The biggest toy story in the world

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

It’s quite easy, wandering round the small town of Billund, to start believing in the existence of a Lego god. You can’t help but feel a master intelligence is at work here – the place is so manifestly wholesome, the street plan so well ordered, the pavements so tidy. Unostentatious automobiles proceed slowly along all-but-empty roads, stopping politely for pedestrians nowhere near a zebra crossing. A jovial red-and-yellow Lego giant points towards the town centre; huge coloured bricks lie scattered as if awaiting deployment in some exemplary new civic amenity (except that, being Denmark, it’s not immediately apparent what else the town might need).

I half-expect to be plucked from the pavement, brushed up a bit and plumped down in front of the smart rectangular building labelled Head Office: Lego A/S. My goal here is to find out how, in the teeth of global recession and barely five years since it was being read the last rites, one of the world’s best-loved brands has come back from the dead. For Lego, born of an earlier and tougher depression, is positively revelling in this one: the little studded, primary-coloured bricks are selling like never before. In Britain alone, the company’s turnover last year was up 51%.

Its home town, though, is a bit too much for some people. “I couldn’t ever live here,” admits Mads Nipper, who looks and – when it comes to plastic bricks – acts about 12, but turns out to be one of the company’s executive vice-presidents. “I’m nuts about Lego, believe me; I eat, sleep and breathe the stuff. But there’s a bit too much of it around here even for me.”

Charlotte Simonsen, the company’s spokeswoman, says more than 400 million people will play with Lego this year. After 50-odd years of production, there are apparently 62 Lego bricks for every man, woman and child on the planet. And most of us, I’d imagine, would say we felt pretty warmly towards these little chunks of injection-moulded acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Some would go considerably further. Lego reckons it has maybe 250,000 Afols, or Adult Fans of Lego, around the globe. They gather for mammoth week-long conventions with names such as BrickFest, and vie with each other to build the World’s Largest Lego Boat (14ft 7in long; 300,000 bricks), construct the Biggest Lego Train Layout Ever (3,343ft, and it ran through an entire Lego cityscape) or beat the Fastest Time to Build the Lego Imperial Star Destroyer (3,104 pieces; five builders maximum and no pre-sorting allowed; record: 1 hour 42 minutes 43 seconds).

There are enthusiasts out there who make animated film shorts using characters and sets built solely of Lego. A man called Brendan Powell Smith has built The Brick Testament – 2,000 scenes from the bible – using Lego. And half a dozen people are Lego Certified Professionals: company-accredited creative artists whose working medium is Lego. I’m not sure how many of them, mind you, awakened by some nocturnal commotion, have rushed bleary-eyed into their children’s bedroom at dead of night and stepped on a Lego brick in their bare feet. Had they done so, they would surely have cursed Lego and all its works, and wished Ole Kirk Christiansen had never been born back in 1891.

Delightful article, ranging in content from hilarious personal accounts – to dry-as-bones-but-useful business data. Read it and enjoy.

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