NEWS

Obituary: Bob Simpson

Published on: 1st July 2022

Bob was chief executive of Palitoy from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s and was credited with bringing top brands Action Man, Tiny Tears and Star Wars to the company.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Bob Simpson, who was the chief executive at Palitoy during a golden era for the company. Although he was very much a ‘behind the scenes’ director, leaving Harry Trowell and his sales team take a lot of the limelight, he did a great job working with the American owners and helped to bring numerous top brands to the company, including Action Man, Tiny Tears and Star Wars.

The funeral service will be held at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Kirby Muxloe, just outside Leicester on Monday 11th July at 12.30pm. Any former colleagues wishing to attend the service and the wake at the Royal Oak should contact Bobwhitworth@btopenworld.com.

We are grateful to former Palitoy chief designer Bob Brechin for providing the following obituary:

“Born in 1930, Bob Simpson was a proud Scotsman from Edinburgh. During his National Service he was posted to Leicester and met his future wife. Wanting to be near her, he joined the police force and was able to get a transfer to Leicester. He subsequently joined Cascelloid in its sales department, after which he became the marketing manager of the company’s Palitoy toy brand. In the early 1960s, Cascelloid’s owners BXL decided to sell off the toy division, which began with a move of staff including Bob, his boss Miles Fletcher and the design team under Bill Pugh, to the Coalville site, which had been manufacturing toys since 1937, just two years after the Palitoy name was registered.

This was when the Palitoy brand entered the modern world of TV advertising with the introduction of Tressy, Tiny Tears and Action Man. Bob was instrumental in gaining licences for all of these products between 1964 and 1966, as well as the licence for G.I. Joe from Hasbro in the USA.

Two years later, with three very strong tv-advertised toy lines, Bob played a big part in the sale of the Palitoy brand to General Mills Inc. After a year or so of American control, Bob became chief executive of Palitoy Limited, overseeing a golden era for the company: Tiny Tears was voted best girls toy for three consecutive years, while Action Man also won many awards, including the Toy of the Decade in 1980. The company developed numerous toy ranges, including Discovery Time, Parker Games and award-winning Pippa. From a modest £300,000 turnover pre-Tressy, Bob would steer the company to £30m by the start of the 1980s.

Come the start of that decade, the General Mills Toy Group was beginning its strategy of global branding. This involved directing the Palitoy management to close down licence deals with competitors such as Tomy and Mego, helping to make way for new American-designed ranges such as Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears to join the first global toy brand, Star Wars.

Bob decided to depart, taking other senior people with him to set up a new toy importing company, Emblem Toys, in collaboration with David Yeh of Universal Toys of Hong Kong. Shortly afterwards, David Yeh acquired the ailing Matchbox company and persuaded Bob to reverse its fortunes. Having succeeded in doing that, Bob chose to retire from the toy industry.

In 2017, Bob unveiled the Leicestershire County Council green plaque on the site of the former Palitoy factory to celebrate 80 years of toy-making in Coalville. He also opened the Many Faces of Palitoy exhibition, held at the former factory in 2019, which commemorated 100 years since Alf Pallett founded Cascelloid in Leicester.

Bob should be remembered as the ‘father of Action Man’. There has been much debate about the origins of the name, but in the Coalville Heritage Society interview in 2019, Bob revealed that he briefed the advertising agency, Gee Advertising, and it came up with a long list of names, including ‘Man of Action’. “I like it. But that’s too long to go on the packaging,” was Bob’s opinion – and Action Man was born.”

Our condolences to Bob’s family, and friends and colleagues from the toy community.

 

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