The Story of Budgie Diecast Toys
When Budgie Toys was formed in 1959, Sam & Harry Morris, creators of the Morestone range and the 'Esso' Petrol Pump Series of miniatures, already had more than a dozen years experience of selling diecast toys through the business of Morris & Stone (London) Ltd.. Early models had been manufactured by several independant toymakers but during the 1950's many were increasingly made 'in-house'. However, one toymaker, Modern Products Ltd. (owned by Jim and Len Burkett) continued to make toys for the Morris brothers and the history of the two businesses is closely entwined.
With the worldwide appeal of British toys expanding during the 1950's, Sam Morris had successfully built a growing business but he clearly saw a further opportunity for a completely new range of large scale models.
His first attempt, in 1958, was to create a range called 'Trucks of the World International Series' based on a collection of international commercial vehicles but, while the models were good, the boxes were not eyecatching, and only three models appeared before the Series was discontinued. Sam Morris, however, was determind to start a new range and so it was that the Budgie Toys concept was born, good quality diecast toys in bright yellow boxes with an instantly recognisable identity.
Several early models were transferred from the Morestone range but new models quickly appeared so that by 1961 there were 37. To start with they were not numbered but in 1960 a system of using even numbers was introduced starting with the Refrigeration Truck No.202.
In addition, the miniatures range was expanded with new models now that the 'Esso' Series was being discontinued. These appeared in 'Mobile' and 'Modern' boxes and in yellow Budgie blister-packs.
In 1960 also, the Morris brothers moved their main office from Stoke Newington in North London to St Albans but continued production at the R.Smith (Diecastings) Ltd. premises in Hoddesdon as well as sub-contracting manufacture to Modern Products. Sales continued to expand throughout the world with new groups of models like the 'Wagon Train' items based on a popular TV series.
In 1961, the Morris brothers were approached by the old-established toy business of S.Guiterman & Co. expressing an interest in buying Budgie Toys along with Morris & Stone and the R.Smith foundry. Guiterman at that time were expanding by buying other toymakers, and presumably the offer was a generous one because Sam & Harry Morris decided to sell.
The years under Guiterman ownership were highly productive with many innovative models appearing. The name was changed from 'Budgie Toys' to 'Budgie Models' but in appearance the Budgie range with its distinctive yellow boxes continued to thrive, and later these were joined by blue & white window packs. Miniatures were still available in 'Modern' boxes but now also in blue blister-packs or Toy House packs in the US.
Then suddenly on 7 March 1966, the Guiterman toy business collapsed and entered voluntary bankruptcy. With that, the majority of the Budgie toy business abruptly ceased and the original Budgie range of both large-scale and miniatures ended.
For toymakers like Modern Products, who had manufactured several of the Budgie range, this raised immediate uncertainty as they still had outstanding orders, particularly from the US distributors, F.J.Strauss Co. Inc., for the supply of miniatures. Seeing an opportunity, Jim and Len Burkett first acquired the 'Budgie' trade mark, and then sought to buy 182 of the surviving Morestone and Budgie moulds from the metal recyclers V & S Aldridge Bros.Ltd who had bought them from the receiver. Sadly, this plan never came about because a fire destroyed them early in 1967 before the sale could go through.
However, Modern Products still had some of the moulds for the Budgie models which they had manufactured, especially a few of the miniatures, and these were re-issued in new versions. Of the larger scale models, the Routemaster Bus was perhaps the most valuable survivor and when Harry Morris arranged a meeting in 1969 between the Burkett brothers and H Seener, a supplier of souvenirs to London shops, the bus returned to production.
The link between Modern Products and Seener resulted in a revival of the Budgie name with old models being re-issued in fresh livery and new models like the Rolls-Royce being added. The miniatures were dropped but this was an era of success for Modern Products and Budgie Models.
In 1983 Len Burkett died and his brother Jim retired. The business was sold to a neighbouring firm in Stoke Newington called Starcourt Ltd. who were not intersted in toy making but continued for a while making souvenir items for H. Seener. However, he was not happy with the arrangement and this gradually wound down until it ended in 1985.