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Super-fan David Whiteley tells toy story of Star Wars in new programme

PUBLISHED: 10:54 01 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:12 01 December 2019

New BBC Four programme Toy Empire tells the British story behind Star Wars toys. Picture: David Whiteley

New BBC Four programme Toy Empire tells the British story behind Star Wars toys. Picture: David Whiteley

David Whiteley

It seems like a galaxy far, far away where toys linked to films were a cottage industry and not a multi-billion pound franchises, and where manufacturers and retailers could be doubtful about the success of a new film called Star Wars.

Star Wars superfan David Whiteley.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYStar Wars superfan David Whiteley. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Now the story of how the mega-success of George Lucas' sci-fi saga transformed film merchandising and the fortunes of a British company are to be told in a new documentary from Star Wars super-fan David Whiteley.

The BBC East presenter is following up the success of his previous Star Wars programme, The Galaxy Britain Built, which told never-before-heard stories of the very British creative geniuses behind the original 1977 film, with Toy Empire: The British Force Behind Star Wars Toys.

Star Wars superfan David Whiteley.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYStar Wars superfan David Whiteley. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It tells how Palitoy, the Leicestershire firm behind Action Man and Tiny Tears, was chosen to manufacture Star Wars figures in the UK but whose staff had little idea they were about to become the must-have toys of a generation.

"Retailers were very sceptical so they said if you take Star Wars we will do you big discounts on Action Man, but, of course, once it got into the shops kids like me lapped it up," said David, who gets to realise a childhood dream by becoming a Star Wars figure.

MORE: The Galaxy that David Whiteley Built

The BBC Four programme includes archive footage and interviews with the men and women who designed and made the toys, and the enthusiasts whose pocket money toys now fetch eye-watering sums.

David said: "The thing they designed that is now worth a lot of money is the Palitoy Death Star. It is cardboard and a completely different design to the plastic one in the States. We filmed at toy auction where one went for £1,400."

Star Wars superfan David Whiteley.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYStar Wars superfan David Whiteley. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The programme, timed to coincide with the new film The Rise of Skywalker, is being screened at 9pm on December 16 followed by a new extended 90-minute version of The Galaxy Britain Built.

He said: "We have a load of interviews that we never used before and I found new interviewees and have found a lot of new archive footage.

BBC East presenter David Whiteley was 3D scanned to become a Star Wars figure for new programme Toy Empire. Picture: David WhiteleyBBC East presenter David Whiteley was 3D scanned to become a Star Wars figure for new programme Toy Empire. Picture: David Whiteley

"I have spoken to the woman who did continuity who still has the annotated scripts with notes on how she helped Alec Guinness re-write very famous speeches. We also have two guys who were principals with the London Symphony Orchestra under John Williams who talk about how wonderful it was to be in that moment creating music that is now so iconic."

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