This six-part series has been one of the most enjoyable of 2009. It revolves around the simple idea of using various famous (well, for people aged 40+) childhood toys in a community project. This format avoids straight rose-tinted nostalgia in favour of getting adults and children involved in playing with the toys on a grand scale... a very grand scale. So for the Airfix episode the attempt is made to construct a lifesize Spitfire aircraft. The plasticine episode, rather obliquely, creates a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. There's a Meccano bridge across a real river, a full size Scalextric racing track, a full size model railway and most famously a house built out of Lego.
Each program presents the entertaining side of the planning, chronicling the problems as much as the triumphs, as well as the amusing reactions of the people involved. It's a delight to see children who have never got their fingers gummed up with Airfix glue before hating doing an activity that doesn't involve sitting in front a tv screen then gradually finding that they enjoy making something that's real. It's just as much fun seeing the adults reliving their youth as well as the enthusiasts who are still devoted to the particular toy and who are inevitably male with loft extensions to house their hobby.
Through it all James May's genuine enthusiasm comes over well. It pleases me that of all the Top Gear presenters he's the one that appears to be getting the most work. He has an appealing and gentle approach that finds good-spirited fun in most situations such as the po-faced reactions of the Flower Show judges or meeting a particularly nerdy enthusiast. My only minor problem is that these days the BBC are incapable of making a tv show without a 'celebrity' appearing and so inevitably some crop up to, as always, add precisely nothing, but thankfully their slots are small. In addition the nostalgia is tainted by the realization that the toys do still exist, except they have often been dumbed down and they are usually being made in some far flung corner of the globe, but I would hope that this series gives the toys a boost.
This is simply the best possible show that could have been made about the toys, and it's the only series I've watched all year in which I've smiled from start to finish.