Thursday, 26 October 2017

A Monster Memories Halloween Special: Were Bears

Happy Halloween kiddies! It’s time for a Halloween edition of Monster Memories… Last year a new toy line was introduced called Feisty Pets, seemingly innocent soft toys that turn ferocious when the back of their heads are squeezed. A video demonstrating 'Feisty Pets' went viral receiving 20 million views, 350,000 shares and 50,000 comments in just 3 days making the toy a massive hit. Although I admire the mechanics used to achieve the result and want one for myself the idea of a transforming monstrous teddy bear is not an original one, in fact it was done back in 1990 and they were called Were Bears!

My Were Bears collection before and after
Were Bears were cute plush teddy bears (named Grizzler, Howler, Gums and Fang) that measured eleven inches in height and were originally devised back in 1983 by artist George Nicholas creator of Scouse Mouse and holder of the 1985 world record for the worlds longest mural at Alder Hey Hospital. Being the 1980’s there were masses of plush toys produced but there weren't many for boys and so always thinking outside the box George joined forces with Scalextric and model train supremo's Hornby in to create a plush toy aimed at boys. Released in the UK (the concept was later sub-licensed to an American Toy brand that called them Beasty Bears) the teddy bears would ‘transform’ into a fierce looking bears or as the 1990 Argos Autumn/ Winter catalogue explained, “these ‘teddies’ change into ‘Were Bears’ by reversing the head and paws”. Each bear was sold separately and came with a story cassette narrated by Oliver Postgate telling the origin of the Were Bears. How one day in the tiny village of München-Lüncheon in the ancient Castle Casserole a toy maker called Barron Egon BaconBurger was making cuddly toys for all the poor children during a full moon when he suddenly turned into a werewolf that resulted in the teddies adopting his transforming qualities! The toys sold well and small, six inch non transforming variants were later produced along with four rival (non transforming) bears known as ‘Terror Teds’ (called Chomp, Snapper, Grunt and Munch) before a fifth Were Bear was introduced to the line up called Growler who would do just that when the badge on his chest was pressed.

Were Bears #1 November 1990
I first became aware of this line through the television adverts and Clearmark Productions/London Editions Magazines comic series which ran 7 issues. Produced by George Nicholas, Nick Reynolds, Nigel Parkinson and Julie Evans the first issue (released in November 1990) came with a free set of “Fear-some Fangs” and a chance to win a Were Bear of my very own and it retold the above origin story in comic book form. Other issues dealt with the origin of the TerrorTeds (created by the evil Witch Hazel) and their ongoing feud with the Were Bears. Now, a confession… As an 80’s kid naturally I adored He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Gremlins, The A-Team, Garbage Pail Kids, Ghostbusters- all that good stuff and relished all the gross toys and action figures available during the 80’s they without a doubt spurred on my fascination with monsters but…. I was also into Care Bears…. Yeah, I know! What can I say? I seemed to also be attracted to the soft and cuddly side of the 1980’s. Care Bears, Get Along Gang, Smurfs, Wuzzles, Muppet Babies, Paw Paw Bears and Acorn Green I loved them all and was always after the merchandise which consisted (mostly) of plush toys only to be told, “boys don't play with those sort of toys” however I refused to listen digging my heels in standing up to this supposed ‘rule’ (ever the rebel!) as I got older this fondness for plush toys become ever tricky and by the time the Were Bears were released I was 11 and wanting plush toys made my parents wince but the idea of a cute bear that turned into the monster ticked all the right boxes for me and I had to have them. I never got Growler though, as much as I liked the howling effect I didn’t care for him so much because he stood up and so didn’t match the other bears!
An original George Nicholas!
So what became of the line? Having ceased production by the mid 1990’s a small batch of limited edition bears were produced in 2012, retaining their transforming capabilities however these bears’ eyes would light up and they would let out a scary howl when their paws were pressed! Gums was dropped from the line and replaced by Growler looking more like his fellow Were Bears and so he was added to my line-up!
Although the bears are no longer produced the brand lives on, having been re-launched on the 31st of October 2016 they now sell retro themed Were Bear merchandise on their website for fans such as myself! So before you follow the current trends check out the Were Bears, and remember as the television advert used to tell us, “Were Bears come as a great surprise, some people can’t believe their eyes! Think of scary things to do, who’s going to know it was you? Nothing can scare like a wicked were bear!”
Did you have one? Share your memories in the comments section!
Happy Halloween!

This article is respectfully dedicated to George Nicholas
 
© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

11 comments:

  1. I'm a huge fan of the Werebears. I too disliked Growler not looking like the other four so I was glad that the 2012 version matched them better and so added him to my collection. I'm now just short Snapper of having a full set.

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    1. Excellent! (nice to ‘meet’ a fellow fan!) I’ve just looked at your site nice to see the bears out in the wild! I’m resisting the TerrorTeds and trying to focus on the transforming bears (I will get Gums some day…) If I was to seek anything out, I wouldn't mind some Beasty Bears! Thanks for commenting good luck tracking down Snapper!

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    2. Never heard of any of these bears before, AJ. I only have eyes for Yogi (and Pooh, and Rupert, and Paddington, and - well, okay, probably a few others).

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  2. Boys can have stuffed toys too - down with all this 'boy's toys' and 'girl's toys' nonsense. People should let kids play with what they like. I didn't like baby dolls or any of that nonsense, and happily my parents didn't try to make me have them.

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    1. I'm not convinced that it's nonsense for genders to have their own toys. Boys naturally gravitate to one kind of toy, girls another - in most cases anyway. The so-called 'rules' aren't imposed on kids, they become established over time by what kids themselves usually react to. I'd agree though, that kids should play with whatever toys they want to. Having said that, I don't think I'd be happy if a son of mine (if I had one) preferred playing with a Barbie instead of an Action Man.

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    2. As you know Mim, I’ve been fighting this rule for some years- and often find myself fighting the extension that has been placed on dinosaurs stating that only boys can have dinosaur toys and that girls can only have them if they are pink or purple and with long eyelashes, I fight that one at every opportunity! I’ve never given in to it, I have many plush toys scattered through out the studio and many more in storage!

      Kid, I had a ‘Bendy’ Rupert back in the day (it perished) I’ve mentioned before how I scaled down my Hanna Barbera plush collection so Yogi and BooBoo now reside with another collector but Mrs Jones has a Paddington…. Another British Bear in my collection is my Nookie Bear that I was given age 2 for Christmas (his eyes still cross when the cord it pulled) Kermit, Garfield, list is endless…. I take to all manner of toys I remember wanting Keepers, years later when my sister had one I realised how unreliable the lock were!

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    3. I think I had a 'Bendy' Rupert myself, AJ, and I certainly had a 'Bendy' Yogi - as well as a Popeye and Winnie the Pooh. Thing is, I was about 17 at the time, so I'd deny it in court. Nah, soft toys are fine, but would you like your son (if you have one, I dunno) playing with a Barbie or dolls in their prams? (As we all know, Action Man is NOT a doll, he's an ACTION figure.)

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    4. Eeeeerrrr....I had a bendy Bugs, Daffy, Wile E Coyote and Sylvester when I was 21... I had the Popeye one back in the day along with a Kermit and Pink Panther but I stopped collecting them though as they just crumble to dust! As for Barbie, If my child really liked the toy I wouldn’t prevent them from playing with it (I would push action figures because they are generally way cooler) but lets face it as I said in this post I was a kid that used to play with Care Bears so if I stopped my child playing with a toy deemed for girls then that would make me a hypocrite, let kids pick they toys they want I say! There is plenty of rules waiting for them when they get older, let them enjoy playing with their toys while they can!

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    5. Well, some might say that it's a parent's responsibility to guide their children in the way they should go, and not to do so might be considered abandoning that responsibility. "Even in the toys they play with?" some might say, but boys playing with certain types of girl's toys (and vice versa) might lead them to develop other girlish (or boyish) habits in later years. See, I don't see Care Bears as being aimed exclusively at girls when it comes to young kids (I think I worked on the comic), so I don't think you'd be a hypocrite if you preferred your son not playing with dollies in prams. To a certain extent I see your point though, but I think it's got limits.

      Ooh, isn't this interesting?

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    6. It is! I don’t like the idea of telling any child what they can and can’t play with, if it came down to a boy wanting to play with a doll I would perhaps try and steer them away, warning them that there might be ‘repercussions’ from others (because there will and that would be my biggest concern) but I’ve never thought it was right to call a girl that plays with boys toys a ‘tomboy’ and laugh it off but think a boy might need therapy if he plays with girls toys (sexism anyone?) Its pure madness and makes no sense, a boy can’t play with a colourful little pony but it’s OK to play with big muscly ‘he’ men? You can’t dress up Barbie but you can undress Action man? Humans...

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    7. But I don't think there's anything wrong with a boy playing with a toy pony, because some toys ARE (or CAN be) gender-free. However, if a boy preferred playing with a girl's doll instead of a boy's action figure, I'd have my concerns. As for dressing up Barbie, girls like doing that because they like the many different styles of outfits - it's a fashion thing. Action Man's different costumes, on the other hand, have really nothing to do with fashion and exist for a different purpose. It falls into the category of 'equipment' and I think boys have a different attitude to changing the outfits on their action figures than girls do with their dolls' cossies. Dolls like Barbie and Sindy are really nothing more than clothes horses because their articulation is very limited, while Action Man has a massive 20 (not 21 as the ads used to say) points of articulation. When it comes down to it, AJ, we guide our kids in every other area of their lives, so why should the toys they play with be any different? Having said that, most kids naturally gravitate towards toys geared toward their gender, so it's not an issue that often pops up.

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