The Sindy Project - the story of her development and launch

In the early 1960s, following the success of Barbie and other fashion dolls such as Tammy in the USA, Pedigree considered the idea of launching their own British teenage fashion doll.

According to an article in 12S Magazine (No 6, Winter 2002, pgs 6 to 9) in an interview with David Fear who became Sindy’s Product Manager, Alan Cathcart one of the Lines Brothers Directors would visit America looking for new products or to develop new opportunities for existing products which Pedigree could license. On one such visit Mattel offered Pedigree the distribution rights for Barbie for the UK market (pg 6).

Unusually for Pedigree in 1962, they conducted in-depth market research into such a possibility including market surveys and focus groups. However, the research showed that girls in the UK “did not like the full-busted, sugar and spice Barbie” (pg 6). They wanted a doll they could recognise and America’s Barbie was just too sophisticated and too different with her grown-up looks and figure. 

The research concluded “that what was wanted was the girl next door look” (pg 6).

But seeing just how successful Barbie was in the United States spurred Pedigree on to find the right doll who would be recognisable to British girls. So, after another round of market research, Pedigree set about designing their own, with a less grown-up figure with smaller breasts, lower insteps and a rounder, younger softer-featured face with less make-up. In fact more like the American Tammy by Ideal.

Her original face and body was sculpted by Dennis Arkinstall, the senior resident sculptor at Pedigree (Colette Mansell, The History of Sindy, Paperback edn 2002, pg 17). Her bubble-cut hairstyle was created by Michael of John of Knightsbridge who had a number of high-profile clients (Daily Mail, Wednesday 23rd September 1964, pg 4). She had painted, side-glancing blue eyes which broke Pedigree’s tradition of producing sleeping eye dolls (Mansell, pg 17). And, she was just 12 inches tall.

Pedigree turned to International Model Aircraft (IMA), another Lines Brothers company who shared the same factory building as Pedigree in Merton, and who were experts in plastic moulding and tooling. They were co-opted to develop moveable joints for Sindy (Memories of working for Frog by Eric Walpole accessed from http://www.houseoffrog.co.uk/frog_memories.htm) and to manufacture this smaller doll.

Sindy’s gentle, open face was to be her fortune, and as David Fear recalled,

“Always there to represent to a child, her friend, her sister, her mother – whatever the girl really wanted the doll to be” (12S, pg 6).

Pedigree had settled on a vision, one which was recounted to the Daily Mail in 1964 by Derek Bibby, Managing Director of Pedigree.

We wanted a teenage doll. But we didn’t want an offensive doll. There were some on the market with damn great bosoms on them…” (Daily Mail, pg 4).

Charles Greville of the Daily Mail was concerned that Sindy would mean the end of dolls supposed to foster a young girl’s maternal instincts. Mr Bibby responded,

“She appeals to a different playing instinct. Girls still want dolls they can bath, put to bed and change. But they wanted something else too. Sindy enables little girls to choose the sort of clothes they like to think they will be wearing in their teens. It develops their fashion sense” (Daily Mail, pg 4).

But as we now know today, it enables so much more including exploration, self-identity, and aspirations beyond a traditional nurturing role.

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The Fashion Designers

“Sindy has sports clothes, glamour clothes, everyday clothes – a dog, skates, a gramophone – everything. Sindy has eight full outfits, and eight simple separates. And there are more to come.

Every genuine Sindy outfit is a child’s dream come true. Each one is designed for today’s fashionable young women, by today’s leading women designers. They are authentic miniature replicas of the latest adult clothes.” (Every Little Girl’s Dream Come True, 1963, 45-rpm record sleeve).

A fashion doll needs fashionable, stylish clothes and Pedigree asked Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin to design Sindy’s first outfits. They designed eight complete outfits and eight separates.

Foale and Tuffin were chosen because they were young leaders in the fashion industry. They opened their own boutique off fashionable Carnaby Street in 1965. They are credited with being the designers who popularised the trouser suits for women (Susan Brewer, British Dolls of the 1960s, 2009, pg 54). They gained a reputation for their tailoring and were well known for their fun, colourful, wearable clothes, regularly appearing in the ‘Young Ideas’ section in British Vogue helping to set new trends https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/foale-and-tuffin-talk-fashion.

Their designs were faithfully adapted for the 12 inch doll by Pedigree’s chief designer Valerie Sanders and miniature accessories for Sindy’s newly designed outfits were modelled by IMA.

The Marketing Men

Charles Hobson & Grey of Conduit Street, London was chosen as the advertising agency and there may have been good reason for this choice. The US company Grey acquired Charles Hobson in 1962, and perhaps there was a feeling that the skills of the newly formed company with some roots in the UK and knowledge from Barbie’s ‘home-turf’ might provide a little advantage.

The account director was Proctor Naylor (not ‘Maylor’ as referenced by Mansell, pg 17).

Sindy’s marketing materials and packaging were carefully managed and colour co-ordinated, Sindy’s colour palate was rhodium pink and white. Her boxes used these colours, which also enticingly displayed her new fashions, and Sindy’s Style Leaflet followed the scheme.

“Sindy’s Bazaar” style leaflet was such a clever choice for a name; both exciting and exotic, and simultaneously evoking an association with Mary Quant’s own shop ‘Bazaar’ which opened in 1955. 

According to the V&A,

“Bazaar was one of few shops in London that offered an alternative to the ‘mature’ styles produced by other high-fashion designers. It also offered a radically different shopping experience than the couturiers, department stores and chain stores that made up the mainstream fashion market. At Bazaar, loud music, free drinks, witty window displays and extended opening hours created a ‘scene’ that often kept going late into the evening. Young women travelled to Bazaar to enjoy shopping for ‘something different’ in a much less formal environment. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-mary-quant

Just the sort of association Pedigree was trying to make for their “free, swinging, grown-up girl who lives her own life and dresses the way she really likes” (Sindy’s Bazaar, 1963, leaflet).

Pedigree also obtained licensing permission to use Tammy’s slogan

“The Doll You Love To Dress!”  

which again capitised on the whole fashion doll concept. But there was a proviso that Pedigree had to use a different name for their new doll. https://www.dollreference.com/pedigree-sindy-dolls-english

Sindy's Name

To comply with Ideal’s condition to use Tammy’s slogan, a new name was needed.

According to the Dictionary of Trade Names (Adrian Room, 1983, pg 159) the new name was chosen following a street survey where little girls were shown a photo of the doll and were asked to pick a name from four suggestions. The favourite name was ‘Cindy’.

However, because this was a common girl’s name, it could not be registered as a trademark.

The story goes that at the meeting where Charles Hobson & Grey presented the results of the survey to Pedigree, Richard Lines representing the Lines Brothers Directing Board took out his fountain pen and with a flourish changed the “C” to an “S”, and so the name “Sindy”, which could be trademarked, was born. It has to be said that Charles Hobson & Grey didn’t particularly care for the name, but Richard Lines dug his heels in and the name stayed. (Jake Davies)

Sindy’s launch

Sindy’s launch on the 6th of September 1963 at the Associated Rediffusion TV Studios in Wembley was the first of its kind for the doll industry. 

Pedigree invited all their main customers for a presentation narrated by an actress playing Sindy and with models modelling her outfits (Mansell, pg 18). 

However, the event did not go as planned, Sindy was poorly received; retailers were just not interested. There were so many beautiful big dolls on the market as it was, and they couldn’t grasp the concept of this little 12 inch girl. As David Fear admitted the event had really been a disaster (12S, pg 7).

To add to Pedigree’s woes, Sindy’s launch was supposed to be nationwide however by this point in her development Pedigree was running out of money. Just before the event, Pedigree discovered they couldn’t afford a national television advertising campaign even though they had committed to it and were already having to manage expectations by saying it would be a London launch only (12S, pg 7).

By clicking on the record you will be able to hear Mr Bibby’s message.

Every little girl’s dream come true

Pedigree created introductory packs for retailers which included a free “magnificent sales stand” which was also named “Sindy’s Bazaar” (Every Little Girl’s Dream Come True, record sleeve).

The pack contained nine Sindy dolls – 3 of each with blonde, brunette and auburn hair, wearing their patriotic statement outfit, ‘Weekenders’ with their red, white and blue matelot tops, cool jeans and sneakers. They were dressed so very differently to other dolls on the market, and subliminally played to that market research which suggested consumers wanted a British doll. Also included were three of each of her Outfits and three of each of her Separates. Forty-eight outfits in total. A Sindy doll stood on top of the stand and free Sindy Bazaar style leaflets were included. 

Any toy shop could order this pack for the bargain price of £19/1/9d plus Purchase Tax. All items were also available separately for ease of ordering (Mansell, pg 18).

Pedigree sales reps were given green Ford Anglia vans with Sindy’s new “Sindy the Doll You Love to Dress” slogan emblazoned on the sides. According to Mansell, the reps would fill their vans with display packs every morning and then try to place them with customers (pg 19). The reps also took orders and set up the stands themselves (12S, pg 7).

But retailer take-up remained stubbornly low, so another radical marketing initiative was employed. In an innovative approach, Derek Bibby sent out a personal letter, a 45-rpm record with a branded rhodium pink sleeve bearing the Sindy logo titled “Every little girl’s dream come true”, and a reply-paid order form to retailers. 

He said in his accompanying letter that

“We have many good reasons for believing Sindy is going to be the rage, not only in the coming Christmas, but all the year round and this means that Sindy is going to be very profitable for you.” 

The back sleeve of the record reiterated that Sindy was going to be very special and set out the advertising campaign in detail.

The quirky record included the Sindy jingle produced by Charles Hobson & Grey, and it emphasised how profitable stocking Sindy would be to toy retailers.

The Children’s Campaign

Despite the poor take-up it was decided that the television advertising campaign would proceed in the London area. 

The television campaign was itself groundbreaking. It was the first British advert by a toy company to only focus on only one product. Generally, toy companies would display all their products in one 30 second advert.

Pedigree pushed the Sindy TV campaign to retailers on the 45-rpm record as

“BIG TV FOR CHILDREN, TO CHILDREN, ON CHILDREN’S TIME”.

The advert was to be shown 25 times from the 30th September 1963 to Christmas. The TV advertising was especially devised for little girls and was scheduled for those slots during children’s programming when most of them would be watching. Pedigree was emphatic

“This is not a fathers’, mothers’, uncles’ or cousins’ campaign. It is a children’s campaign”.

The television advert accompanied by the catchy Sindy jingle, showed the new doll and displayed her miniature fashionable adult-style clothes, and again made the point that she had outfits for everything; she even had her own doggie, skates and record player!

Pedigree also planned that Sindy would be advertised heavily in 1964, in Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find a British source who would permit us to show the Sindy advert here. However, the advert is shown in an Italian Youtube account dedicated to Italian programming which you can watch by clicking this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_eOSx_Cy2A

“1960s Toy Shop” by Trevor Mitchell

This painting is used for the Gibsons Jigsaw Puzzle “Pocket Money Picks” which actually shows the orange ‘Summery Days’ dress (Ref 12S55) as blue. This is because Trevor was working with black and white photos of toy shops of the time. He has kindly amended the painting for this article.

We sell in the Home Now you sell in the Shop - Sindy’s Success

Even after the London TV launch retailer take-up was still low, so Pedigree assessed what the public’s reaction was, and it was phenomenal. Whilst the retailers hadn’t backed Sindy, the buying public had, and she was a runaway success. 

The demand caught out the retailers. David Fear recalled that the toy buyer at Selfridge’s had only ordered two Sindy display stands, which privately had been considered ridiculous for such a large and prestigious department store. Now a director of Lines Brothers contacted David because he had Selfridge’s on the phone, and they had run out in less than a week. They wanted more stock immediately, and David was told, in no uncertain terms that it was his job to make it happen, even though it wasn’t actually his responsibility (12S, pg 7).

It was all hands on the deck as Pedigree tried to cope with the unprecedented demand. After the television promotion, IMA worked all possible shifts in an attempt to keep up with all the extra orders for dolls, managing to produce 40,000 by the end of 1963 (Richard Lines and Leif Hellström, Frog Model Aircraft 1932-1976,1989, pg 96). Mansell notes that in the last three months of 1963 Pedigree delivered 200,000 dolls (pg 19). She was the biggest selling toy that Christmas (Daily Mail, pg 4).

Recognition and Redemption

Everything had been done differently for the Sindy Project. 

The research, the effort in creating the right sort of doll and her fashions for the British market, and the groundbreaking advertising campaign.

It had been touch and go, but Pedigree’s efforts and faith in their new doll paid off. 

In 1965, the National Association of Toy Retailers in recognition of Pedigree’s considerable achievement in launching Sindy awarded the company its respected Advertising Award.

By 1967 more than 1 million Sindys had been sold and she went on to win the National Association of Toy Retailers ‘Girls Toy of the Year’ award in 1968 and 1970. Shown left (Kentish Observer, 18th January 1973, pg 15).

A most extraordinary start for a most extraordinary doll.