Jack Rosenthal being the driving force behind Spacex toys, I've tried to look into his life as well over the years. Starting with trying to find the man himself after being told about him by Richard Lines in mid-2000, hoping he'd still be alive. I sadly never did, but it wasn't from lack of trying.
I live on the wrong side of the English Channel, so had to try and find things by internet, e-mail and telephone. A relatively young internet didn't have anything, other than showing there are other people with his name such as the famous late playwright; Companies House revealed a handful of similarly-named companies but not the one I was after. Other collectors proved a blank as well; the only facts known at the time being largely derived from a single merchandising supplement to a contemporary toy trade magazine (1), which did at least include the only known published portrait of him (above).
Over time I did find some documents and other bits however, as well as a few people who actually knew him - see Recollections below. And then a year after this website went live, his daughter Ruth Rosenthal got in touch. Who not only filled in blanks I had in the previous version of this story, but also provided reassurance of some kind: her father was no longer amongst us when I was first told about him, so I no longer need to wonder about having tried hard enough to find him. What Ruth told me is also under Recollections below; I've taken some facts for the story on this page but left most of the details on her page to avoid too much duplication.
Jack Rosenthal was born on 25 June 1915 in the district of Stepney, East London, to Lazarus and Annie Rosenthal who were both tailors. He had three sisters, named Bessie (born late 1911), Cissie (born Spring 1913) and Fanny (born early 1917). (2)
The Rosenthals were poor, so Jack left school at 14 to find work at S. Guiterman & Co. He did continue his education through taking evening classes, gaining qualifications in accounting and as a company secretary which allowed him to fill ever more important positions at Guiterman. (3)
Jack Rosenthal met Esther Sacorovitch while queueing for an opera performance at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1935. She was 17 at the time, having been born 25 January 1918 in Whitechapel, London. They adored each other and were married in 1938 in Stepney (4). Esther Rosenthal would also qualify as a bookkeeper through nightschool, and would become a huge support to her husband's businesses by doing the accounts and keeping stocklists while at home with the family.
During the war Jack Rosenthal was a Sergeant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (supply and maintenance of weapons, ammunition and other equipment), serving in Shahjahanpur in northern India from 1941 to 1944. He returned to London on 7th January 1945 and was discharged as a Regimental Sergeant Major. After his service he returned to work for Guiterman.
Jack and Esther Rosenthal had three daughters. Hilary, born late 1941 in Poplar; Ruth, born late 1947 in Stoke Newington; and Suzanne, born Spring 1960 in Romford (all those places are districts in Eastern London). Hilary became a textile designer (5), Suzanne became a journalist, while Ruth started out in accounting before continuing her career in IT (6).
Cavendish Distributors Co.
According to Ruth Rosenthal, the Guiterman company changed owners sometime in the late 1950s. Her father might actually have become a managing director before that sale happened, but decided to leave the company as a consequence. Together with "a number of backers" he started Cavendish Distributors Co, named after the address of their premises at 50 New Cavendish St in London W1. (7)
Ruth believes the toys distributed by Cavendish were of European origin; her father not yet travelling to the Far East at this stage. And it's with Cavendish that we find a first link with Gerry Anderson's AP Films organisation: in a listing from 1962 found by Dennis Nicholson, Cavendish are included as producers of "Polypix" featuring Anderson's Supercar (see under Cavendish below). Supercar was the Anderson TV series that started off the APF Merchandising subsidiary, pioneered by Keith Shackleton to huge success.
I haven't yet discovered how Rosenthal and Shackleton may have met. Ruth thinks a trade fair would be likely; other sources give the impression they got to know each other while Rosenthal was still at Guiterman. (8) However it may have been, both men would soon be involved with each other through a brilliant toy based on Anderson's next TV series: the Fireball XL5 rocket as produced by Quercetti, which was launched by catapult and descended by parachute.
Apparently the initiative to make this toy came
from Quercetti themselves after receiving an APF Merchandising brochure about licencing Anderson properties, and Keith Shackleton visiting the factory in Italy to help make it happen. (9)
Jack Rosenthal also travelled to Italy, meeting Alessandro Quercetti while taking his wife and two younger daughters for a holiday at the Lago Maggiore during the Spring school break of 1963.
The way Ruth Rosenthal remembers it, her father's meeting with Quercetti does appear to have been arranged quite independently from any involvement with APF-based products. But however it came about, Cavendish Distributors did begin importing the Quercetti Fireball XL5 and other rockets as a result.
J. Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd.
Wanting more personal control and revenue than was possible at Cavendish, Jack Rosenthal founded a new company on 24 December 1963 (10), which also took over distribution of the Quercetti rockets. The January 1964 Spacemakers catalogue by APF Merchandising includes an advert by Rosenthal for the Quercetti Fireball XL5 which has their first address, 122 High Street in Edgware (Middlesex, Northern London). (11)
The Edgware premises soon proved too small, so within a year the company moved to Potier Street (rear of Tabard St), London SE1, as stated in an advert in the first issue of Gerry Anderson's TV21 comics published 23 January 1965. (12).
The next major development was Keith Shackleton's idea for AP Films to buy a majority share in Jack Rosenthal's company, which happened in July 1965 (13). Shackleton had discussed the idea with ATV financial director Jack Gill (Anderson's various companies having been bought by Lew Grade's ATV empire in December 1962 (14)) and arrived at a price of £55,000. However, subsequent negotiations by ATV deputy managing director Robin Gill (no relation to Jack Gill apparently) ended up costing twice as much because Rosenthal was paid based on performance, which was substantial once the Thunderbirds toys came along.
As a consequence of this acquisition, both Gerry Anderson and Keith Shackleton became directors of J. Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd, as is evident from a list dated 31 August 1966 (see Documents below). It may be assumed that four of the other directors listed, Eric Hofmeister, Isaac Berg, Robert Hearn and Howard Silver, were already partners since the company was founded, having the "other occupation" of Toy Factor like Jack Rosenthal himself. The fifth was Jack Gill representing ATV (an addendum to the list shows he also held a good dozen other directorships in various ATV companies), who would also have come in later with Anderson and Shackleton.
Getting back to toys, we know of two other ranges Rosenthal and co will have been involved with at the time, plus a few single toys.
One is a series of novelty cars manufactured by HSI Associated Ltd (15), featuring animals as drivers. Robert Nicholls worked in Rosenthal's company's sales department in 1966-7 and distinctly remembers the Quacky Duck car (as well as "tops and toy carousels" amongst other toys); the slightly less-detailed Comicars by (very probably) the same manufacturer would have been appropriate companions.
Next to the manufacturer's own trademark, the boxes of these Comicars also feature a monogram in a diamond shape that is thought to represent "JR" (though could also be read as "MR" instead). The same monogram trademark is moulded in underneath the Quacky Duck car and many other toys. Because the Comicars and Duck car have the same style, identical wheels, and their product numbers being in sequence it would be a great coincidence if the Duck car wasn't also produced by HSI.
With the Comicars and Quacky Duck car as a good example, the assumption by collectors is that Rosenthal sourced promising toys from one or more manufacturers in Hong Kong, had his trademark included in the artwork of the boxes (as did many other toy importers) and eventually would have his trademark included in the moulds of the actual toys. The most convincing reason to believe this monogram-in-a-diamond trademark would indeed be Rosenthal's, is that it's also moulded in on many of the Thunderbirds toys he was responsible for.
There is no uncertainty about the X-60 Rocket Transporter, which features a JR21 trademark on its box - the 21 referring to Anderson's Century 21 group of companies. That toy is part of a range by Ming Tat (16), referred to by collectors as the X-series of space toys because they all have a designation of X followed by a number. The X-60 is the only one seen in a JR21-marked box, but it is widely assumed Jack Rosenthal will have distributed the others as well.
The same JR21 trademark also turns up on the boxes of a number of varied toys, which can also sport the manufacturers' own trademark - see the JR21 Missile Launcher box as an example (in JR21 list below). These toys also prove that whatever else they were doing related to Anderson's activities, Rosenthal and co were distributing many other toys which they thought would sell well.
But they were certainly very busy with toys based on Anderson's next endeavour, the new Thunderbirds series which had started appearing on British television screens in September 1965 and would subsequently be shown the world over. In January 1966, readers of TV21 were told to "stand by" in a first advert, and soon after other adverts started showing the toy range. Made by various manufacturers, mostly from Hong Kong but British as well, this range of toys will have kept Jack Rosenthal very busy to organise, follow up, manage and eventually distribute. Robert Nicholls remembers that these toys really took over in terms of sales effort and administrative attention; the fact that they were also sold outside of the UK no doubt greatly contributing to this priority.
Judging by the addresses seen in adverts in TV21 magazine, the company had again moved in December 1965/January 1966, to larger offices at the London Coliseum which at the time was owned by the ATV group. The premises included a showroom, and also housed other Century 21 subsidiaries such as the book/publishing side of things. During the summer of 1966, the adverts include a new address of Century 21 House, though this actually still referred to the same building. More details are provided by Robert Nicholls and Adrian Stern who worked there, see Recollections below.
Century 21 Toys Ltd
At an Extraordinary General Meeting chaired by Lew Grade at ATV House on 25 August 1966, J. Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd was officially renamed Century 21 Toys Ltd (17). And by October 1966 the company had a Hong Kong office in the brand-new Realty Building, then the Colony's tallest, which Jack Rosenthal will have used as a base for organising the Thunderbirds toys, and also sourcing what would become the Project Sword range (18).
According to the excellent GACCH (19), the Project Sword idea came from Century 21 Merchandising following the acquisition of a Hong Kong toy factory, where some of its toys were combined with other existing toys to make up a diverse fleet of spacecraft and vehicles. Jack Rosenthal is quoted to have come up with the name, which contains the acronym for "Space World Organisation for Research & Development" (they always loved acronyms at Anderson's). And he will have found the other toys in Hong Kong, which then had a storyline created around them for use in comic and text stories being published in Solo magazine from June 1967 and TV21 magazine a year later.
After Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson's next TV series was Captain Scarlet. Toys modelled after the vehicles were advertised by Century 21 Toys in a merchandising supplement in September 1967 (20), so Jack Rosenthal will have repeated his performance on Thunderbirds toys to have these produced as well. And these three large vehicles are still marked with the JR Diamond as shown above (21).
But it appears clouds were packing over the company. The accounts I found (see Documents below) show that it was making increasing losses. I'm no accountant, but I see a serious sum listed as a "provision for stock loss" and mention of very sizeable "subventions receivable" for August 66-April 67. The first sounds ominous (but intriguing from a historical point of view), while the second means somebody was handing over (a) huge sum(s) of money to keep the company afloat. This will have caused a reorganisation, where Robert Nicholls recalls people coming in to evaluate and heads starting to roll. He also believes Jack Rosenthal was bought out, and leaving before he himself left in September 1967. How this tallies with Rosenthal still being listed as a director in the last available list of January 1968 I don't know, but that list does state Hearn, Silver and Shackleton resigning as directors as of November 1967. Earlier lists show Gill resigning in December 1966 (so presumably unrelated to the 1967 events), Hofmeister resigning in June 1967 while Anderson associate John Read comes in, followed by PYE Records boss Louis Benjamin in September 1967 (PYE also being a company in Lew Grade's ATV empire). By December 1968, the Century 21 organisation had been greatly reshuffled (with Jack Gill now chairing Century 21 Enterprises as a whole), as was reported in Billboard magazine (22). But by that time, Jack Rosenthal was at Triang and Spacex was about to appear.
Terry Aarons was Premium and Promotional Merchandise Director for the Triang Group at the time, and told me it was actually Jack Rosenthal who set up the Rovex Wholesale Department which distributed Spacex toys. Rosenthal was based at the main Triang works in Merton, London SW19, while the toys were warehoused and distributed from the main Rovex works in Margate, Kent (see under Places linked at left). As is related in detail in Story So Far (linked at left), Spacex was an unqualified success, not least in terms of export. The range was extended, and more was being planned when in 1971 Lines Bros sadly ran out of cash and had to call in the receivers...
Together with Aarons and two other associates, Jack Rosenthal bought up a small distribution company called Alltrades Ltd (23). Located in Peckham, London SE15, they grew the company turnover from "£135,000 in our first year up to £4.3 million in just 11 years of trading (equivalent to appx £25 million at today’s value)" by distributing toys by Taiyo and Tamiya (R/C models), Zylmex, Tomy, Masudaya and Biemme (ride-on toys) amongst others. Jack Rosenthal was Managing Director and in charge of all aspects of buying and finances, including buying trips to the Far East, while Terry Aarons was responsible for marketing and sales.
Tragically, Jack Rosenthal suffered a heart attack while in Hong Kong in late 1972. It wasn't a severe attack, but while recuperating at home he was told about a fire completely destroying the Peckham premises in early 1973. That news provoked a second, massive heart attack which came very close to killing him. He did manage to pull through and regain some of his health, but had to give up his travels, and hand over some of his responsibilities to Terry Aarons, who became joint-Managing Director. Rosenthal still ran the business in general and took care of finances, but all matters relating to product were now under Aarons' wings.
After the fire, Terry Aarons put in a lot of hard work with a lot of help from their customers to rebuild records and warehouse inventory lists. Thankfully well-insured, his efforts allowed the company to be reimbursed and resurrected in new premises at Atlantic House, 715 North Circular Rd in Brent, London NW2. (24)
Unfortunately, Jack Rosenthal's health deteriorated still further in the early 80s, "cash flow problems caused by our fast growth putting enormous strains on him," so he couldn't work full time anymore. In 1983, the cash flow situation ultimately spelled the end for Alltrades. Terry Aarons continued a successful sales career with other toy companies, but Jack Rosenthal sadly was declared personally bankrupt (25), which also resulted in him losing his house in Woodside Park and having to move to a flat in nearby Christchurch Avenue, Finchley, London N12. He was finally discharged as a bankrupt six years later.
After Alltrades going down, Jack Rosenthal went to work for the Hackney Pensioners Project, where he managed its finances and used his expertise to help pensioners with their administration and making the most of their income. The poor man suffered even more heart attacks, surviving each one until what may have been the tenth finally proved too much. He passed away on 2 February 1992.
A good man
Terry Aarons remembers "Jack Rosenthal was truly honest and trustworthy. A man who always honoured his word and a man blessed with a real sense of humour. He was a good man in all respects. Not afraid to take huge risks in business if he felt strongly enough that the risk would pay off (his intuitions were mostly correct)."
As an employer, Robert Nicholls remembers Jack Rosenthal kept a bit of distance (far from unusual at the time): "Jack Rosenthal was a stocky freckled man. ... He didn’t interact overmuch with the ‘menials’ but he was pleasant enough when he did."
Daughter Ruth Rosenthal told me that "As someone who came from such poverty and deprivation he was amazingly successful. ... He was a very warm man with a great line in corny jokes. ... He was the most generous of men to both his mother, sisters, wife and daughters. I always tell people that if my father had money everyone had money."
Granddaughter Rachel Jacobs remembers that "as an ex-communist and active socialist his stories were often very much focused on fighting for a sense of humanity, for a greater equality across our British class system and against the forces of capitalism. Alongside this he was in fact a businessman and an innovator having invented space toys for a mass market in the 1960s." (26)
The second part of that last line seems to explain how Jack Rosenthal reconciled this apparent contradiction - by developing Spacex, the very imaginative and very -affordable- toys to be enjoyed by millions of boys the world over. I very much regret never having met him, but I'm very grateful for the joy he brought me when I first had his toys, and even more for the fascination they brought when I got them again!
Toys (click images)
This section isn't intended to be a comprehensive list of Jack Rosenthal's toys. It mostly aims to show his toys mentioned elsewhere on this site, and give an idea of what he was involved with prior to developing Spacex. Example toys distributed by Alltrades may possibly be added later.
Note this list only contains the few documents that can't be linked to online. These are the Century 21 Toys Ltd documents ordered (at some cost) from the Companies Register of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Their terms and conditions allow inclusion here for non-commercial purposes. Please do not copy.
Robert Nicholls & Adrian Stern
J Rosenthal (Toys)/Century 21 Toys
1): The 1966 Century 21 Merchandising supplement can be read in full on
- Jack Rosenthal is on page 12 (should this direct link result in an error, then use the first link in this footnote and open p 12 from there).
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2): Jack Rosenthal's birthdate and parents' names I learned from his daughter Ruth. His sisters I found on FreeBMD.org.uk by searching for children named Rosenthal or Rosenthall having a mother called Greenberg (the districts listed are all in East London).
The birth registry index page for Jack Rosenthal can be seen here (click "View the original" icon to see the scanned page).
As a note, records on FreeBMD consist of scanned index lists of births, marriages and deaths per three-month period. The months listed are the month the list was published, not the month of birth - the months I had included in the first version of this text often turned out to be erroneous for this reason.
These index pages are as far as one can get online, and only up to 1983. Commercial services don't offer more than a rehash of publicly available data, and also rely on the volunteers of the FreeBMD organisation for their data (which they do at least sponsor). Copies of the relevant certificates can be ordered from (local) government agencies, and apparently would provide a few more details. back to text
3): I initially found out about Jack Rosenthal having been an accountant through former business partner Terry Aarons in an e-mail to me (see under Recollections) and Guiterman company mentioned in The Thunderbirds Vault book (p 217) by Marcus Hearn, which I very much recommend. As a note, the Guiterman company appears to've been active in quite a few industrial sectors next to importing goods from the USA. From the late 1930s the company and subsidiaries also produced toys, games and childrens books. Budgie Toys was a well-known brand owned by Guiterman in the 1960s. The company went into voluntary liquidation in March of 1966, long after Rosenthal had left to start on his own. back to text
4): Terry Aarons provided Esther's first name, former Century 21 Toys employee Robert Nicholls provided daughter Ruth's name, and with that combination I knew I was on firm ground here.
Two marriage registry index pages on FreeBMD.org.uk provided the year, district and maiden name, one entry for Rosenthal, another for Sacorovitch The birth registry index page for Ruth Rosenthal confirmed Esther's maiden name.
Registry index page for birth of Esther Sucorovitch on freebmd.org.uk. back to text
5): One of Hilary Rosenthal's designs is in the V&A collection. back to text
6): Ruth Rosenthal told me about her younger sister's profession, and about her own career (see Recollections above). I had previously discovered a few things about her incl that she's married to a Labour MP, now retired. back to text
7): streetview of 50-52 New Cavendish St. where Cavendish Distributers Co. were located in the early 1960s. back to text
8): I had previously found some references to toys based on Anderson's Supercar and Fireball XL5 properties produced by subsidiaries of Guiterman which could have been reasons for Rosenthal and Shackleton to meet, but that was before Ruth Rosenthal telling me about her father leaving Guiterman much earier. back to text
9): Marcus Hearn in The Thunderbirds Vault book (p 210) linked under 3); leaflet mentioned in article by Graeme Walker. back to text
10): Motive from Ruth Rosenthal - see Recollection above. Date stated on Incorporation Certificate for the subsequent change of name to Century 21 Toys Ltd. - see under Documents linked above back to text
11): The first premises of J Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd - what was nr 122 in the High Street at Edgware is now the rightmost third of the pub in this streetview. back to text
12): the streetview on Google Maps shows a wall in front of the buildings that wasn't there at the time (presumably it was built by/for the school that now occupies the place). J Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd occupied the building at right with the blue doors. The ground floor contained the warehouse with the offices on the floor above, reached by a steep set of stairs. back to text
13): In his endorsement on p12 of the 1966 Century 21 Merchandising supplement (linked under 1 above), Jack Rosenthal mentions "joining AP Films" in 1965. Majority share and details: Marcus Hearn in The Thunderbirds Vault book (p 217) linked under 3). back to text
14): ATV take-over of AP Films described by Marcus Hearn in The Thunderbirds Vault (p 37) linked under 3). The Wikipedia entry on Lew Grade also contains links to his various endeavours. back to text
15): Paul Woods owns some examples of these, and researched the registered design numbers moulded in underneath. back to text
16): The very similarly styled X-40 Space Rocket has a registered design number which Paul Woods also retrieved from the National Archives. back to text
17): Same Incorporation Certificate as under 10) - see under Documents linked above. The idea of using Century 21 as a unifying brand name came from Keith Shackleton, according to Marcus Hearn in his The Thunderbirds Vault book, linked under 3). back to text
18): Foreign toy buyers visiting Hong Kong to meet prospective manufacturers was very much how it was done in those days. Although it primarily deals with the manufacturers who survived and became (very) successful, for a very good insight of the Colony's toy business history I'd recommend Toy Town by Sarah Monks. back to text
19): Excellent but now sadly defunct (June 2016). Thankfully there's the internet archive where it is preserved. back to text
20): The 1967 Century 21 Merchandising supplement can also be read in full on TVCentury21.com. back to text
21): The next Anderson TV series was Joe 90, first broadcast in September 1968. Century 21 Toys again had toy versions produced of the vehicles from this show, and one of these, Sam Loover's car, also carries a JR diamond trademark underneath with No 11. I doubt Jack Rosenthal would have been involved with this toy however, since by the time the series aired, he was at Triang preparing Spacex. back to text
22): Found by Paul Woods and blogged on Moonbase Central.
The September 1967 Century 21 Merchandising News also has a page devoted to the new management (again, if this gives an error, then use the link under 20 and access p 6 from there). This no longer includes Keith Shackleton, who appears to have left the merchandising side of things, but who I believe was still very much involved with the Century 21 organisation until well into his retirement. back to text
23): Terry Aarons in e-mail to me - see Recollections above. back to text
24): streetview of Atlantic House, 715 North Circular Rd. Note the name above the door is made up in exactly the same lettering as the logo of Atlantic model figures and kits from Italy (Wikipedia has some info and AtlanticMania is a good site, in Italian but full of pictures). The reason for the name and lettering is that the building also housed local subsidiary Atlantic Hobby & Toy Co. (UK) Ltd. Ruth Rosenthal believes this may have been run on the side by one of the other directors of Alltrades but isn't sure. At any rate, both Alltrades and Atlantic UK were wound up in consecutive sessions on the same day at the same receiver's office of the Dept of Trade (see first two entries in the London Gazette, 14 June 1984). Apparently both companies also changed to a listed address at 6TH floor, Wilec House, 82-84 City Rd, London EC1, which may have been a curator's office after both went under. And coincidentally, the receiver's office was located in another Atlantic House, this one being a government building on Holborn Viaduct at the time. back to text
25): Included here just to be complete (plus because it's the source of Jack Rosenthal's last known address), the London Gazette lists the various stages of the proceedings (note the dates are publication dates):
Filing - 28 Jun 1983
First meeting and public examination - 23 Aug 1983
Adjudication (incl new address) - 17 Jan 1984
Intended dividends (sets deadline for creditors to supply proof of debts) - 19 Feb 1985
Intended dividends (deadline extended apparently) - 22 Apr 1985
Dividends (indicates creditors received not even a fifth of money owed to them) - 16 May 1985 and next page (or click arrow above first page)
Release of trustee (I think this means Rosenthal was allowed to handle his own affairs again) - 29 Jan 1987
Discharge request - 4 May 1989
Discharge - 17 July 1989
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26): from an entry on her blog. Rachel is Hilary Rosenthal's daughter, and a very talented conceptual designer. back to text