James May’s Toy Stories

9:30pm Sunday 23 December on BBC TWO

In this epic Toy Stories Christmas Special, James May gets to the heart of the nation’s childhood love-affair with the model plane, and sets out to achieve what seems an impossible dream: the first cross channel flight ever achieved by an engineless, homemade supersized toy. If it survives the perilous 22-mile journey, James’s classic toy glider lovingly built from over 1,000 pieces of balsa will smash the British distance record.

Underpinned throughout by James’s own infectious passion for flight, his mission is dedicated to making the dream of flight come true for the generations of children who, like James himself, slaved for hours over balsa and glue only to see their fragile and much-loved planes smash tragically onto the unyielding concrete of reality.

During his quest, James turns Indiana Jones to unearth surprising new evidence that identifies children as the true pioneers of flight, and wrestles with an underperforming glider that threatens to barely leave the ground. From a visit to a mysterious and barely inhabited island to helicopters lost in the fog and missing speedboats, Flight Club is an epic journey into the unexpected, culminating in a thrilling and visually stunning last throw of the dice.

While I understand why people dislike (dare I say it, hate) Top Gear, one thing I can’t fathom is how anyone could ever feel anything untoward about James May.

In his Toy Stories, May proves that, by being slightly awkward and nerdy, you can shine a light on Great British affability. May has it in bucket-loads.

This latest series sees May getting a load of old, out-dated toys and giving them something of a last hurrah. I’m sure that he’d like to think that he’s breathing new life into old classics… but he isn’t. There’s not a chance that last night’s featured toy, Meccano, will see a spike in sales. Sadly for the nuts and bolts, they’re just not as much fun as a Playstation 3.

Whilst the kids of today are all blinding their eyeballs and frying their brains with graphics so dazzling that it’s no wonder they feel constantly bored by The Real World. Meccano, like many toys of yesteryear, were based squarely in the world we live in, mixed with a sense of imagination.

Computer games allow you to roam around an alternative universe… Meccano allows you to create your own.

So with this, May borrowed a dizzying amount of Meccano to build a giant swinging bridge thing in the very real world of Liverpool. Once again, a flight of fancy tarted up with practicality made for some excellent television.

Y’see, what these shows do best, is to get us involved with the journey of a project, as well as thrill at James May’s inclusion of volunteers, allowing us to gently cheer them on in their endeavours.

Whilst he horsed around and gave slightly sarcastic stirring speeches, everyone knuckled down to make a bridge that was, to be perfectly honest, a very beautiful object. Useless? Maybe. However, like the spirit of our Victorian cousins, this was all about making something useful and pretty to look at.

Thankfully, these shows don’t get too bogged down in the nerdy aspects of the projects and history because, in all honesty, that would make for a show that demands to be shunted off to 2am in the Open University section of the night. No, this skimmed across many of the meat and bones and left us with a fun, accessible show that made an hour pass by with a intrigued grin on its face.

More of the same please. Oh, and make a lifesize Donkey Kong. Ta.

There’s a lot of people out there who loathe absolutely everyone involved with Top Gear. This has left me wondering if I’m a bit mental for liking it. I especially like James May, and granted, he sometimes falls into lazy jokes about foreign people, but for the most part, he’s warm, engaging and a bit crap.

It’s for these reasons that May is the perfect candidate to present shows about Great British Things. He’s such an obvious nerd that it’s great that someone has decided to pay him to talk about innovations and space flight and all that stuff.

This latest series, James May’s Toy Stories, gets May to look at things a little smaller. Knocked on from his scathing reviews of the things his sisters used to play with, Auntie has given May the chance to explore the toys of his youth and transpose them to stupidly big canvasses.

Last night, looking at Airfix, our enthused spod got a bunch of kids and showed them a hobby that kept kids quiet for months at a time.

Of course, this was peppered with children who live in a world of immediate kicks (like computer games, high-speed internet, mobiles and MP3 players) staring frustratedly at fiddly little models that have the gall to ask you to assemble and paint them.

The show was a bite-sized history of one of the most popular toys in British history… so bite-sized that it never really wandered into being a dullfest. Naturally, just talking about badly glued war-vehicles would be too much to ask of a viewer, so mercifully, the show was pinned around a huge Top Gear styled challenge.

That challenge was to make a ratio of 1:1 Airfix Spitfire.

What unveiled was a sweet little snapshot of May’s childhood dream coming true and the gentle thrill of seeing children embrace and antagonise the whole thing. What we were left with, ultimately, was a charming little show which entertained for the duration without ever feeling too important.

Sure, it was a little throwaway… but often, the BBC charts these little tremors of popular culture (on BBC Four normally) and spins them into lovely, fuzzy television. This was no exception.

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