“It’s an escape”: the Derbyshire collectables shop that is a time machine of toys, antiques and music

“I’m an eccentric. My father was an eccentric. My brother was an eccentric. If there is such a thing, I wouldn’t consider myself to be normal.”
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“I’m a magician as well,” says Mel Bryan, whose shop in Alfreton certainly casts a spell. Mel’s Collectables sits on King Street, and once through the door, you’re in a time machine of collectable toys, antiques, music, figures of story characters, and for sure, Mel is a character with a story to tell.

“I’ve been buying and selling ever since I was at school, really… Back in the day, most kids had paper rounds. What I used to do, because it was in my blood… from the age of eight, I used to go down to the dumps with a wheelbarrow, hammer and chisel, hacksaw, and collect scrap metal.”

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“My dad would take it for me and weigh it in, and that’s how I got my pocket money. We weren’t poor, but you know, we had hand-me-downs and patches on our jeans… We didn’t have a lot. But I liked to buy my own toys.”

Mel Bryan inside Mel's Collectables, AlfretonMel Bryan inside Mel's Collectables, Alfreton
Mel Bryan inside Mel's Collectables, Alfreton

When asked if Mel would describe himself as resourceful, he laughs, tells a story that answers ‘yes’.

“I had a big collection of Action Men because there was a little plastics factory on Alfreton industrial estate. And they made the Striker game. With the players where you hit their heads and they kick the football. And they also made a couple of Action Man items.”

“They had no security back in those days. Just a piece of wasteland. They used to bring out all the rejects, cardboard boxes, put them in a big bonfire, set fire to it. As soon as they went inside we’d be waiting. There was a swamp nearby. We’d get a bucket, put the fire out, go through the remains.”

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“If the Striker players had survived, great. But the best things were the stars on the Action Man boxes. They had a star scheme to induce you to buy the product. The more expensive the product, the more stars you’d get. So we got them for free… I had twenty-odd Action Men.”

Mel's Collectables, King Street, AlfretonMel's Collectables, King Street, Alfreton
Mel's Collectables, King Street, Alfreton

Wow. Definitely resourceful. And when asked if Mel sees himself as his own person, he laughs again.

“Never felt like I’ve got to be a member of a gang, or I’ve got to fit in. Once I saw Fistful of Dollars back in 1975, I went to junior school in cowboy boots. Modelled myself on Clint Eastwood. Like I say, I’m eccentric. Kids used to think I was crazy.”

So, why Action Man? “Because of the imagination. Most children these days… which is a broad sweeping statement, I know… but they seem to be lacking. So Action Man, he was your friend.”

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Mel laughs. “Sounds a bit sad now, but he was. You’d see a war film on telly, and as soon as it was finished, you’d get your Action Men, and you’d re-enact that film. The age of innocence has got less and less now. I was still playing with Action Men when I was twelve. Which sounds ridiculous by today’s standards.”

Mel inside his shopMel inside his shop
Mel inside his shop

When asked what the best thing in the shop is, Mel the magician disappears through a curtain behind the counter, reappearing with an Action Man in a box.

“It’s from the 1980s. The only thing wrong with it is the rip on the box where they got a bit avaricious at Christmas. It’s not been played with. He’s about £180. But very, very hard to find.”

Are such things more collectable if they have the box? “Yes. The general rule of thumb with toys is that the box is seventy percent of the value. If that was a mint box, not been opened, if the sellotape had not been fetched off either end, that would be a £450 item.”

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Again, wow. Mel grew up on King Street, “Classed as a bottom-ender in Alfreton” and as customers walk in and out of his shop, the familiarity is obvious. Mel sticks a pack of unopened playing cards into a customer’s pocket, asks me to think of a card.

Mel with an Action ManMel with an Action Man
Mel with an Action Man

Mel reaches into the customer’s pocket, opens the pack of cards. The only card turned the wrong way in the pack is the card I thought of… How? Mel reaches into a cabinet, pulls out an old metal signet ring, says it was from the war, belonged to a trench soldier.

Mel points to a tiny hole in the head of the ring, says “Hold it to the light and look through it”. Inside the ring smiles a tiny photograph of a half-naked lady. Mel and his customer laugh. Coming into Mel’s Collectables is certainly an experience.

“There’s more men collectors than women. We never grow up,” says Mel with a grin. “It’s like trying to get into a Tardis and go back to your childhood. For a lot of people that was the happiest time in their life. You don’t know about all these terrible things that happen in the world, do you?”

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Mel pauses. “It’s an escape. Most of the people that come in here, I would say, are trying to do the same thing.”

Last question. For someone who has clearly made his shop into a time machine, where would Mel choose to go, and why?

“1976 is where I’d go back to. Christmas. Where for some reason, I don’t know where my parents found the money, but I got the Action Man scorpion tank, the Action Man 105mm field gun, the Action Man helicopter, and the Action Man motorbike and sidecar. All in one Christmas. So yeah, I’d probably say back then.”

Mel’s Collectables: where “back then” is right here, and maybe, even still in its box.