Bluebird Toys

Bluebird Toys plc was a British toy company. They are responsible for the Polly Pocket brand, Havok wargame and Disney Tiny Collection. Previous toy lines include Manta Force, Oh Penny, the British version of Oh Jenny from Matchbox Toys, Mighty Max and miniature Thomas and Friends sets.

Bluebird Toys
FateMerger with Mattel
Founded1980; 39 years ago
Defunct1998; 21 years ago
United Kingdom
Key people
Torquil Norman
  • Dolls
  • Toys
  • Games

Corporate history

Torquil Norman founded Bluebird Toys in 1980, his first product being the now famous Big Yellow Teapot House. This was one of the first ‘container’ houses which broke away from the traditional architectural style of dolls' houses in favour of this light and colourful family home. He is also famous for his Big Red Fun Bus and Big Jumbo Fun Plane, A La Carte Kitchen, Polly Pocket, Lucy Locket (A larger version of Polly Pocket) and the Mighty Max range, as well as the invention of the plastic lunch box.

The company acquired Peter Pan Playthings in 1987 and Merit Toys in 1988.[1]

The company was acquired by the US toy giant Mattel in 1998.

Bluebird was an almost immediate success, coming within £18,000 of breaking even in its first year of business, on turnover of £1.25m.[2] By 1983 turnover had reached £3.4, and in 1985 the company went public on the Unlisted Securities Market.[3] The shares had reached 500p by 1987, before sliding back to 26p in 1991, when the company reported a hefty loss.[4]

The company was saved by the Polly Pocket range, introduced in 1989, which became a global phenomenon. By 1993, the shares were back up to 575p,[5] and the next year Bluebird announced profits of £7m on sales of over £40m,[6] rising again to £20m on turnover of £100m in 1994-95.[7] This figure was dominated by Polly Pocket and Mighty Max, a parallel line for boys introduced in 1992, accounting between them for 87% of sales. Already by 1994 nearly three-quarters of Britain's 2 million girls aged between three and eight were estimated to own a Polly Pocket.[6] The shares rose still further, trebling again by October 1995 when the company announced a licence for a new line of Disney characters in the pocket-size format, which became the Disney Tiny Collection series, and a new distribution deal with Mattel.[8]

However, by 1997, Polly Pocket sales had fallen back, Mattel announced it would take no more of the existing stock until a reformat of the brand, and the share price was down to only a quarter of its previous peak value.[9]

Financier Sir Ron Brierley's Guinness Peat Group made an unsolicited bid for the company in January 1998, but was outbid by Mattel acting as a white knight.[10][11] Mattel swiftly went on to integrate Bluebird's products into its own lines, closing the headquarters in Swindon and offering redundancy packages to all those who were not offered relocation to the Mattel headquarters.


  1. ""Interview of Mr Gareth Morris, Finance Director and Company Secretary"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  2. A. Alvarez, The Last Buccaneer, The New Yorker, 15 October 1990, p. 49
  3. Kenneth Douglas Brown, The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, Continuum International Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN 1-85285-136-8. p.222 (Google Books)
  4. Derek Pain, Winners and losers in the 1992 share race, The Independent, 31 December 1992.
  5. Quintin Lumsden, Shares: Top toys turn profit into child's play, The Independent, 19 December 1993
  6. John Shepherd, Polly Pocket helps Bluebird rocket to £7m, The Independent, 8 September 1994
  7. James Bethell, Bluebird flies into record profits, The Independent, 9 March 1995
  8. Tom Stevenson, Bluebird boss nets £2.3m from shares, The Independent, 28 October 1995
    (By this time there had been a stock split. The 367p share price in the article is equivalent to 1468p before the split)
  9. Sameena Ahmad, The Investment Column: US blow to Bluebird Toys, The Independent, 25 November 1997
  10. Terry Macalister, Bluebird going to Mattel, The Independent, 19 May 1998
  11. Mattel wins contest for Bluebird, BBC News, 19 May 1998
    (The final bid was 116.5p per share, equivalent to 466p per unsplit share, valuing the company at £48.5m in total)
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