After seeing the phenomenal success of the crowd-funded documentary “Plastic Galaxy; the story of Star Wars” a look at the Kenner factory in America; I decided to do a little piece on the UK company in charge of making & selling the toys to the UK market.
The growth of the SW phenomenon from the original film to the present day shows no signs of relenting and one of the most prolific ways for fans to show their appreciation for the films is to collect; especially the figures and vehicles.
When Star Wars was released in 1977 the toy company Kenner, who had the licence to produce the toys were not geared-up or ready for the popularity of the movie and the demand that followed.
Here in the UK the manufacturing licence went to a company called Palitoy; based in Leicestershire.
This is their story.
Alfred E Pallett founded his Company ‘Cascelloid Ltd. in Britannia Street, Leicester in 1919; and Palitoy was originally the toy division of Cascelloid Ltd.
In the early days the company struggled to survive, making plastic windmills in the summer and babies’ rattles in the winter.
Its expansion to an old billiard hall in Coalville in 1937 and the heady days of Palitoy’s success after the war came with toys like ‘Action Man’, ‘Tiny Tears’ and Pippa.
At first this allowed Palitoy to produce large numbers of toys very cheaply.
In 1968, Cascelloid, by then part of British Xylonite, sold Palitoy to the American giant, General Mills Inc., which already owned the game producers Kenner and Parker. In the
1970s Chad Valley and Denys Fisher joined the group under Palitoy’s umbrella.
The success of ‘Action Man’ meant expansion for Palitoy. In 1977 the Coalville factory was greatly extended. A factory shop opened in Baker Street, Coalville. In 1978 Palitoy employed about a thousand people. By November of that year, annual sales had topped £20 million.
The sales figures were greatly helped by Palitoy’s new line, ‘Star Wars’ toys. These were made under license from Kenner, USA, one of the General Mills group. The ‘Star Wars’ film trilogy launched the idea of collectable toys.
However by the 1980s competition from Hong Kong and Japan plus the international streamlining of production methods had put Palitoy out of business. Many of Palitoys most famous names like ‘Action Man’ are still in production but other companies like Hasbro now make them.
Palitoy themselves bought toy parts in Hong Kong. In 1977 the company had set up Palitoy (Far East) Ltd. to handle this part of the business.
Palitoy and the Far East – Despite good sales there were major job losses at Palitoy, in 1980 and 1982. A major problem was that making toys in the Far East was a lot cheaper.
The End of an Era: In 1984 Palitoy’s European businesses, Mainline Railways, Airfix, (bought by Palitoy in 1982) and Action Man collapsed. Palitoy followed soon after. The Coalville factory was taken over by Hasbro for a time but sadly it was abandoned in 1994.
Star Wars Palitoy ads.
Palitoy Factory Footage:
Palitoy Factory Interview:
Palitoy TV Ads:
In 2009 Leicestershire City Council put together an exhibition of the toy company; where many of the images are taken from.
Thank you to Leicestershire County Council Museums for their information re this piece.