1978-79 LAST DAYS OF BINNS ROAD

Throughout the history of Mechanics Made Easy and Meccano despite many changed to sets and new parts there had been a relationship between the contents of the range from new sets to old in other words the changes have not been that great. Indeed up until 1978 the biggest changes had been in the 1930's with the change from set 1-7 to the lettered sets A - L back to numbers 0-10. Now in 1978 things had become so dire with the main meccano range that a complete reorganization was ordered.

 

Out went sets 1-10 and in came sets A and 1-5 bearing no resemblance in content to the previous sets. The sets where smaller, used different parts along with a number of new parts making model making simpler. and therefore quicker to build. Sets 2 - 5 contained motors another departure from Meccano convention. All the sets where packed in bright modern white boxes along with entirely new colour manuals. Two new sets where introduced on a futuristic space theme, Space 2501 and Meccanoids.

Outfit a

Set A the Smallest of the New Sets

This change was too late by 1979 Meccano Ltd could not keep up its financial obligations and went into receivership. Despite a sit in by the workforce to try and save their jobs a court order in 1980 brought this to an end, the Binns Road factory being partly demolished by the end of the Year.

binms road partly demolished

Binns Road Factory in its Final Days

Meccano is still available in the shops today. Airfix went into liquidation in 1981 with Meccano General Mill (USA) it has gone through various owners and transformation now bearing no resemblance to the sets 1 -10 of the early 1970's but nearer to the sets A - 5 of the late seventies however considerable changes have been made to both parts and contents


What went wrong? Roland Hornby is understood to have said in 1963 when Meccano Ltd was going through its first financial crisis that he could not believe that Meccano was not outdated. To a point he was right the principle of making models from parts and meccano still lives on 45 years later. Many had cited Lego as a reason for the demise of Meccano, Lego being much easier to put together. Although this cannot be entirely be ruled out as children in the 1960's may have asked for a Lego set in preference to Meccano the two are fundamentally different. Lego is about buildings Meccano is about mechanics so the two should have been able to exist side by side.

Something more fundamental was happening. Take the example of a boy around the age of 10 as his dad arrives home from work, up until the mid 1950's the conversation may have gone like this:-

Boy: Dad can we finish the meccano model tonight?

Dad: Sure once we have had tea.

But by the 1960's the conversation may have been as follows:-

Dad. Do you want to finish the meccano model tonight (son)?

Boy: But Dad, Thunderbirds is on telly tonight!

The point is obvious the rises of television played its part. How would that affect sales? Prior to the mid 50's a boy may have been bought a smaller set say at Christmas time. He and his father would have made the models together in an evening possibly with the radio playing in the background. With say a 50's set 3 they may have completed a model in under an hour. Leaving the boy a few days to play with the completed model before taking it apart and building another. In that way within about 3 months possibly less they would have worked through the book. Time for a trip to the shops for the converter set and possible to replace the odd part that had broken of used up such as cord. This could go on for several years with the boy taking a more active roll in the building as he matures. This could have well gone on until either the larger conversion sets where too much for the families finances, or the boy had outgrown Meccano possibly as he left school.

In the 60's there was still a lot of sets sold for Christmas presents etc. But after initial enthusiasm the lure of the television would kick in, so very soon the boy abandoned the meccano set in favour of the TV meaning that the regular trips to the local toy or model shop for the conversion set was never made. What possibly made it worse was that in the 60's most households just had one TV set as these where still expensive, this was nearly always in the sitting room. Mothers would not want Meccano left around. Ironically if TV sets where cheaper like they became in the 90's and children had one in their bedroom then things may have been different as the child could well have constructed and played with the meccano model whilst watching TV. What bears this out somewhat is the first sets Meccano Ltd abandoned in the 1960's was the 9a conversion set.

Is there anything Meccano Ltd could have done. What is Ironical is that if what Lines Brothers did with the Sets in the 60's was done in the 50's and what Airfix did with there special sets and final set reorganization was done in the 1960's then Meccano could have survived. The biggest problem for Meccano Ltd was the number of parts they where making, over 300 by the early 1960's. When Airfix finally reorganized the sets in the 1970's the number of parts used in the sets fell dramatically.

 

This would have had an effect on the time taken to build a model in the 1960s, Models from Sets 0-2 could be built in an hour or less. Sets 3 -6 in 2 hours of less. Sets 7 & 8 would take a good evening. Whilst 9 and 10 models would require several evenings. In the 60's with only 3 channels there where plenty of programs that children where not particularly interested in, but others they where desperate to watch so models needed to be able to be built in an hour if the child's interest in Meccano was to be maintained. This could have been done by either reducing the size of the sets or making larger parts to cut out some of the time, for example a lorry could have its cab as one part (as happened in the 1970s with the highway set). A flat base for the back and sides for the tipper rather than several plates and strips, and a chassis (which possible could double up as a crane tower) cutting down the time considerably leaving the steering, and some workings to be added with strips etc.

army cab

A 1970's Meccano Cab. Too Little Too Late?

The other thing that was noticeable was that the manuals where also behind the times. The Set 10 in the 1970;s had models from the 40's and 50's, although bridges and cranes did not change too much but vehicles did. What though was missing was keeping up with current events. Although meccano did go some way toward this in the 1970's there was some glaring misses that would have increased sales. A mini in the early sixties. Models of Thunderbirds, Stingray and others in the mid 60's and what about a Saturn 5 and a lunar module in 1969. Releases like these could have transformed the fortune of Meccano Ltd and kept the Binns Road factory open or even a new factory somewhere else in Liverpool!

MAIN EVENTS OF THIS PERIOD

  • 1978 Entirely New Range of Meccano Sets Introduced
  • 1978 New Blue and Yellow Colour Zinc Plating Abandoned
  • 1979 Space 2501 Kit Introduced
  • 1979 Meccanoids Introduced
  • 1979 Meccano Ltd goes into receivership
  • 1979 Sit in by Workforce to no avail Meccano never again made at Binns Road