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. But try as I might, I sadly never did.
I live on the wrong side of the English Channel, so had to try and find things by internet, e-mail and telephone. The addresses for Jack Rosenthal I only found much later and didn't yield anything - and I did try local estate agents f ex. hoping to discover where he moved next. Directory Enquiries had nothing and even a few synagogues in North London that I tried couldn't help either. 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).
To this day I still don't know if he was yet amongst us at the time, but if so I can at least be sure it wasn't from lack of trying that I couldn't find him. Over time I did find a handful of documents however, and lately I've had some luck in finding a few more bits as well as a few people who actually knew him - see Recollections below.
Next to not knowing when Jack Rosenthal passed away, I also have no idea of when and where he was born or educated, what he did during the war or in his early career. By the early 1960s however, he was an accountant working for S. Guiterman & Co. This company (as far as I can find) owned Budgie diecast toys at the time which produced a model of Gerry Anderson's Supercar, while its Tower Press brand produced jigsaw puzzles based on that same TV series. When he left to start his own company, Rosenthal retained his business ties with Anderson's AP Films organisation. (2)
Jack Rosenthal married Esther Sacorovitch in September 1938, in the Eastern London district of Stepney (3). She may have been born in March 1918 in the Whitechapel district of London (4). Assuming an age difference of not too many years and a(n East) London location, Jack Rosenthal -may- have been born in Whitechapel in December 1914, but that's only the most likely of a number of boys of that name being born.
Jack and Esther Rosenthal had three daughters. Hilary, born December 1941 in Poplar; Ruth, born December 1947 in Stoke Newington; and Suzanne, born June 1960 in Romford (all those places are districts in Eastern London). Hilary may have become a textile designer (5); Ruth may have become an accountant, Labour activist and married a (now former) Labour MP (6).
J. Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd.
Jack Rosenthal founded his own toy company on 24 December 1963 (7). Earliest known premises were in 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. The area is largely residential, but there does appear to be a commercial-looking building behind the Tabard St housing block however, so that might possibly be where the company was based (8).
The advert also shows the first toys we can be certain about his company was involved with - a range of Quercetti rockets from Italy, launched by catapult and descending by parachute. This shows that Rosenthal at this time imported already-existing toys. But also his own company's first involvement with the Anderson organisation, in that the emphasis is on the Quercetti Fireball XL5 toy rocket based on Gerry Anderson's contemporary TV series. Apparently the initiative to make this toy came from Quercetti themselves after receiving a brochure about licencing Anderson properties, and Century 21 Merchandising director Keith Shackleton visiting the factory in Italy to help make it happen. (9) But it still needed importing and distributing, and Rosenthal was in the right place at the right time to do just that.
It was also Shackleton's idea to buy a majority share in Jack Rosenthal's company, which happened in July 1965 (10). 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 (11)) 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 (12), 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 (13), 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 also moved to larger offices at the London Coliseum in December 1965/January 1966, owned at the time 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 (14). 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 (15).
According to the excellent GACCH (16), 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 (17), 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 (18).
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 (19). 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 (20). 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 (21) while in Hong Kong in the mid-1970s. He had to give up these travels, and had to 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.
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 (22), which also resulted in him moving from his house in Woodside Park to a flat in nearby Christchurch Avenue, Finchley, London N12. He was finally discharged as a bankrupt six years later, and that's the last I've found about him.
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."
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." (23)
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 starting as an accountant: 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. Brian Hayes' excellent Alphadrome has a picture of the Budgie Toys Supercar model. J Lester Novros II has images of a Tower Press box and puzzle on his Supermarionation site (the two first links may need refreshing a few times before the page scrolls to the box and puzzle images). As a note, the Guiterman company appears to've been active in quite a few industrial sectors, and also produced larger plastic toys. It went into voluntary liquidation in March of 1966, three years after Rosenthal had left to start his own company. back to text
3): Terry Aarons provided Esther's first name, former Century 21 Toys employee Robert Nicholls provided his daughter Ruth's name, and with that combination I know I'm on firm ground here.
Two marriage registry index pages on FreeBMD.org.uk provided the month, year, district and maiden name, one entry for Rosenthal, another for Sacorovitch (click "View the original" icon to see each index page). The birth registry index page for Ruth Rosenthal confirmed Esther's maiden name.
As a note, 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
4): Registry index page for Esther Sucorovitch on freebmd.org.uk. back to text
5): There are or were another few people called Hilary Rosenthal, but restricting a search to UK web addresses found a few references to a Hilary Rosenthal designing textile patterns in the later 1960s, such as one in the V&A collection. back to text
6): Terry Aarons remembers Ruth Rosenthal helping her father by bookkeeping at Alltrades for a few months around 1980. Having a second initial from the birth registry, Directory Enquiries shows a Ruth Rosenthal of the right age appearing on an electoral roll sharing a household with Andrew Love, who until a couple of years ago was MP for a constituency in Enfield. back to text
7): Stated on Incorporation Certificate for the subsequent change of name to Century 21 Toys Ltd. - see under Documents linked above back to text
8): the satellite image on Google Maps shows a driveway behind the long block of flats facing Tabard St (which isn't accessible in Streetview), with a commercial-looking building on the other side. This perfectly fits the description of the address in the adverts, so may well be where J Rosenthal (Toys) Ltd was located. It appears to have both storage space and a smaller L-shaped extension in front that could be the office space (in the current satellite image, there's a white car and reddish van squeezed in front between the office space and the roadside tree). back to text
9): Marcus Hearn in The Thunderbirds Vault book (p 210) linked under 2); leaflet mentioned in article by Graeme Walker. back to text
10): 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 2). back to text
11): ATV take-over of AP Films described by Marcus Hearn in The Thunderbirds Vault (p 37) linked under 2). The Wikipedia entry on Lew Grade also contains links to his various endeavours. back to text
12): Paul Woods owns some examples of these, and researched the registered design numbers moulded in underneath. back to text
13): 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
14): Same Incorporation Certificate as under 7) - 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 2). back to text
15): 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
16): Excellent but now sadly defunct (June 2016). Thankfully there's the internet archive where it is preserved. back to text
17): The 1967 Century 21 Merchandising supplement can also be read in full on TVCentury21.com. back to text
18): 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
19): 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 17 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
20): Terry Aarons in e-mail to me - see Recollections above. back to text
21): Terry Aarons mentioned this being "his first heart attack" which implies the poor man may later have suffered another... back to text
22): 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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23): from an entry on her blog. Rachel is Hilary Rosenthal's daughter, and a very talented conceptual designer. We've been briefly in touch, and I very much hope to hear more from her amidst her busy schedule! back to text