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Tootling About - number plates & Dinky Toys
John Harrison whose interests include vehicle registrations and collecting model cars tells us about “Tootles the Taxi”. .
There is a fascinating stage in early childhood, roughly between 18 months and two years, when the child cannot speak, but can respond to what others say. In the late 1970s I stayed for a few days with two college friends whose son was going through this stage. His favourite book was “Tootles the Taxi” and if asked, “Where’s Tootles book?” he would go and find it. Tootles the Taxi
Tootles the Taxi

2 versions of Tootles
The original cover (left) and the updated version
In 1983 my own son, James, was born and in due course, probably because I bought it for him in a charity shop (Santa did a lot of shopping there!), he had a copy of “the same” Ladybird book, albeit with a cover apparently updated. Somehow these memories stayed in the back of my mind and were reawakened when in the editor of the Maidenhead Static Model Club newsletter, “Wheelbearings”, wrote about the book and commented that some of the vehicles in the pictures were based on Dinky Toys.

My curiosity was raised, especially as I collect model cars. Isn’t the internet wonderful? I could not resist putting “Tootles the Taxi” into a Google search and amazingly 2,430 references turned up. I did not look them all up, but soon managed to find out quite a lot about this book. Well actually there are two different books; the first, published in 1956, written by Joyce B Clegg and illustrated by John Kenney and the second published in 1985, “compiled” by Audrey Lynn Bradbury and illustrated by James Hodgson. Though the covers of my friends’ son and my son’s books were different, I had not realised their contents were somewhat different too.

Many of the rhymes in the 1956 book were carried over to the 1985 one, albeit with some changes. Surprisingly, although the FX4 taxi had been in production for more than 20 years by 1985, remarkably Tootles remained an FX3! Needless to say I got tempted to get a copy of each and bought them through Amazon for less than £20, though a copy of the first edition of “Tootles” in good condition with dust jacket can knock you back over £100.

The first “Tootles” book was one of Ladybird Series 413. Other books in this series were some fairy tales, e.g. “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty”, four nursery rhyme books, “Bedtime Rhymes”, “Baby’s First Book”, “The House that Jack Built” and “The Circus Comes to Town”. “Tootles” was written in rhyme and it will be noted that there was a rhyme emphasis to the Series 413 books.

“Tootles” originally had a pink cover with a line drawing and a dust jacket featuring a picture of “Tootles and friends” driving along a road with a cricket field with a game in progress behind. In the foreground are two children, a boy and a girl, and a dog, waving at or probably hailing Tootles. The children and the dog feature on most of the pictures inside, but not all. In 1965 Ladybird stopped using dust jackets and the picture that previously had been on the dust jacket was now on the front cover. Later the dog was removed from the front and other changes were made, e.g. the “face” of “Oompus the Omnibus” was made lighter.

After some pondering, the only reason I could think of for the omission of the dog was it was considered showing an unleashed dog next to a busy road set a bad example. Such considerations, however, obviously did not stop showing the children and dog inside watching “Biffo the Bull-dozer” from the edge of an unfenced quarry!

“Tootles” first illustrator was John Theodore Earley Kenney (1911-72). He illustrated a number of Ladybird books and six “Thomas the Tank Engine” books. Now we know why the vehicles all had faces on them like “Thomas” (or should I say the vehicles in the Walt Disney “Cars” film to be more up-to-date!). He also made a name as an artist of equestrian, hunting and sporting scenes. “The Thomas the Tank Engine Man” by Brian Sibley (Heinemann, 1995) has a picture of him and says he studied at the Leicester College of Art.

I have been unable to find out any more information about the author, Joyce B Clegg. Google suggests she may have ended up becoming a real estate agent in Michigan, but I suspect this is a different Joyce B Clegg! It appears “Tootles” was the only book she wrote.

Lynne J Bradbury, the compiler of the second book, also wrote or compiled several other Ladybird books in the 1980s, including “The Ugly Duckling” which was translated into Spanish. James Hodgson illustrated at least a dozen children’s books in the 1970s and 80s. There is also a book, “Molecules and Motion” by John Ogborn published by Penguin for the Nuffield Foundation in 1973 illustrated by a James Hodgson, but I am not sure if this is the same illustrator.

Before ending this introduction I should say there was one special final edition of “Tootles”. When the Ladybird book factory closed in 1999, a special edition of 210 hand-bound copies of “Tootles” (I presume the 1985 version) was run off. These were numbered and given to the staff members who became redundant with number 1 going to the longest-serving employee, number 2 to the next-longest-serving, etc. “Tootles” had been a popular Ladybird title and this was a fitting tribute to the book.

The Dinky Toys
We will now look at what vehicles featured in the 1956 book based on Dinkies. A number of “Tootles’ friends” clearly did not have any contemporary Dinky prototype, Stumbles the steam-roller, though there was an Aveling-Barford Diesel Roller (251), Binkie the bicycle, Roy the removal van, Willie the water cart, Timbo the trolley-bus, Minkie the motor-bike and Ike the ice-cream van. Incidentally, the Matchbox Company made a toy trolley-bus, but Timbo was not based on that either.

Omitting the above “no-chancers” leaves the following characters. I have annotated with an asterisk those characters apparently based on Dinky Toys.

*Tootles the taxi
Tootles the Taxi
Dinky produced an FX3 taxi model (254), but as in 1956 all London taxis and many in the provinces were FX3s, we cannot be absolutely certain that this toy or a real vehicle was used as the basis for the illustration.

*Oompus the omnibus
Oompus the omnibus
This seems to have been based on the Double Deck Bus (290), though the bus in the book has six windows along the side on the top deck whereas the Dinky has seven! Oompus is blue and white, interestingly a colour only featured on the Dinky model when it was produced prewar, never in the postwar years. Incidentally the choice of “Oompus” as a name for a bus does seem rather odd – my spellcheck suggests “pompous” as an alternative and that seems to sum it up!

Tony the tractor
Tony the Tractor
Despite having a choice of the Massey-Harris (300) and Field Marshall (301) tractors, Mr. Kenney did not use a Dinky as the basis of his illustration.

*Archie the Ambulance
Archie the Ambulance
This replicated the Daimler Ambulance (253), though as with Tootles, it is possible John Kenney used a real vehicle for his picture rather than the Dinky model as many such ambulances were in use at this time. It is also worth mentioning that other companies modeled the Daimler Ambulance at this time, Matchbox and Budgie..

Larry the lorry
Larry the Lorry
The illustration inside the book does not readily show that Larry is based on a Dinky, but if you look at the cover illustration you can see he is based on the Bedford End Tipper (110).

Co-Co the caravan
Co-Co the Caravan
The Dinky caravan (190) was introduced in May 1956. Obviously it is possible that the caravan model was introduced after the book illustrations were done. Anyway, the caravan featured in the book is not based on a Dinky one.

*Maurice the motor
Maurice the motor
Maurice is an “Auntie” P4 Rover. Dinky modeled this as the Rover 75 (156). The Rover 75 was an early version of the P4 with a third headlight in the center of the grille, frequently referred to as a “Cyclops” Rover. Maurice does, however, have two eyes!

*Minnie the milk-float
Minnie the milk-float
This was based on the Dinky “Electric Dairy Van” to quote from the contemporary catalogue, numbered as 490 in Express Diary guise and 491 in NCB guise.

Colin the cattle truck
Colin the cattle truck
The nearest Dinky came to a cattle truck was the “Farm Produce Wagon” (343) based on an open Dodge lorry. Colin, however, was a closed vehicle, more akin in appearance to a horsebox in my view. The cab, however, is that of a Leyland Comet which was produced in various forms as a Dinky Supertoy, numbers 531 to 533 (later 931 to 933 then 417 to 419).

*Monty the motor coach
Monty the motor coach
Most definitely the Duple Roadmaster Coach (282).

Mickey the mail van
Mickey the mail van
Mickey is a Morris Z-van, a type much used by the Post Office at this time. The Dinky mail van of this era was a Morris J-Type (260). A Z-van was, however, modeled as a green “Telephone Service Van” (261), not a red Royal Mail one, but this could well have been used as a basis for the drawing.

Cuthbert the coal cart
Cuthbert the coal cart
Cuthbert appears to be a combination of two models, the cab comprising that of the Austin wagon (412) and the flatbed that of the Fordson Thames Flat Truck (422).

*Billy the baker's van
Billy the baker's van
Billy clearly was a Trojan 15 cwt van produced in various liveries by Dinky as numbers 450 to 455, though Billy has “BAKERS BREAD CAKES” written on his side, not “Esso” or “Brooke Bond Tea” or one of the other delightful liveries that Dinky produced.

*Biffo the bull-dozer
Biffo the bull-dozer
This is definitely the Supertoy Blaw-Knox Bulldozer (961). All the Dinkies so far featured have been from the standard range, but the last three were all from the Supertoy range.

*Flashy the fire-engine
Flashy the fire-engine
This was the Supertoy “Fire Engine with extending ladder” (955) constructed on a Commer Chassis with a body “built by Hampshire Car Bodies Ltd” according to the December 1952 “Meccano Magazine’s” description of it when it was introduced. .

Ronnie the railway dray
Ronnie the railway dray
Mr. Kenney had a choice of two Dinky “railway drays” to use for his picture. There was the one based on the Karrier Cob which dated back to before the war but survived in its “Mechanical Horse and Open Wagon” guise until the mid 50s (415) or the Hindle-Smart Electric Articulated Lorry (421). Instead he used a Scammell Scarab! He might have acquired a Matchbox example of this, as they did make a model Scarab, or he might have just gone down to his nearest goods yard and drawn the real thing, as the Scarab was certainly the most popular vehicle used for this purpose by British Railways at this time.

*Terry the tanker
Terry the Tanker
This is the Supertoy second-type Foden Tanker, 941 in Mobilgas livery and 942 in Regent; though Terry is a plain red/orange rather than bearing a petrol company livery.

One is left wondering how John Kenney got his models to illustrate his book – did he visit the local toyshop and buy them (and, if so, what lucky youngster was subsequently given them); did he raid his son’s toybox or maybe he just used a Dinky catalogue, as I have used a contemporary Dinky catalogue, albeit a reproduction one, to research much of this article? One also wonders why some Dinkies were illustrated but some other vehicles, like the lorries which did have a suitable prototype, were not. Sadly, we will probably never know the answers to these questions.

The differences between the 1956 and 1985 books
I am not sure when the 1956 “Tootles” book went out-of-print, but it certainly lasted until at least 1978. Anyway, in 1985 a totally new version came out. Some vehicles depicted had disappeared from our roads, so not surprisingly were removed from the new edition: Stumbles the steam-roller, Willie the water cart, Ronnie the railway dray, Timbo the trolley-bus and Cuthbert the coal cart. Other characters were axed for less obvious reasons: Larry the lorry, Co-Co the caravan, Minnie the milk-float, Roy the removal van, Mickey the mail van, Billy the baker's van and Ike the ice-cream van.

New characters, some reflecting changes in transport were Henry the helicopter, Tony the tip-up trick, Trevor the train, Horace the hovercraft, Patrick the police car (a “jam sandwich”), Susie the scooter and Jerry the jet plane. The 1956 book just featured road transport, but now other means of transport were covered. Of the other characters only Tootles the taxi, Archie the ambulance and Terry the tanker kept their original names.

These days we are very brand aware, but presumably Tootles, the “leading character” in the book, at that time was considered to have a certain recognition which justified him keeping his name. A couple of examples of name changes were Monty the motor coach became Mabel and Maurice the motor car became Cathy the car. I doubt anyone was upset about Oompus the omnibus metamorphosing to Bertie the bus! The number of characters was reduced from 24 to 20. The illustrations were in very different style, more cartoonish than those in the original book. The vehicles still have faces, though they are less prominent or perhaps I should say the faces are less in your face! As remarked earlier, surprisingly Tootles was not FX4’d in the new edition!

Some changes were quite minor. The original poem about Tootles read,

I'm Tootles the taxi
I'll give you a ride
Put up your hand
Then jump inside
Just watch the meter
You'll see the fare
Distance no object
Go anywhere!

In the 1985 edition, however, the last line was changed to “I go anywhere!” presumably because it scanned better. If this book were being reprinted for 2006, it would no doubt be necessary to add “except south of the river on a Saturday night”!

Other changes have been made for more interesting reasons. Some reflect changes that had occurred in the intervening years. The original “Archie” poem started, “I’m Archie the ambulance sounding my bell” but this changed to, “I’m Archie the ambulance – by my siren you can tell”.

Similarly Flashy the fire-engine was “Dashing through busy streets, clanging my bell”, but Freddy the fire-engine was “Flashing through town, sounding siren or bell”. Monty the motor coach was “Off to the sea, With holiday-makers All out for a spree!”. By 1985 the British seaside holiday was much less popular, so Mabel the motor coach was “Off on my way, With holiday-makers All out for the day”.

Apart from Oompus the omnibus metamorphosing to Bertie the bus, I cannot discern any differences directly resulting from language changes in the intervening period. Joyce Clegg, however, used quite a lot of words which would not have been familiar to young readers and many poems carried over to the second edition but changed slightly have these altered. For instance, the Oompus poem uses the words “shirk” and “depot” but these are changed in the second edition. Colin the cattle-truck was “Taking the livestock To win at the show”, but Cuthbert the cattle-truck was “Taking the animals To win at the show”. Similarly, Flashy was “Off to a blaze”, but Freddy the fire-engine was “Off to a fire”.

Earlier I commented that I presumed the dog had been removed from the cover illustration of the first edition as it was considered unsafe to have an unleashed dog adjacent to a busy road. The two children and dog do not appear in the second edition at all. One change between the first and second edition is safety orientated. The bicycle poem in the first edition is:

I’m Binkie the bicycle
Not moving fast;
A large van in front
I cannot get past!
I’m sounding my bell
But he cannot hear,
So I’ll just be safe
And keep to the rear!

In the second edition this changes to:

I’m Billy the bicycle,
Not moving fast;
There’s traffic in front
That I cannot pass!
So I’ll just be safe
And enjoy the ride,
As I go down the road,
Keeping close to the side.

Presumably the later version was thought to communicate a better safety message!

Obviously things moved on between 1956 and 1985 and the two Tootles books reflect these changes. Things have, of course, now moved on even further since 1985 when the second edition was published. Both Flashy and Freddy carried “firemen”, but if a poem were being written about a fire-engine today it would definitely carry “fire-fighters”. Previously I commented that the two children and the dog were watching Biffo the bull-dozer over the edge of an unfenced quarry. There are no children anywhere near Boris the bull-dozer in the second edition, but only one of the workers nearby has a safety helmet and neither has a fluorescent jacket. Thus, if “Tootles” were to be reprinted now further changes would be required.

The Number Plates in Tootles
By now you are probably getting a bit bored with Tootles, so you will be pleased this is the last part, but having spent £20 on the books I am determined to get my moneys worth! I have the unusual hobby of being interested in vehicle registrations and I edit a newsletter on the subject called “1903 and all that*”. Thus, finally I will look at the vehicle registrations featured in the two Tootles books using my expertise on the subject.

It would seem most registrations in the first book were “plucked out of the air”, especially as many have “counting” numbers like 456, 789 or 321, but a couple have an interesting significance. In 1956 when the first “Tootles” was published, most local authorities were issuing marks in the ABC 123 format, though some had moved onto reversed issues. Not all vehicles pictured have number-plates (Binkie the bicycle would not have needed them, of course) and some are only partially legible. A table is probably the best format to list most:

We now come to the two most interesting numbers in the first book. Maurice the motor is BJU 420. BJU was a Leicestershire issue and we know John Kenney studied at the Leicester College of Art, so it is quite possible that this was the number of his car. Maurice is a P4 Rover, but BJU was issued in 1938, so assuming the number is from Mr Kenney’s car, the actual car illustrated would not have been his. Mickey the mail van is GPO 456 and, though the proportions are not quite right (this is not one of Mr Kenney’s best pictures), he is clearly a Morris Z-van. GPO is an interesting series. Though PO was allocated to West Sussex, GPO was issued by London for Post Office vehicles. Thus, GPO 456 was a postal vehicle and, most amazingly, GPO 456, was actually a Royal Mail Morris Z-van. Mr Kenney might well have been aware that GPO was a Post Office series. We have noted that the numbers he used on the plates illustrated were frequently “counting” ones and indeed two other vehicles have “456” numbers. Thus, I think it is probably coincidental that Mr Kenney “hit the jackpot” here, rather than deliberately using an authentic registration.

Only four vehicles pictured in the second book have registrations. In addition, “BERT” appears on the front of Cuthbert the cattle-trick where a number plate would normally be put. Patrick the police car is PK 27A, Cathy the car is KPP 91, Archie the ambulance is HKK 610Y and Tootles himself (am I being sexist assuming Tootles is male?) is LUW 459. PK 27A cannot be a genuine number plate as all marks with year letters had three letters at the beginning, so the boys in blue are driving around setting an appalling example to our children with an illegal registration! Cathy is a generic 80s hatchback, an amalgam of the likes of contemporary Fiestas, Polos and Metros, so if she had the number plate KPP 91 that would have to be a cherished number. Archie is most clearly a Transit ambulance and I strongly suspected that HKK 610Y would be a genuine number. When I checked it out, however, it turned out to be a Ford Cargo, not a Transit.

Tootles’ LUW 459 is the most interesting number in the second book. As it was a London registration dating from 1950 to 1952, there was the possibility it was genuine (the FX3 was introduced in 1951). When I checked it out, it turned out to be authentic. There was a block of 100 FX3s from LUW 456 upwards. I do not know if the vehicle still exists but it seems to have survived to at least the late 1970s as it is on the DVLA computer, so it could well have still existed in 1985 when Tootles was re-edited. Even so, whilst it is something of a mystery why Tootles was modelled on an FX3 not an FX4; it is even more of a mystery how he came to be an FX3 with a genuine registration.

One advantage of editing a vehicle registration newsletter is that through my subscribers I have access to a wonderful network of motoring experts. I would like to thank Frank Rice-Oxley and Mike Nicholls for help with the Post Office vehicle and taxi information.

Thanks too to Cliff Maddock, the editor of “Wheelbearings” for re-introducing me to Tootles, to Steve Trower for helping me identify some of the Dinkies and to Simon Ince and James Harrison for introducing me to “Tootles” in the first place. I hope you have enjoyed sharing the fun.

* This newsletter deals with all aspects of vehicle registrations. If anyone wants to see a copy of it, please send me a large SAE with a stamp for a large letter over 100 grams at 175 Hillyfields, Loughton, IG10 2PW.

Article written by John Harrison, 2006

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Random fact

Wills & Hepworth used to own and office in Birmingham dealing with commissions for printing in the West Midlands area including the car manufacturers Austin and Rover, and BSA motorbikes.

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