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Series: James May’s Toy Stories


If you know who James May is there’s a pretty good chance that it’s because you’re a fan of the brilliant English series TOP GEAR. At least, I feel pretty safe in saying that, should you be Australian. Until very recently I knew him only in that role, and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t even know his name. To me, he was the “kind of mopey one” from Top Gear. However, over the past week I feel like I’ve gotten to know James May, and while I still think he’s somewhat mopey, I’ve come to really appreciate his dry humour, his nostalgia for childhood toys, and his ability to palm off ridiculous amounts of work onto entire strangers.

The back of the JAMES MAY’S TOY STORIES DVD reads:

James May is a man on a mission: He wants to get kids out of their bedrooms and away from their video games, he wants to drag parents off their backsides and get them all playing together…

Personally, I’m about as convinced by that as I am by the idea that Jamie Oliver cares more about fat kids than he does about getting his bonce on the television for another hour a week. James May’s true motivation in this series is to fulfil his own childhood, toy related, fantasies! Taking a leaf out of the Top Gear book, he sets out to do things, on an utterly ridiculous scale, with classic toys from his — and probably your — childhood.

It is virtually impossible for someone as ill-equipped as I am, in the skill of constructing coherent sentences, to make it clear just how entertaining this series is. So I’m going to turn to the age old technique of using profanity. Now, if you search this site you’ll find that I’ve only ever used the “f word” about half a dozen times in the five-hundred plus pages and posts on this site. I tell you this not because I’m bucking for some “guy who’s said fuck the least on the internet” award (that time doesn’t count) but because I want it to carry weight when I describe James May’s Toy Stories as “Fucking special”.

I said earlier that James May sets out to fulfil his own childhood fantasies. Well, during the course of this series, he managed to fulfil many of mine too!

Unlike the potato-brain sloths which are being raised today, I was fortunate to grow up at a time when slot-car racing sets, model airplanes, train sets, and Lego where the shit… Ok, sorry, I’ll close that profanity gate now. I have vivid recollections of waking up on a Saturday morning and crawling about on the floor — admittedly, in front of the television — playing with the above mentioned toys. To this day I still own a milk crate full of Lego, and without fail whenever I have cause to peer into that milk crate — and it’s remarkable how often, in adult life, lego provides the most viable solution to a problem — I find myself wishing that there were more there. Much more. James May, it turns out, has thought that too!

Over the six episodes included on this two disc set, May takes classic childhood toys and make them do grand things. He enters the record books by holding the longest ever slot car race: 2.56 km around the former Brooklands circuit, which involved racing through people’s gardens, through office buildings, and even along a river… like… ALONG, the river!

Along the way, they test the physics of things, find out what they’re capable of and how far things can be pushed. There’s an episode dedicated to making a 1 to 1 scale Airfix model Spitfire. In another episode May ropes in an entire community to help lay 16 km of toy rail road track in an attempt to reconnect a now abandoned section of track between Barnstaple to Bideford, in North Devon. And in the final episode, he embarks on a mission to build a house out of 3.3 million Lego bricks.

The series is ambitions, nostalgic, fun, witty, ridiculous, epic and utterly entertaining. If you watch this, and you don’t find yourself giddy with excitement as you watch these fantasies become reality, then it’s probably time that you inform your family that you are indeed, dead inside… provided they even remotely care about the lifeless husk that you shuffle about in. [source]

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    We actually caught most of the train-set episode over the weekend while channel-surfing, and it was decidedly awesome, as you say.

    Even though the end result wasn’t quite as cheery as we all had hoped, it’s a credit to May (etc) that they could make the whole thing such an adventure. The thing that got me particularly was the crowd shots and the focus on the kids and the community involvement – so many people all getting out and building little houses and laying tracks… warmed my heart, it did :)

  • He’s good in his Wine Adventures with Oz Clarke, too. Better actually. I’ve watched some of this and struggled to relate to a lot of it although I enjoyed the presentation. Don’t forget I had Lego and plastic models before the Internet rocked my world too! I’d say this is one for historians and old fogies, mostly.

  • Yeah, Oz shows up in some of the episodes of Toy Stories. The antagonistic relationship that he and May have makes me want to watch the Wine Adventures series too. Even if I don’t understand it, I know TheGLB will.