Charlotte Abbott’s is a talking pig called Porky. Sandy Watson’s is his old Subbuteo set. Mine is a rackety old Tardis. And there’s a good chance you have one too: a toy that was played with and bashed about a bit but treasured. You may still have it, in a cupboard somewhere, or in the loft. Cracked, broken, scuffed, but loved.

What happens when the love takes its toll though? The doll’s head falls off, or the voice-box fails and she no longer says “mummy”, or in my case, the mechanism that worked the Tardis breaks, seemingly beyond repair? Maybe you’d think “that’s that” and put away childish things. But increasingly people want to see their childhood toys revived and returned to life, which is where the toy hospitals come in.

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The latest one has been created especially for a new TV series featuring toy-fixer-extraordinary Charlotte Abbott (favourite toy: Porky) and produced by one of the people behind The Repair Shop, Sandy Watson (favourite toy: Subbuteo). Based in an actual old hospital in Lancashire, each episode features a team reviving and repairing a range of toys including dolls, teddy bears, mechanical toys, Subbuteo sets, and Gameboys among many others. The first episode also features the team doing a repair for me (favourite toy, as you know: Tardis).

Charlotte Abbott, who lives in Edinburgh, was recruited to the TV series from her day job at Leith Toy Hospital, where she has a particular interest in mechanical and electrical fixes. The Leith Hospital was established relatively recently, in 2017, and Abbott thinks it’s part of a trend towards conserving things rather than chucking them away.

“A lot of people say to me, ‘Oh well, there used to be toy hospitals’,” she says, “and I think there were up until the 1970s. But when we moved to producing toys abroad incredibly cheaply, people wouldn’t pay for repairs because why would you? And a lot of the toy hospitals closed down.”

However, she thinks things are changing. “A lot of people are more environmentally conscious and there’s a big movement with mending all sort of things.

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“There’s a visible mending movement where people mend things so it’s not flush – for example, I have a woolly jumper that got holes in it and I embroidered flowers over the holes. You make the repair the main event.”

Abbott finds that this is often the approach her clients take to their toys: yes, they want them repaired but they don’t want them looking like they’re new.

The Herald: The Toy HospitalThe Toy Hospital (Image: Channel 5)

“They might want them as weathered and aged as they are now, just not falling apart and that’s a big part of our job,” she says, “blending in our repairs to make them look old and used.”

Another part of her job is dealing with the emotional side of toys – often a side that nothing else can reach. The executive producer of the Toy Hospital series, Sandy Watson, tells me that time and again he saw people get emotional over their toys, including people who might usually find it harder to express their emotions such as middle-aged men.

Certainly, that’s what happened to me when I saw how Charlotte Abbott had so beautifully and carefully repaired my Tardis: suddenly, I realised how much something that brought me comfort and joy as a child – Doctor Who – still does as an adult.

Abbott says this emotional role toys often play is something she sees all the time during her work.

“I get a lot of people on the phone who cry for various reasons, sometimes just in relief to know their toy can be fixed – sometimes they don’t understand what can be done,” she says.

“People will think the worst and say, ‘My dolly is in pieces and I don’t think it can ever be fixed’ and it just needs restringing, which is one of the easiest things you can do repair-wise.

“A lot of the time we also tend to be encountering people when it’s very emotional – maybe someone isn’t very well and they want a doll repaired before they pass away, that’s quite a common one. It’s been sat somewhere safe and there’s the impetus to get it repaired so they can have one last time with the doll.”

Abbott also sees the intensity of the attachment that some people can have to their toys.

“It’s a certain type of person – not everybody is like this,” she says.

“A lot of people have toys and they’re akin to family members or pets, they’re that level of importance. I’ve had a lot of adults who have issues with anxiety and that’s their comfort and they’ve not been able to leave their toy with us overnight. I’ve also had people who I’ve had to send photos to and tell them their toys have made friends, they’re happy, they’re OK.”

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Abbott herself understands a little of what it feels like. It’s time to tell you the story of Porky the pig. Abbott was growing up in North Wales and went on holiday to Portugal with her family. Also on the trip was Abbott’s teddy, called Eddy (children’s naming of toys is never very imaginative). But disaster! Eddy got lost and little Charlotte was inconsolable.

“My parents went to take me to a toy shop to see if they could find something to stop me crying,” she says, “but they forgot about the whole siesta thing so they were wandering around town, nothing was open but we finally found this one toy shop that was open and we went inside and instantly, Porky was the one.

The Herald: Charlotte working on the TardisCharlotte working on the Tardis (Image: Channel 5)

“I used to take him everywhere; on the plane I would strap him in like a baby under the seat belt, and he came with me when I went to uni and now lives in my living room on the shelf.”

Abbott was also able to use her skills as a toy fixer on Porky when he lost his voice. When she first got him, he would snort when you squeezed him but over the years he was squeezed just a bit too much and fell silent. But Abbott was able to track down a new voice box in New Zealand and had it sent over to fix him. He snorts once more.

The range of skills Abbott and the other fixers use on toys like Porky is extraordinary. Some of it is detective work – for example, with my Tardis, which had a spinning mechanism that would make the Doctor doll inside disappear, she had to watch lots of old videos of the toy to discover how it was supposed to work. She also used putty to clean off all the dust and grime it had gathered over 40 years or so and fixed the mechanism by riveting on a new piece of sheet metal to the inside and recreating another plastic piece that had broken off. And in the end, she did it: the Tardis worked again and a grown-man blubbed.

The trickiest fixes, says Abbott, are mostly the mechanical and electrical ones. “The dolls for the most part, you can rebuild them no matter what has happened to them,” she says.

“There’s a few dolls that we can’t but we screen everything first so we would never get something in that we thought we couldn’t fix. So for example, silicon dolls, you can’t glue or fix silicon but the majority of dolls we get in, you can do something.

“The limit isn’t our skill set, it’s how much a customer is willing to pay because some take a long time and they’re expensive. I distinctly remember a voice box that drove me insane – it was completely different to anything I’d seen; it didn’t work in the same way as other ones and I ended up finding patent schematics of a voice box that was very similar and that was how I managed to figure it out and get it working.”

The extraordinary thing is that Abbott learned a lot of these skills in a rather surprising place: a wind turbine company. Her background originally was in environmental science, ecology and environmental modelling but after university she landed a job with a firm building prototype turbines and she tells me it’s surprising how many of the skills she used there were transferrable to toys.

“For example, I do a lot of painting of dolls and I use an airbrush to do that and I used to use an airbrush when I was spraying wind turbines except they were three metres long,” she says.

“I also worked with a lot of different plastics and plastic welding and things like that so although it doesn’t seem like it would be in any way related, it actually has a lot of transferable skills.”

Abbott only discovered this when the wind turbine company lost its funding and she had to find another job. As it happened, Leith Toy Hospital was looking for someone who was handy and practical, a kind of jack of all trades, and Abbott fitted the bill, starting off with mechanical and electrical fixes on talking toys, or tippy-tumbles, or repairing voice boxes. Before long, she was doing more and more pure doll repairs, which now makes up most of her day-to-day work.

The work was, and still is, hugely rewarding, says Abbott. “I always think there are two parts that are rewarding. One of them is if it’s quite a tough job or you’re not quite sure how to fix it, then I really like the problem-solving element in getting something working. The down side of that is it’s quite upsetting if you can’t but I know at this point what I can and can’t do – in the early days, I’d be like, ‘I’ll give anything a go’ but I don’t like to disappoint people so I know what I can do.

“The other half is that a lot of people are very open with you about their toys and their history so you get to learn a lot about the customers and a lot about their story and knowing that you’re making somebody ecstatically happy because they’ve had a doll that belonged to a beloved family member who’s no longer with them but they want to get it restored.”

I saw some of this close-up when we were recording the Toy Hospital. I got speaking to one chap whose parents had given him a cuddly clown from Woolworths when he was two days old and the pictures of him through his life show the clown with him every step of the way. After the repair was done, I also watched him re-bonding with a toy that had been with him his whole life.

The Herald: Mark with his finished TardisMark with his finished Tardis (Image: Channel 5)

I felt it for myself too when my Tardis was fixed. I was given the Tardis for Christmas in the late 1970s, probably because I was obsessed with Doctor Who and nagged my parents into submission. I also played with it until the mechanism broke and the doors and the light fell off but whenever I moved house, it would come with me. I always knew it was important to me but what the Toy Hospital helped me realise was that the Tardis and Doctor Who were a kind of refuge when I was a child and still are now. If I’m feeling stressed or depressed or bored, the first thing I’ll do is stick on an episode of Doctor Who and I feel better.

The producer Sandy Watson says it was this emotional element that trumped everything else with the people he saw on the show and that it was particularly powerful for people like me aged in their 50s and above. Part of it is nostalgia obviously, but Abbott thinks it’s also because children growing up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s often didn’t have many toys and so treasured the ones they did have.

“A lot of customers I speak to say, ‘I had one doll, one teddy, that was it’,” she says, “and because of that, they’re just so much more attached than if they had lots of toys. It’s something I hear again and again: ‘it’s the only toy I had’.”

And Abbott thinks there could be something else even more profound going on with toys: in an age that can seem confrontational and aggressive, your toys are always there. “Toys don’t have anything bad to say,” she says. “Toys don’t judge you.”

Toy Hospital begins on Channel 5 on Friday November 24 at 8pm