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19 childhood crazes and playground trends that define the 1980s
HERE we take a fond look back at the crazes which swept classrooms and playgrounds back in the 1980s.
If you’re a child of the 80s you'll undoubtedly recall some of these fashions and fads that kids went mad for back in your schooldays.
Use the comments box at the bottom to tell us which of these crazes were your favourites, and any we’ve missed off.
Got, got, need, got, need, need, need, seriously need, got, etc. Panini, and later Merlin in the 90s, cashed in on the growing access to televised football. As many of us know, the foil ‘shiny’ was the true currency of the playground among boys - its value was denoted in ‘normal’ stickers, which varied from school to school (usually between two and five – 10 if it was special).
Ranking high on the list of classic playground crazes is Hungary's most famous export alongside the ballpoint pen, strudel and Franz Liszt. This colourful 3x3x3 block was responsible for countless challenges, frustrations and smashed Rubik's Cubes, due to said frustrations and challenges.
Just when you thought that the BMX or Chopper couldn't be cooler, Spokey Dokes took all things two-wheeled into the stratosphere of wonderment. These simple round plastic beads snapped onto wheel spokes and, during a slow-speed ride, would have time to slide up and down the spoke to make a noise that could take adults back to memories of school 30 years ago. For others, though, they were as visually ugly as they were annoying - these brightly-coloured menaces were also available with glow-in-the-dark properties.
While not sharing quite the same playground ubiquity as its six-sided brother, Rubik's Snake was still popular among schoolchildren looking for something a little less linear. This 24-prismed contraption was named after what it looked like in its most simple form, though thousands of other shapes could be created, from cats and ostriches to ducks and castles.
Palitoy, who introduced the similarly-named Action Man a few years before, followed up with Action Force - a more miniaturised version of the armed figures. With vehicles, advanced weaponry and even a line of comic books supporting the line-up of familiar faces, Action Force was a surprise hit - and helped Hasbro once again get into the UK market with its subtly rebranded GI Joe: A Real American Hero range.
Casio's empire of digital watches brought in a whole new audience of maths-hating schoolchildren in the 1980s with the introduction of miniaturised calculator technology. Featuring buttons that only tiny fingers could accurately press, these watches certainly bailed out many a child in a pop quiz. Technology later developed to include TV remotes in them, causing havoc for any impromptu video in class - or leading to an argument during an episode of Knightmare or Fun House between siblings after school.
Your standard-issue Wacky WallWalker comprised of a plastic man with his arms above his head and sticky balls for hands and feet. When thrown at a wall, gravity would take its course and the figure would flip all the way back down again. Maintenance and aim were important - too much hair or dust meant the walker's adhesive was redundant, while a vertical throw would consign many to the ceiling forever.
Following Mattel's decision to turn down the offer to produce Star Wars toys (oh dear!), the company retrospectively cottoned on to the idea that merchandising can be planned from the outset. From this, Mattel created the entire cartoon franchise of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to simply support toy production of Prince Adam, Skeletor, Man-at-Arms and co. Needless to say, they lacked the later appeal of Star Wars toys - a trip to a local indoor market could bag you Zodac, Man-E-Faces or Fisto for pennies, not the hundreds of pounds now demanded for a boxed Luke Skywalker or Lando Calrissian.
School shops around the country simply adored plying children with sugar in the 80s and 90s, but no confectionery was as sought-after as the candy bracelet. The elastic band these ‘beads’ were attached to fortuitously served as a basic firing mechanism - taking a bead between your teeth, pulling back and then biting it in half would fire the rest of the sharp, sugary mass at an unsuspecting bystander. Kids got sweets and a weapon for 10p or less; they knew a good deal when they saw one.
Clarks Magic Steps shoes
Back when Clarks was the only place to go for a pair of shoes for school, the company had a brainwave: Seize on the commonly-held notion that its stock was boring and create something altogether more attractive. Girls were offered Magic Steps - relatively prim and proper shoes with a magic key that doubled up as a brooch worn on jackets all over the UK. In later years, the key could turn a lock on the bottom of the shoe to show hidden, if ultimately strange and pointless, images.
Once solely worn by professional dancers, leg warmers exploded in popularity in schools after the release of Flashdance and Fame in the 80s. Seemingly omnipresent on the lower legs of girls around the country, these footless wonders were originally designed to stop muscle injuries and cramping; they've made many comebacks since their initial release due to their remarkable retro-vintage value.
Hasbro developed quite the foothold on school crazes, though the most popular of these was perhaps Transformers, which has since spawned a TV series and blockbuster film franchise. The titular robots in disguise allowed kids to switch between cars, planes and in the case of Soundwave, even a cassette recorder. As fragile as they were cutting edge, Transformers succumbed to countless playground tragedies; it only took one slip of the hand to transform Optimus Prime into a candidate for the scrapyard.
Handheld LCD Games
LCD games were cheap, cheerful and only needed a 9V battery or two to operate. Held in a variety of cases, they were pretty simple affairs - two or three buttons that moved your car, sports star or superhero into different positions on screen to interact with whatever was thrown at it. They were small enough for the pockets of schoolchildren, and tied many over in the yard until they returned home to ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s or - if they were lucky - a Master System or a NES.
If you needed a toy that encapsulated an intergalactic wrestling championship between two-inch tall flesh-coloured PVC statuettes, then so-called ‘Muscle Men’ were your investment of choice. MUSCLE - which stood for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere - was one of many things kids bought in random boxes or packs, and was one of the first supremely collectable toy lines consisting of motionless lumps of plastic that could be traded for a full collection.
My Little Pony
As another toy from the Hasbro empire that went on to inspire a complementary TV series to push the product, the first generation of My Little Pony was perhaps the biggest. These pastel-coloured hairy equines struck at the very heart of the girls' market, and its makers went on to successfully re-release the toy line in recent years. This even led to a male market emerging - so-called "bronies" (though let's not get into that).
It seems hard to believe that Micro Machines are no longer with us given their rampant popularity in the 80s and 90s, yet this famous toy line was practically discontinued in 2006. As small remakes of larger toy cars, Micro Machines not only served a major purpose in foiling the burglars of Home Alone, but they also went on to star in one of the most fondly-remembered car racing video games of the last 25 years. Best of all, kids could fill their pockets with them - perfect for a sly race on the desk when a teacher's back was turned.
These monsters from Mattel looked more in place as a monster from Jim Henson's Creature Shop than in the playground, yet these ugly critters found a way into the hearts, minds and cereal of youngsters when Boglins signed a deal with Kellogg's.
Nike Air Max
Nike's Air Max line of trainers launched in 1987 and their popularity among young and old hasn't really declined since then, hitting its high in the UK around 1989. As one of the few means of showing one's affluence and style in the playground, Nike Air Max offered classic bubble soles that purportedly made you run faster and jump higher. Many pairs also succumbed to tacks, pins and other sharp objects, either by accident or after being laid as a trap by less agreeable youngsters in the yard.
Why would you have a regular lollipop when you could push one out of a plastic case like a lipstick? Such was the argument for production that confectioners had in the late 80s, before releasing the Push Pop brand. Pioneered by Topps - creators of the Ring Pop - this portable block of sugar was perfect for those who preferred to enjoy their sweets over an extended period of time - or in the classroom, when non-sticky pocket-based concealment was required at a moment's notice.
Words and pictures courtesy of Oxford Open Learning, which has produced the Amazing Crazes website looking back in time over five decades to relive the many crazes that graced schoolyards at breaks and lunchtimes - or often in the classroom itself, despite teachers' protestations, remonstrations and repossessions.
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