Britain’s half-arsed answer to Barbie gets into the Swinging Sixties pop scene.
Back in 1963, some in the British toy industry were a touch concerned about the encroachment of sexed-up American doll Barbie onto their turf and decided to fight back with a fashion doll of their own. Sindy, produced by Pedigree, was a rather frumpier rival to Barbie – chubby of cheek and designed to look more ordinary than her glamorous US rival. It seems to be the British way. Nevertheless, Sindy was a hit with little girls who knew their place, and in both 1968 and 1970 was Britain’s best-selling toy. However, attempts to modernise her failed (Mattel sued when a redesign made her a bit too close to Barbie in looks) and there was little that could be done to stop the US rival by the 1990s, when new owners Hasbro dropped the doll from its main range after sales figure tanked. Since then, there have been low-level revivals, but with assorted rivals on the market, it seems unlikely that Sindy was regain her popularity.
But at her peak, some 100 million Sindy’s were sold, and assorted accessories and merchandise made the brand hugely profitable. One of the more eccentric bits of merchandise was the 1966 seven-inch single Sindy Meets the Dolly-Beats.
This is a curious effort that attempts to cash in on both Sindy and the Beatles. Side One of the record has a story – narrated by a breathlessly posh narrator – in which we are told how Sindy met her favourite band, a quartet of mop-topped Liverpudlians called the Dolly-Beats – any resemblance to real pop groups was entirely intentional. Although their biggest fan, Sindy hasn’t managed to get a ticket for their show, but when she helps an old man across the road, she discovers that the pensioner is, in fact, Dolly-Beats frontman Cliff Warwick, disguised in order to get into the theatre unnoticed by fans – pop stars back then apparently had to walk to their gig venues. Cliff is so impressed by Sindy’s public spiritedness that he gives her free tickets and the band even write a song about her. Ahh, those were the days… a couple of years later, and it’s likely that Sindy would have to do rather more backstage to secure a free ticket.
Side Two is the actual song, Sindy, performed by unidentified session musicians who knock out a pretty fun slice of beat pop that is curiously catchy. Add this to the story, with its groovy background music and oddball roof slang (“Dolly wow!” is Sindy’s catchphrase, it seems) and you have a pretty entertaining package.
The record sleeve comes complete with fake biographies for the fake band – Cliff went to Liverpool Art College (well, of course he did) and wanted to be a film director, bassist Paul May is an amateur chef and would-be restaurant owner and guitarist Terry Coombes is a frustrated fashion designer who makes all the band’s clobber. It perhaps says a lot about how disposable pop music was seen to be in 1966 that even the band didn’t think it was going to last.
The record also came with a letter and order form for The Sindy Club merchandise, including a scarf and handkerchief set. I bet that looked smashing.
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