Just down the road from Montacute House (it’s not a very big village), is the TV Radio Toy Museum (no punctuation or “and” in there according to their website, despite what the sign on the actual museum says, so you get the fun of trying to say it all in one breath). If you’re visiting the museum and Montacute House, the sensible thing to do would be to leave your car at Montacute House, as there’s not that much parking available in the village itself. Cheapskate that I am, I was apprehensive about paying 8 quid to visit what I imagined would not be a very large museum, but the pictures of terrible looking mannequins and dioramas on their website were enough to lure me in (since I am the same person who paid 8 euro to see the spectacularly awful Museo delle Cere in Rome. What can I say, I have a weakness for shitty waxworks!).
Though I was correct in assuming that the museum was not large, it was packed absolutely full to the gills with crap. Unlike the Bakelite Museum, there were plenty of captions as well (almost too many, when it came to the items I didn’t care about; i.e. most of them). It is billed as the TV Radio Toy Museum, but I’d say 90% of the stuff there was TV related, as the toys were all promotional items relating to TV shows, which was OK by me, since I’m not really familiar with old radio shows anyway. Unfortunately, although there was a good mix of British and American TV programmes represented (though obviously more British ones), the vast majority of them were Westerns or cop shows, which are also genres I care very little about.
But then again, I somehow suspect I’m not their target audience; though they bill themselves as “a wonderful experience for all the family,” judging from the Trip Advisor reviews, it’s apparent that the museum is primarily used as an outing for middle aged people and their elderly parents, so the older people can have the “fun” of reminiscing (which seems a bit patronising, but whatever). I wouldn’t say I did much reminiscing (because it wasn’t aimed at people in my age range) but I did have fun admiring the pictures (and mannequin) of a young Roger Moore.
And tickling a scary monkey head under the chin, of course, although he never laughed or talked or whatever it was he was meant to do (which I was admittedly relieved about, since he freaked me out). Now, I’m not sure how busy it ever gets in the museum, but you’d definitely want to aim for a slow day, because it is narrow in there. Awkwardly narrow, to the point where you have to smoosh yourself against the exhibits if someone wants to pass you, or else everyone has to shuffle single file behind the slowest people in the museum, which is what happened near the end of the museum with the Whovians (more on them in a minute).
If I had to guess, I’d say one of the main draws in the museum is the Horror/Sci-Fi section in the back, which is remarkable mainly for the sheer crappiness of the dummies. Just look at that Spock, Data, and Picard up there! I’d be hard-pressed to say which one looks the worst, though I’m leaning towards Spock. They weren’t the only comically distorted television characters, as we stepped into the TARDIS to find…
The whole range of Doctor mannequins, which were every bit as awful as the Star Trek ones. We also came across some real live people dressed as four of the Doctors. Initially, I assumed they worked there, and thought it was kind of a nice, albeit odd touch. Soon however, reality set in, and it dawned on me that they didn’t work there at all; they were just nerds! I mean, not knocking anyone’s lifestyle choices; if you’re brave enough to walk around in public like that then more power to you, but they were a bit much, especially as I was forced to trail slowly behind them and listen to their detailed discussions of every Doctor Who object in the museum (and one of them did not put much effort into his costume. I think he was meant to be Christopher Eccleston, but you couldn’t really tell; it was a poor showing compared to the other three). I only mention this so you’re aware that it appears to be some kind of pilgrimage site for people of a certain nerdly persuasion.
I wasn’t big on the fact that aside from the mannequins and toys, most of the museum was made up of comic books. I suppose a wall of comic book covers is a bold graphic statement, but it doesn’t really do much for me. I mean, you quickly scan it, and move on. It’s not very interesting or informative, is all.
I guess I was slightly more impressed with the actual Crystal Maze jumpsuit (it’s not something I grew up watching, just something I’ve caught in reruns in recent years on Challenge (though as game shows go, I much prefer Dale’s Supermarket Sweep, and classic Stars in Their Eyes…that Harry Hill reboot is beyond awful)), and jeez, how about all those weather-themed board games? I love board games, but even I have my limits, and I think The Met Office Weather Game might be one of them (admittedly, my boyfriend was intrigued enough to try to track it down). He also couldn’t believe that they had a referee figurine from that Gladiators show, because apparently no one in their right mind would want an action figure of a referee (the only action figures I had were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ones, so I don’t have a strong opinion on this either way).
Suffice it to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with the TV Radio Toy Museum, though this is in large part because I am not British, a baby boomer, or the right type of nerd. I tend to nerd out more on history, and books, and cool museums (obviously); not so much TV, and my favourite show (Seinfeld) wasn’t even represented, nor were The Golden Girls or Frasier (I love Frasier but I hate Cheers. Weird?), and the early years of The Simpsons and I Love Lucy were only given a passing mention. Even the British programmes I like, such as Peep Show and Father Ted (and Keeping Up Appearances, thanks to my grandma) were too relatively recent to feature here. The museum has a tearoom attached, and a shop selling all manner of vintage toys and games, but I felt I’d spent enough money at the place (too much, really, it shouldn’t have been more than about 3 quid), so I gave those a miss. The mannequins were great (in the sense of being hilarious), but the rest of it could do with more organisation and a larger display space, and would benefit from incorporating more actual memorabilia, rather than just comic books and promotional materials. 2.5/5.