Kenbrite Pocket People
As a kid who loved Lego in the 70’s I recall being a little sceptical when my brother bought home a Playmobil set one day. The figure (a fireman) was kind of clunky, his articulation was pretty limited and he was an odd scale – somewhere between my little Lego dudes and the bad boys of Kenner’s Star Wars. On the plus side he did have a maniacal grin on his face, and he was accessorised to the hilt with stuff like ladders, hoses and even a fire hydrant.
A few weeks later he brought home a bigger set, it had a bunch of fireman with red hats, a chief with a shiny gold hat, and best of all one of those handheld trampoline things that fireman hold out (rather optimistically I think!) at multi-story building fires. I was hooked!
My childhood figures went the way of the dinosaurs sometime during the last couple of decades, but when I began accumulating 70’s toys around 15 years ago I was delighted to add the set below to my collection.
I hadn’t thought much of it until I unearthed it again recently and went searching on the web for information on Playmobil. There are a bunch of great sites out there today, notably Collectibil , PlaymoBoard and the Playmo Database. I learnt a lot about Playmobil, but most importantly I found out that Playmobil was distributed in Australia in the 70’s (Probably 1974-78) by Kenbrite, who like Toltoys acted as a local distributer of successful international toybrands.
Through the sole Playmobil collector’s guide available Playmobil Collector I was able to see some great shots of the very first Kenbrite sets and figures, many of which were produced to Kenbrite’s specifications and include unique blister card sets (as opposed to the rest of the world’s boxed sets). What the guide didn’t mention (at least in the first edition) was that the Kenbrite Corporation at some point decided that “Playmobil” as a name just would not do for Aussie kids. Never mind that the first few years of product had used “Playmobil” on all the packaging and probably advertising (email me if you have any!), the brains trust sat up all night and came up with “Pocket People”. It’s not a bad name, but judging by the fact that I was a consumer of their toys in the late 70’s and had never heard of it I would say that it was either quickly abandoned or just spectacularly unsuccessful.
I haven’t been able to find out much about The Kenbrite Corporation, but by comparing the little “Pocket People” sticker on the Fort Union set (1976) box with the uniquely designed earlier sets I would say that sales of Playmobil in Australia didn’t live up to their expectations.
Kenbrite did have other lines to spend their time and money on, namely TYCO Trainsets and Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, but unless someone can dig up some company info for me we may never know the full story of the mysterious “Pocket People”.