Patrick Rylands: classic toys from a toy design hero

Toy designer Patrick Rylands at Olympia Exhibition Centre on January 21, 2014.

A world-renowned British designer, responsible for some of the most-played with and adored toys for babies and toddlers, Patrick Rylands was chief designer at Ambi Toys for more than 30 years, and his designs were firm favourites in the bath-tubs and playrooms of children throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. In a welcome nod to parents who remember his toys fondly (and who groan inwardly at the plastic junk and iPads that seem to captivate children today), Galt Toys has re-released his iconic range of Ambi Toys, so that the next generation can once again appreciate and enjoy some of Rylands’ timeless early creations.

A toy that does everything by itself, does nothing for the child. The main purpose of a toy is to enable children to enter into a world of make-believe, as it is in this way that children relate to reality.

Bird and FishBird Bath Toy

History: The popular Bird and Fish bath toys were first introduced in 1969, with a simple design that contributed to Patrick being the youngest person to ever win the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design; now known as the Prince Philip Designers Prize. They can be seen, alongside many other of Patricks’ toys, on permanent display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Design: Attractive to both adults and children, the Bird and Fish are very simple smooth shapes that are easy for small hands to grasp with a comforting and tactile quality, with only eyes for decoration. Both bath toys contain internal ballasts keeping them completely upright in the water.

Patrick says:  “The bird came first, based on Eskimo bone carvings in the British Museum; I did some drawings and thought it would make a nice toy. Then, whilst teaching at Hornsey College of Art, I made a prototype from Plaster of Paris and decided he needed a friend, and so designed a fish – simple as that.

Ambi Bath DuckPatrick-Rylands-bath-duck

History: A truly talented toy designer, Patrick only ever worked from drawings, no prototypes, so in essence each toy came to life from mechanical paper drawings. While each of Patrick’s toys is designed to move during playtime, no toys in the Ambi range require batteries – a testament to his design genius.

Design: The meticulous detail in his designs is clear in the Ambi Bath Duck which, on the outset, can appear to be one of the simplest of his toys. Look closer and you will see that the duck comes to life on the water.

Patrick says: “The slightest movement of the water sets the bath duck in motion. As the duck bobs up and down in the water, his beak is designed to open and close. The Bath Duck also allows any water entering the toy to escape, thus avoiding any unfortunately sinking incidents.

Children need to learn through handling things. It’s so important when you are growing up and has to be what informs you about the physical world.

Ambi Rocky JockeyPatrick-Rylands-rocky_jocky_ombra

Design: The Ambi Rocky Jockey is a colourful and happy horseman that rocks back and forth. Like all Ambi Toys, it has been designed for children to discover themselves and the world around them – exactly what a good toy should be!

Patrick says:Children need to learn through handling things. It’s so important when you are growing up and has to be what informs you about the physical world. Flat images that are manipulated on screen simply can’t be as good.

Ambi Sniffer MousePatrick-Rylands-sniffer mouse

Design: The Ambi Sniffer Mouse is a real pocked-sized friend for children, with a soft, cord style tail. In true Patrick Ryland’s style, the nose of the mouse moves back and forth with each turn of the wheels. Children love this movement, which brings the little mouse to life.

Patrick says:The original design concept had a stiff rubbery tail that pointed upwards and was designed to ping back into shape and position when flicked or pulled. This was then replaced with the soft cord tail.

Cool CatPatrick-Rylands-cat

Design: This perfect purring companion provides endless entertainment and interaction for children, with a clever design by Patrick.

Patrick says: “The cat’s head spins and the body bobs when this cool little cat is rolled along the floor.

The Future

This year, Galt Toys introduced six new Ambi Toys to its range, all based on Patrick Ryland’s original designs. Ted and Tess Pram String, Baby Mirror, Activity Case, Xylophone Drum, Lock Up Garage and Pop-up Pals are among the new products, which use the iconic bright primary colours synonymous to the Ambi range. To view and purchase the full Ambi Toy range, visit

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