near madness across the UK – and the north-east was no exception.

When the Early Learning Centre got their hands on a scant 60 of the toys, they sold out with 30 minutes. People had started queuing at 6.15am in the hope of claiming one.

Toymaster on John Street was getting around 100 calls a day from parents desperate for a Furbie, manager Stephen Sprigg told the Evening Express, after a delivery of 24 sold out in three hours.

Furbies were in fashion… and created a buying frenzy across the north-east.

At Debenhams, toy department manager Tessa Till said she had been fielding around 10 calls a day.

“Parents feel they can’t disappoint their children on Christmas Day. Last year we had people camping out overnight so they could make sure they got hold of a Teletubby. It will be the same this year with Furbies,” she said.

And things were getting serious over at Mothercare. A spokeswoman said: “People are so worried about the shortage, customers are already offering us money if we reserve toys for them.”

Bouts of shopping hysteria

While Furbies weren’t the last of the big Christmas rushes for sold-out toys – Elsa dolls from Frozen and the cream-splatting Pie Face are recent contenders – the android creatures were probably the biggest bout of shopping hysteria seen in the north-east.

But as you settle in with – or without – your PS5 this year, here’s a look back at some of the must-have toys of the past three decades:

1990: Heroes in a half-shell were everywhere as the 90s started when the craze for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soared. Action figures for the crime-fighting foursome reached 30 million worldwide.

1991: Nintendo’s GameBoy was a game-changer with demand for the hand-held console outstripping supply. Still, if you couldn’t get one of those, Santa might have provided a Sega Game Gear as a consolation prize.

GameBoy was a gamechanger.

1992: Hard to believe that in the 1990s, parents were queuing round the blocks to get their hand on a 1960s throwback – a model of Tracy Island from Thunderbirds. Such was the dearth in the shops that dear old Blue Peter showed viewers how to make their own from cardboard boxes and straws. You can still get the instructions here. 

1993: You can’t keep a classic down and this was the year Barbie dolls were flying off the shelves. No doubt the demand was driven by the arrival of the Barbie Dream Motor Home that year (see what we did there?)

1994: Power Rangers were the go-to toy for kids who couldn’t resist superheroes in Spandex suits, with action figures all the rage. You needed superpowers to find a Pink Power Ranger.

Power up to get your hands on a Power Ranger.

1995: What even were Pogs? Tiddlywinks? Collectables? No matter, they sold 350 million across the globe.

1996: Buzz Lightyear… everyone wanted a friend in Buzz. Which is why no one could find one. Good luck getting a Tickle Me Elmo too.

1997: Teletubbies weren’t the only in-demand toy. Teens went ga-ga for Tamagotchi pets – basically an LED screen that ‘died’ if you didn’t look after it. We knew how to have fun in the 90s.

Tamagotchis were great fun.

1998: Furby… need we say more. Although it might be surprising that the big challenger to the hi-tech creature was the humble yo-yo.

1999: While the Pokemon Nintendo game was making a strong running, despite being first released three years before, the one thing everyone had under the Christmas tree was the interactive board game version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

2000: Dogs aren’t for Christmas, but Teksta Robotic Dogs were, with thousands of kids waking up to a robotic pup – or to a Razor Scooter, with its five million global sales. Interesting to see which is still around.

2001: Bob The Builder certainly fixed the Christmas sales figures this year for the pre-schoolers, with the range of toys steamrollering everything else.

Can we fix it… yes Bob the Builder – voiced by Neil Morrissey – can.

2002: The fashion-conscious kids were asking Santa for only one thing this year – Bratz Dolls with their outre hairstyles and a “passion for fashion”.

2003: Nothing is new under the sun but Beyblades – a reboot of Battling Tops – were in every playground and every stocking.

2004: Evolution was clearly at work among the robotics geeks. Four years after Teksta came Robosapien – a humanoid bit of kit with NASA technology. In fairness, it did win Toy Of The Year as well as being a best-seller.

Robosapien wasn’t just a “must have”… it was also Toy Of The Year.

2005: Everyone’s a winner 15 years ago – if you’re an MP3 player. This was the dawn of iPod shuffle, but other manufacturers jumped in quickly and more cheaply.

2006: Forget watching The Queen on Christmas Day. Everyone was playing the Nintendo Wii. Home insurance policies went through the roof, too, until people realised the wrist strap was there to stop you throwing the controller through your TV screen.

2007: The return of the soft toys… this time Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden became the number one gift.

Kids were snuggling in to Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden.

2008: Parents had to go the mat to get it right for the kids … as in make sure they had a High School Musical Dance Mat to get their smooth moves right. At least it got them exercising.

2009: What is it with Christmas and pets that need batteries? Go Go Pet Hamsters were selling out in the run up to the big day, possibly down to parents who realised it was better than being lumbered with cleaning up after the real things.

2010: A popular gift was the Kidizoom VideoCam, designed to introduce your little ones to the joys of making their own video clips. Essentially, early training for the TikTok generation.

2011: Parents could breathe a slight sigh of relief at the must-have toy this year. At least the Leapfrogs LeapPad Explorer Tablet could be put to educational use. And it didn’t cost as much as iPad.

2012: Foam darts at the ready, this was the year of Nerf guns… at least no one was going to put an eye out.

Taking aim… Nerf guns were all the rage back in 2012.

2013: They’re ba-ack… Furby Boom took the original electronic toy and ramped it up on the cuteness and tech front making the critters compatible with a burgeoning range of apps.

2014: Let it go, let it go … which many a parent might have said while trying to wrestle an Elsa doll off a rival shopper. Frozen fever hit the country. Anything with an Olaf on it was going to sell out, from Frozen outfits to dolls.

2015: You couldn’t beg, steal or borrow a Pie Face game. Everyone wanted splattered with whipped cream as the tension cranked up. Now sitting in the back of cupboards across the nation.

2016: Hatchimals. How popular were these interactive animals that live in an egg and hatch in front of your kids? Well, you could only buy one per customer and they were re-selling online for about £200 – four times the face value.

A black market broke out for Hatchimals after they were in short supply.

2017: Nintendo Switch moved handheld consoles up a gear, but the star on the Christmas tree was the peekaboo-playing baby doll you could feed, Luvabella.

2018: How about a Poopsie Unicorn Slime Surprise – a unicorn doll which poos glittery slime after being fed. Most people actually asked for a Fingerling… the cute little characters that respond to touch, sound and motion.

Surprise, surprise… a Poopsie Unicorn.

2019:  A big hit last year was the L.O.L. Surprise! 2-in-1 Glamper, a fold-out plastic caravan affair with 55 little bits to it, most of them guaranteed to end up in the Hoover at some point.

2020: That will, in all likelihood, be your actual PS5… with the Xbox Series X giving it a close run for its money.