Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Tribute To: Smarties Smartians*


I was one of those kids who liked saving up for things, I was also one of those kids whose dietary habits were easily dictated by what free shit was being given away, there was no such thing as brand loyalty when free toys were involved – except Kinder Eggs, I am their high chieftain for life. This is leading up to the time I ate Smarties almost solidly for a month to get a set of four glow-in-the-dark mini figures, those mini-figures were the Smartians.



Smartians were the big promotion for Smarties in 1995 through 1996, they were the standard ‘force you to buy more of our wears’ offer where you saved up coupons from tubes of Smarties to send away for a set of four figures or (I think) a T-shirt if you included some money. I never gave a shit about promotions that didn’t give you figural toys or stickers really, occasionally I’d care but school supplies would not convince me to convince my mum to switch from Corn Flakes to Frosties after I’d just convinced her to switch to Corn Flakes a month before, so I never took much notice of the T-Shirt offer, I do have pictures of it stolen from an old eBay auction though:


I clearly remember having the conversation with my mum about my decision that we would save up for these figures, we had it on our high street somewhere near what used to be Woolworth’s and far from the stereotypical animated child begging their mum to do something I was completely calm and rational, it was more like we were discussing our joint finances: “we need to save up this many tokens so we can get these figures”. My mum was pretty ok with indulging me, I was an only child and pretty spoilt (something I’m still embarrassed about) but she really didn’t need much convincing to eat more of one of her favourite sweets, in fact the last time I saw her eating sweets it was Smarties. Of course I got obsessed and overly focussed on doing this as time went on because I was that sort of child (and teenager) but at the start I was all business-like. This is where the disconnect between my world and the real world seems to happen because even though I was aware at the time that this promotion hadn’t taken the country by storm like, say, Walker’s Tazos had a year previous, it seemed like a lot of kids in my area were doing the same thing I was. I didn’t have many friends but I do have the ability to listen (out of one ear anyway) and a notable number of kids at school and in local shops were after some Smartians, the promotion had TV, print and billboard advertising and both seemed to be everywhere so I spent much of my life assuming that this was a fairly notable promotion, not reaching McDonald’s Beanie Babies level but certainly around the size of the Phantom Menace and Pok√©mon promotions. I was wrong and it’s fairly easy to see why – those kids who were also doing the promotion? They lived near me, so near 3 sweet shops, or otherwise were in sweet shops and the ubiquitous adverts? Well the adverts were always in what I read but they were Sonic the Comic, The Beano and Buster – comic books for pre-teen boys by DC Thomson & Co and Fleetway who were pretty much confectionary companies’ first port of call for advertising their promotions and had been since at least the 1970s. As for the print and billboard adds? Well I only watched CiTV (a kids block of programming and of the two major kids blocks on terrestrial TV the only one to have adverts) and a billboard is at the top of my road – both literally and figuratively (I lived at the bottom of a hill).

So they weren’t as big a deal as it seemed to me and they weren’t available in America which probably explains why their internet presence is virtually nil but neither of those things stops them being awesome. Meet Smorg, Babok, Yoz and Zock:

Smorg

The leaflet that came with the figures (thanks to Smartiescollector.com for having scans of this) has a bio for each Smartian, here’s what it has to say about Smorg: Smorg is the brainy one. She’s Always got an answer for everything! She loves reading books and comics and with that third eye, she’s unbeatable on the computer. For most of their life I had no idea that the Smartians had sexes and don’t really know how to feel about this, mostly guilty that I’ve treated them as sexless for so long – I hope they don’t have a complex. Smorg is very much the face of the Smartians for me, she’s the Smartian I think of when I think of Smartians (or Smarties) and I particularly like her antennae that make her look like she has bunches, a sure fire way to tell she’s brainy (she’s also, technically, ginger another sure sign she’s nerd). But um, she actually has four eyes (get it?), three on her face and one on her back so y’know her bio’s wrong, shame on you bio writer for not giving enough fucks about Rowntrees give-aways to turn them over.

Babok
Babok, the youngest Smartian, needs a lot of love and affection. He loves to play all day with his friends down in the craters, his favourite game is when he pretends he’s a big, brave Smartians. What is Babok riding on? Smorg is supposed to have a meteorite (I think), Yoz and Zeck both use space crafts, Babok’s look like an upside-down polka dot bottle cap

or possibly a cupcake wrapper, his official art makes it look more like a polka-dot bag but that makes no more sense than either of my other suggestions. Is it supposed to be like a blanket or pram or one of those baby carrying devices (with the handle? What are those called?) and if so why does it look like something you’d eat popcorn out of at a circus in 1932? Weird, but then I suppose it is a carrier for a baby alien so maybe we shouldn’t judge it by our earth logic, I like to think it’s a bottle cap. Anyway Babok is probably my favourite Smartian, he mixes classic alien design elements with a giant Smartie shape the best for me (a sentence I’ll never have to use again), but does suggest that Smartians grow more limbs the older they get. Oh and if anyone remember that nutty rich guy who chased Timon and Puumba for their Caribou Cola bottle cap, he’d like Babok too, or at least want a ride on his sled.

Yoz
Yoz, he’s the cool one! He likes to wear dark glasses to give him an air of mystery. His Dangerous missions to other

galaxies have made him a star amongst the Smartian population. Sometimes I wonder why the people who make things for kids think wearing sunglasses makes something cool, but then I remember being a kid and realise that every child genuinely equates sunglasses with coolness. I can’t imagine I’d get on with Yoz; he seems a bit of a dick. Wait, what do I mean ‘seems’? He is a bit of a dick – Yoz is a shit to stand up, the bottom of his rocket is flattened off but he very easily overbalances and can’t deal with any kind of rough terrain or slope. If you can’t tell from the pictures the Smartians are quite flat, a cost saving measure completely okayed by them being based around the shape of a Smartie, so the rocket itself is pretty flat and Yoz himself is bigger, heavier and less flat than his stand, not a balance that leads to, well, balance.

Zock

Zock is the wild one, who loves action games and riding fast on her spaceship! You humans might call her a ‘Tom Boy’; certainly she can sometimes be rather noisy. In my childhood play Zock was less the wild one and more the ‘crazy, unhinged one’, think Crazy Harry from The Muppets mixed with Wild Child from Age of Apocalypse. They just mixed it up with the rest of the mini-figures; I seem to think they were usually aligned with the Boglins due to size and shape, which could be racist. Speaking of shape (that was almost a segue) looking at Zock’s official artwork the implication I’m getting is that both should have their hair/antennae and eye/visor around the edge of their disc-like shape and their mouths on one side, am I making sense? I’m not am I? Ok, try again: if Babok and Smorg are Smarties with one side facing us when viewed face-on then Zock and Yoz should be Smarties turned so their edge is facing us when face-on but the figures are all Smarties who have one side facing us when face-on. That wasn’t any better? Fuck it. Zock’s weird design-wise, a little awkward but pretty cool, she’s also the only Smartian to have ears – not that important but it pads the paragraph out and makes more sense than anything else I’ve said in it so far.      
  
The toys came in a set of four but to my horror (I mean that almost literally) I found during my big loft sort out (which seems so long ago now, god I’m so ooooold) that I’d somehow lost Zock and Yoz, I think they were more victims of the Great Crash Dummies Box Mix-Up™ (where my grandad accidentally threw out a box of toys thinking it was rubbish, at least that’s our theory). It’s taken me until last month to replace them because these things never seem to appear anywhere, I’ve seen one Babok at a bootsale and the first set I found on eBay I bought (for a whopping £3-something), of course now I’ve bought one there’s been another set on eBay straight away but that’s the first law of collecting – Sod’s Law. Anyway there is a lot of nostalgia involved in me liking them as much as I do and spending years looking to replace them but they are charming – aren’t they? They have nice little designs that all manage to be variants on a theme that are wholly unique and yet still clearly have the Smartie design noticeable - and they glow-in-the-dark. As I suck at conclusions all I have to say this – remember: only Smarties have the answers.  

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