James May's Toy Stories
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James May's Toy Stories is a television series presented by James May. The series was commissioned for BBC Two from Plum Pictures. The first episode, "Airfix", was shown on BBC Two at 8:00 pm on Tuesday 27 October 2009. In later years, three specials were made for the Christmas seasons, along with a follow-up to the sixth episode.
|James May's Toy Stories|
|Created by||James May|
|Written by||James May
|Directed by||Tom Whitter
|Presented by||James May|
|Narrated by||James May|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||6 (Episodes)
|Executive producer(s)||Will Daws
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Plum Pictures|
|Original network||BBC Two|
|Original release||Main series:
27 October 2009 –
25 December 2009
12 June 2011 – 25 December 2014
The premise of the 6-part show was to bring favourite toys of the past into the modern era, by using the toys in real life large scale enterprises. In each episode, he also explores the history of each toy. A few stars of the show include Airfix model planes, Plasticine modelling material, Meccano construction toys, Scalextric cars and Lego.
May's interest in technology is known from his presentation of such programmes as James May's 20th Century and James May's Big Ideas. He credits much of the inventiveness of humans to the love of playing with toys and he has credited many technological developments to men playing in sheds. He has shown his passion for toys in programmes he has presented including James May's Top Toys and James May: My Sisters' Top Toys and he has discussed his desire for children to get away from games consoles and play with real toys preferably with their parents. May was quoted as saying:
|“||For too long now we have regarded the great toys as mere playthings. It's time to use them to bring people together and achieve greatness. And I bet it'll be a right laugh as well.||”|
Many of the plans involved significant engineering problems, so the programme makers searched for architects, designers and engineers to help them. However, many more volunteers would be required as a labour force, so appeals for volunteers were distributed in local newspapers.
The ambitious - world record-breaking in many cases - projects included:
|Episode No.||Title||Original air date||Viewers
|1||"Airfix"||27 October 2009||3.93||1|
Attempting to build a full-sized model Spitfire from a giant Airfix kit. Once the fibreglass pieces had been made, it became clear, through testing, that they couldn't support their own weight without internal supports, which were added to ensure it would be strong. The model was completed by a group of school children, who had been recruited to work on the model after being introduced to Airfix at their school. They ensured the model was not only made, but painted, and then presented to a crowd of their parents and RAF WWII veterans, before later being put on display at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford until November 2009. In October 2010, the Spitfire returned to Cosford's Hangar 1.
|2||"Plasticine"||3 November 2009||3.46||1|
Creating a plasticine garden and entering it for the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show.
May designed a garden named "Paradise in Plasticine" made entirely of Plasticine (except for some iron supports) for the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. He missed out on the official awards due to a lack of "real" flowers but won 'The People's Choice' award and was also awarded a special "Plasticine Gold" Award for his efforts. May refused to take credit for the garden, the largest of its kind, saying that 2,000 volunteers assisted with the venture.In July 2009, the garden was moved to Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and was placed on display in the upper mall of the Octagon Shopping Centre in Burton upon Trent in February 2010. In March 2013 it was rehomed to Wolverhampton.
|3||"Meccano"||10 November 2009||3.86||2|
Building a life-sized rolling bascule bridge made entirely out of Meccano. In September 2009, May unveiled a life-sized Meccano bridge, made to a length of 23 metres (75 ft) long. The scheme was designed at the University of Liverpool by architecture students John Carroll, Daniel Dobson and Josh Woods, and was then engineered by the design and engineering consultancy Atkins. The bridge consisted of two parts - a swing bridge, and a rolling bascule bridge - which in total weighed about 1⁄2 tonne. It took a combined total of 20 students and technicians, more than 10 weeks to build, enlisting further help from the University of Liverpool's engineering department to manage the project. The bridge's two sides had 14 sections within the swing side and 22 sections within the bascule side, with each section requiring around 40 hours to build to a sufficient standard. It was situated in the heart of Liverpool's newly redeveloped Pier Head. As the home to Meccano for more than 70 years during the running of the Binns Road 'factory of dreams' until 1979, Liverpool was an appropriate location for the bridge. It was also believed to be a new world record for the biggest Meccano bridge ever built, with over 100,000 individual parts per side — including 28,000 bolts. After the successful completion of the project the student project managers were invited to the Lego House in Episode 5 for a party as a reward for their efforts.Both sections of the bridge have remained at the University of Liverpool, with one of the two sections on public display within the engineering department.
|4||"Scalextric"||17 November 2009||4.22||2|
The 2.95 miles (4.75 km) long track was assembled by 400 volunteers who used approximately 20,000 Scalextric pieces. The project faced a number of obstacles as James insisted on using the route of the original Brooklands track, most of which has now been demolished and built over. Obstacles including residential housing, commercial buildings, fences, a road, and the most challenging obstacle — a large pond. The track broke the world record for the longest successful Scalextric track, with the previous record measuring 1.59 miles (2.56 km).The race had two teams — volunteers and residents of Brooklands against "Scalextric Professionals". The race used multiple drivers in a relay, with each 'driver' racing one part of track as a single power unit could not power the whole track and one person would not be able to run the length of the track. The cars briefly stopped due to crashing off the track, the contacts acquiring dirt and flawed changeovers. Tiff Needell guested as the race reporter. The volunteers raced a maroon Aston Martin DB9 model and the professionals raced a silver Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. The Aston Martin won the race by a few minutes.
|5||"Lego"||20 December 2009||4.85||2|
Attempting to build the world's first full-sized house made entirely out of Lego bricks.
Publicity from the programme-makers called for volunteers to help with the building project. The response was overwhelming: on Saturday 1 August 2009 huge queues formed at the construction site at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey. Some people started queuing at 4:30 am. 1,200 were given tickets to work on the project while another 1,500 people had to be turned away.
Volunteers made standardised hollow blocks each consisting of 272 standard 8-stud Lego bricks: 12 bricks long by six wide and eight bricks high. The house was completed on 17 September 2009. Overall, the construction project overran by one month.
After the filming of the programme, the programme-makers attempted to sell the house to the Legoland theme park in Windsor. However, the cost of dismantling and reassembling it was estimated at £50,000 which was judged to be too expensive, which led to the deal not going through as a result. Having spent one night in the house, May said: "I slept in it on Friday and had the best night's sleep for a long time. The bed was a bit hard but I slept like a brick. Knocking it down is just wrong on every level. It's a lovely thing — it will break the hearts of the 1,000 people who worked like dogs to build it." During the construction, James May noticed that one of the plastic bricks on the outside wall of the house, which was supposed to be entirely red, contained one pink lego piece on the outer rim. He sarcastically stated on air that he "hated" the volunteer who did this, as it upset the colour and balance of the house.The house could not remain at Denbies because the space was needed for vines and there was no planning permission. Despite attempts to save it, dismantling of the house began on Tuesday 22 September 2009. Before the demolition began, a Lego cat named Fusker, named after May's own pet, went missing and is assumed to have been stolen by a member of the public — a few of whom had been allowed to look round the house after filming. The 3.3 million plastic bricks used to build the house were donated to charity.
|6||"Hornby"||25 December 2009||3.04||10|
Linking Barnstaple to Bideford with the world's longest model train set. May, who had previously identified the train set as his "absolute favourite" attempted to build the world's longest model railway. The team hoped that a train would run successfully along the length of the track, built on the picturesque Tarka Trail – a disused 37-mile (60 km) long railway line acquired by the local council in 1990 and which was converted for use as an off-road cycle track. May chose the site because he thought that people wanted to see a line rebuilt there and because of the dramatic scenery. May joined 400 enthusiasts, including students from Petroc, to build the miniature railway stretching 10 miles (16 km) from Barnstaple to Bideford, in North Devon.
The attempt by James and his team was disrupted by vandals and thieves, however, who interfered with the track; coins were dropped onto the line, causing short circuits, while parts of the track were taken. Weather also added problems of blocked lines and damage to the fragile track, leading to several derailments, as was shown in the programme.
Simon Kohler, marketing manager of Hornby model railways, said that the train which travels at just 1 mile per hour (1.6 km/h) failed two miles short of Bideford station; but he also told BBC news "Even though the last locomotive gave up the ghost at Instow, we did link the track."As shown in the programme, five trains set off on the track. The first, James' own 1970s-vintage Flying Scotsman model with realistic chuffing sound, failed very early (it had been out of use for many years). Three of the other trains were chosen to reflect the original services on the line: a steam-hauled passenger train (a rebuilt SR 'West Country' class locomotive and Pullman coaches), to represent the Atlantic Coast Express; a diesel-hauled passenger train (a BR Class 42 Warship with Mark 1 coaches), to represent the 'everyday' passenger services; a diesel-hauled goods train (EWS-liveried Class 37 and hopper wagons), to represent the clay trains that ran to Fremington Quay. The fifth train used, was the prototype of Hornby's Class 395 "Javelin" model. Passing sections allowed the faster models to overtake the slower ones, however on several occasions slower trains had to be physically lifted out of the way; The "West Country" locomotive had been carried by Oz Clarke on trains from London Waterloo to Barnstaple, to replicate the original route of the Atlantic Coast Express. All of the trains eventually came to a stop (the goods train was stopped where it would normally do so), with the Javelin being the last train running but failing to reach the final destination.
|7||"The Great Train Race"||12 June 2011||2.46||8|
2011 Special: Reattempt of the OO-gauge challenge between Barnstaple and Bideford, racing against a German team from Miniatur Wunderland. After the failure of the first attempt, a new toy train challenge occurred on 16 April 2011, as a redo of the original plan, but with a twist, with the episode aired on 12 June that year. A team composed of Germans from the Miniatur Wunderland (including one of its founders), who had assisted in the first toy train attempt, raced against a team from Britain, again between Barnstaple and Bideford in North Devon. The new challenge was to race three different types of trains from one end of the track and see who could get to the other station first - The Germans from Bideford, the British from Barnstaple - with each team starting at opposite ends. As well as reuniting previous collaborators, including his friend Oz Clarke, May asked for help from the local marines to guard the components; this stopped the theft of batteries and track, as well as short circuits caused by the placing of coins on the track, which occurred on the previous attempt. A different, sturdier type of track was used, as was a new battery system to power it; the length of track was divided into 100 yard insulated sections with two batteries per train; the operators would leapfrog each other as each train progressed from one section to the next. This time, for most of the route, two parallel tracks were laid to avoid the opposing trains meeting head-on. The British model trains (and the track) were made by Hornby Railways, while the German model trains used were made under the Rivarossi brand, which is also owned by Hornby.
The German Team started at Bideford and the British Team at Barnstaple. The race was a best of three rounds. The first round used steam locomotives, the Germans using a model German DR Class 58.30 and the British using James' own childhood model of LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman – "with realistic chuffing sound", driven by Oz Clarke. Following the last attempt, James had dismantled, cleaned and repaired the whole model piece by piece before reassembly, making it supposedly the finest example of its kind in the country. The second race involved a German DB Class 403 electric train, nicknamed the "Donald Duck", and a British Rail InterCity 125. The third round featured modified trains driven by any power source the teams could come up with:
The Germans were the first to complete the full journey with the Donald Duck. The British then won the second round with their hydrogen fuel cell train, and the third round was also won by the British with the Flying Scotsman after the German DR58 steam locomotive had problems. James May, after the crushing disappointment from the first attempt, was emotional that his Flying Scotsman model had made it to Bideford, and was delighted that the mechanically generated "realistic chuffing sound" was still working.
All six trains eventually arrived at their destination, though during the challenge, several of the engines that finished had problems which were fixed en route. The Flying Scotsman had to have a new chassis block, while the "Donald Duck" had two breakdowns due to a faulty gearbox, with both within view of their finishing point. Meanwhile, both experimental trains that finished had reliable power sources but major issues with top-heavy stability, with the EuroSprinter battery powered engine also suffering with gearbox trouble, while the German steam BR58 limped along very slowly with unspecified problems to finish last of all the trains several hours after the others, arriving at Barnstaple by 2:20am.
|8||"Flight Club"||23 December 2012||2.01||17|
2012 Special: Attempt to fly a large unpowered balsa wood glider across the English Channel. In August 2012, James May and his team decided to take on a new challenge - to build a model glider to a scale of 1:1, and to fly it across the English Channel, as part of a record-setting achievement. The model kit chosen was of the Slingsby Swallow which he described as "reminiscent of the Keil-Kraft type of gliders I built as a kid". The original plan was to launch the glider from a balloon from a height of 8,000 feet (2,438 m), at the shortest points between Britain and France. However, due to the 2012 Olympics and French air traffic control, they were unable to fly the glider across the Channel; even when their glider was classified as a drone. Instead it was decided that the glider would be flown from Ilfracombe, in Devon, across the Bristol Channel to south Wales. This was the same distance - 22 mi (35 km) - as across the English Channel at its narrowest point. The project had support from "Simmy" (Simeon Oakley), an engineer who has appeared in James May's Man Lab, along with aerospace engineering students from Brunel University.Their plan had further changes made. Firstly, it was also decided that the launch would be done from a helicopter in order to control it, while the original model design was given new wings to increase its glide ratio. Due to delays and low cloud it was launched from below 4,000 feet (1,219 m) and as such it only flew 2 mi (3.2 km) before landing in the sea. On the following day the weather was clear and a second attempt was made from the same location but from an altitude of more than 9,000 feet (2,743 m). However, due to the wind on the day blowing from the East it was launched towards Lundy, an island in the Bristol Channel, which it reached and landed on, in approximately one hour, achieving what they set out to do.
|9||"The Motorcycle Diary"||3 January 2014||2.14||20|
2013 Special: Attempt to build a motorbike and sidecar out of Meccano and complete a lap of the Isle of Man TT circuit.
Following James May's successful attempt to create a bridge out of Meccano in Liverpool back in 2009, a new challenge was made to see if the mechanical toy could be used to create a fully working motorcycle, and then ride it across the Isle of Man. More specifically, for one lap of the island's famous TT Course, in 2013. The challenge was a daunting one, consisting of many technical and mechanical problems with the bike being made out of Meccano, alongside other issues. The first problem faced was from the island's government, which only gave the go-ahead for the bike to partake in travelling the TT Course, as long as the show promoted the tourism for the area; this led to the bike having to include a sidecar for Oz Clarke, who was brought in to handle the tourism matter. Construction of the bike was slow because of the parts needed, making a chain for the bike, for example, was a time consuming process since they were creating a full-sized functioning bike rather than a small model. Despite being slightly behind schedule, the construction of the bike was completed just a day before the challenge was to be started. As in previous episodes of Toy Stories, the engineering side to the construction was overseen by Sim Oakley.
However, while the construction had been problematic, the bulk of the problems faced in the challenge only truly began when the main task was to be started. The first problem faced came when the bike's brakes were being tested by the team to ensure that they worked, on the night before the challenge would begin; the front ones were found to be too firm for the Meccano pieces, as they crippled the front wheel and ruined the front forks, forcing the team to repair the damage by remaking the parts. Then the bike had to undertake an MOT test before it could be allowed to perform on the road and the course, which it managed to pass after a worrying amount of time. The next issue came from an unexpected matter; the practice session for the Grand Prix of the main race was cancelled while the group were filming the bike in all its glory, forcing the team to start earlier than had been planned. Despite these initial issues that were faced, the bike was able to function and move on its own power, and began the task in hand, with a police escort protecting it from local traffic as it drove along the course.
However, further problems were soon encountered after it started. The power for the bike was not strong enough as they had hoped for; despite it using several Meccano motors that would be more suited for smaller models, but had been fashioned in a way to work with the bike like a full sized engine, they could not supply the power needed for it to tackle hills or give it good enough speed to cover the length of the course. This led to a motor from a golf buggy (described as Plan B by May), to be used to supply more power, but even this could not get the bike far enough for the pair's liking; only a few miles were covered before May and Clarke had to stop for the night, much to May's disappointment, as they were not allowed to drive the bike at night due to strict rules. The bike had to be carted away for emergency repairs to evaluate the issues.
The following day, the group had to complete much more distance than had been hoped, and continued to have further problems, which began from the back wheel becoming a major issue and needing repairs, and also from the lack of speed, which was needed to cover the remaining miles; the group had to complete the challenge before the TT Race was to be officially started, otherwise they would have to stop and try again another time. Oz was abandoned to tour the island's sights and remove unwanted weight, while May continued on with the challenge, suffering further problems with power, which had origins of a mysterious nature that could not be found. The slowdowns to make repairs to these issues and more, cost time they did not have to spare.Despite the issues faced, the bike managed to complete the majority of the course into the late hours after gaining special permission to do so, and gaining unexpected power to help it cross the mountains. May and Clarke were reunited just before entering Douglas, where the finish line lay in sight. All of the issues faced could not prevent them from crossing it, and the pair received cheers of celebrations from the waiting crowds for completing the challenge within time, whereupon Clarke performed the traditional racing celebration; spraying champagne over May. James ended the challenge by questioning what could be done next with Meccano, commenting that making a space craft with the toy would be very unlikely.
|10||"Action Man at the Speed of Sound"||25 December 2014||1.69||19|
2014 Special: James May attempts to rehabilitate one of Britain's most derided toys by seeing if it is possible for Action Man to do what no toy has ever managed - travel faster than the speed of sound. In 2014, a brand new challenge was devised, involving the Action Man doll. The idea was simple - to see if a toy (the doll in particular) could break the sound-barrier, and travel faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1) as a result, something that had not been attempted before with any existing toy. In order to achieve the goal, James and his team, including Sim Oakley, the team's engineer, initially thought of replicating a Eurofighter jet aircraft, by using an Action Man sized replica model plane for the doll to use, which would be launched by any potential method that could help it achieve the needed speed. But when testing this possibility out with an air cannon (designed to test real aircraft components), the model plane they used broke apart the moment it was launched at high speed. James had been concerned about the use of the model plane, so the sudden event meant the idea was no longer feasible, and was promptly scrapped.
This led to the team looking at notable historical events that involved breaking the sound-barrier including the first manned aircraft to break the sound-barrier in 1947, and the freefall jump by Felix Baumgartner in 2012. Baumgartner's jump was chosen as the template for the next attempt; a weather balloon, from which a capsule containing Action Man would be dropped at a set height of 105,000 ft (32,000 m) with the doll parachuting safely to earth. Recording sensors would determine the speed the toy had achieved. The first try at launching it failed, as while James was being filmed with the idea, a sudden gust of wind caught the balloon's handler, Steve Randall, off guard and forced it out into open air, with the wind causing the capsule to come apart. On their second attempt, despite passing through a storm and risk of freezing water damage, the Action man successfully dropped. However, the target speed of 672 mph had not been met; a maximum of 249.5 mph was actually recorded. A test using Britain's only working supersonic air cannon to see how the toy would handle supersonic speeds when free-falling, showed Action Man would have broken up if it had gone supersonic and so further attempts of the idea were scrapped.
Following the failure, the decision was made to look back over their research again, and Chuck Yeager's efforts in the Bell X-1 were this time used as a template; more precisely, the decision was made to use a rocket to achieve the speed needed, detaching the doll from it and parachuting it down to safety. As phone calls were made to find rocket experts to help out with this next venture, James and Sim tested out their template's theory with a prototype, using a commercial firework in which Action Man was attached to it, with a parachute and a small charge to detach the doll from the rocket; this test went wrong, however, as the charge was more powerful than expected, and the doll was destroyed as a result, nearly hitting the pair. While they decided to redesign the rocket to something that could be more feasible along with replacing the doll, the group discovered that their calls for help on the challenge had prompted a rival outfit, composed of rocket enthusiasts, to make their own attempt and be the first ones to get a toy to achieve supersonic speed; led by Dr. Russ Strand, a system engineer, they decided to use the doll, Sindy, to rival James' team, and opted to design a rocket with a one-stage fuel cell. Seeking to beat them, James' team worked hard on creating a two-stage rocket, with boosters, electronic components and cameras to both record the attempt and track down the toy, along with a compartment for Action Man. The team spent their time working on the components and testing out the bits that were essential to them; while testing out fuels to use, a home-made batch proved so potent and powerful, it knocked the testing rig for the rocket engine, which weighed 180 kilos, out of its place, along with the monitoring equipment. The doll's parachute was also tested with a sky-diving group to see if it worked (as it should do, based on a 70s advert about it), and was found to do excellently as a result (though recovering the doll and parachute took awhile), and later during a toy fair, while recruiting more dolls for the attempt, James May found an Action Man space suit from the 60s, and decided to outfit the doll in the clothing for their attempt.Just before the group were ready to complete their rocket, news came to them that their rivals, aptly named "Team Sindy", had finished their rocket, so seeking to join them, James and Sim watched as Strand and his team launched it in Scotland, achieving their target speed with great success (they had to await confirmation of this), and thus becoming the first people to have a toy break the sound-barrier and achieve supersonic speed. However, a mission statement for the attempt was that the doll had to be recovered after it landed, but Team Sindy couldn't track it down after it came back to earth, even after three days; the team found the Sindy doll eventually, just three hours after James's team had made their attempt. With Action Man's rocket completed after their rival's launch, James and Sim returned to their team to watch and see how it fared, although they hadn't tested out the rocket itself before setting up for the launch. A wide-open testing ground was chosen to launch it, Otterburn Range in Northumberland, as a safety precaution, but despite concerns before the launch, and the failure of the doll's parachute not working afterwards, let alone the doll separating from the descending rocket, the team achieved success; not only did they achieve supersonic speed as well, they had gone faster than Sindy had done, as while it had achieved Mach 1.02, Action Man achieved Mach 1.1 in the team's attempt.
Awards and nominationsEdit
James released a well-received book in conjunction with the series, through Conway Publishing (2009).
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- "BBC Two - James May's Toy Stories, Action Man at the Speed of Sound".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to
James May's Toy Stories.
- "Top Gear's James May laps TT course on Meccano bike". BBC News. 30 August 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
- Review of the series and tie-in toy fair by Chris Warrell from the South East London Meccano Club
- James May's Unofficial fan site