Harrison whose interests include vehicle registrations and collecting
model cars tells us about “Tootles the Taxi”..
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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..
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).
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 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!
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.
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).
the motor coach
Most definitely the Duple Roadmaster
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.