The Happy Puzzle Company’s Gavin Ucko pulls out all the stops with a brand new TFL jigsaw license

Why make London-Underground-style jigsaw maps of major British cities? Gavin Ucko tells all!

Hi Gavin, welcome to Brands Untapped! I want to chat about some products I saw on The Happy Puzzle Company website… They’re NOT the London Underground map – but they sure do look like it! Tell me about them…
Thanks, Deej – it’s a lovely story! I’m a little bit obsessed with all things London Underground. I think you have to call me a geek, and if you see my collection of London Underground books and memorabilia, that will leave you in no doubt at all!

Is that right?! You know, I don’t think I would’ve guessed that. Interesting!
Well – perhaps understandably – the work of an artist called Hannah Ewart somehow ended up on my Facebook feed. Hannah’s a graphic artist who’s created imaginary underground maps for different towns and cities in the UK. In other words, she’s created what the London Underground map might look like if it was based in other places.

Got it! And obviously I’ll put a couple of images in here so we’re completely clear…
In any case, I felt these would make amazing jigsaws, so we went for it and – in the run up to Christmas – we sold several thousand of them!

Oh, wow! Why do you think they’re so popular?
They’re genuinely spellbinding! My wife is from Liverpool and the first thing she wanted to see was what her local station would’ve been. Lo and behold, there would’ve been one in the road where she grew up! Who knew? She could’ve ended up with a railway line running across the back of the house, instead of Childwall Woods and the set of Brookside!

Gavin Ucko, The Happy Puzzle Company, Toys & Games, TFL, Transport for London, London Underground

Ha! Didn’t do too badly, though, if the set of Brookside was there! How many puzzles are in the range, Gavin? And what towns and cities are covered?
We covered just about every big town and city in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland… So there are 74 different puzzles.

74! Heavens to Murgatroyd! You went all in on it then?!
More than you know, Deej! Because we did each design both as a 400-piece puzzle AND a 1,000-piece puzzle to make it suit different levels of difficulty.

I love that you weren’t the least bit tentative launching this. So this is a licensed Transport for London product – but set exclusively outside London?!
Yes, it is, and we’re absolutely thrilled about it! If you’d asked me what one license I wanted for The Happy Puzzle Company above all others, it would’ve been this one! By the way, did I mention that for our 25th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, the romantic gift that I got from my wife was the complete new set of London Underground train-line mugs… Now also including the Elizabeth Line! I told you I was a geek!

Ha! And you’re clearly chuffed to pieces about it! What was the biggest challenge getting these to market, Gavin?
In order to make these maps authentic, it’s impossible to avoid having quite a lot of areas of white within the jigsaw puzzles. That makes them quite difficult to do, unless you’re an experienced puzzler.

Gavin Ucko, The Happy Puzzle Company, Toys & Games, TFL, Transport for London, London Underground

Oh, yes! I wouldn’t have thought of that…
Well, we’ve done our upmost to spread everything out so that there’s as little white space as possible – but you can only do so much, and that’s what makes them such a great challenge!

That’s a great answer, thank you. And why is now the right time for your first licensed product?
In business, you need to wait for the right opportunity. To have the opportunity with something which you love as passionately as I do, it makes it all the more exciting! And I am excited, which I suspect you’re picking up on!

I am picking that up! Given that answer, which kind of licenses might you look to work with in the future?
I love that question! And actually, I keep asking myself the same thing. The truth is this will lead to something else naturally… I don’t really want to force something. When we see that something’s right, I’ll go for it.

Great answer! See where things lead… And what qualities does a brand partner need to show for you to work with them?
They need to believe in what we’re doing as much as we believe in what they’re doing. Both sides need to be fully invested; it really is a two-way process… If that’s not there, then you’re pretty much at a non-starting position.

Gavin Ucko, The Happy Puzzle Company, Toys & Games, TFL, Transport for London, London Underground

And in terms of the product development, Gavin, you mentioned the graphic designer…
Yes, Hannah Ewart…

Hannah Ewart! Did Hannah have in-house support from The Happy Puzzle Company?
She did! Hannah is the brains and the artist behind this, but then our outrageously talented designer, Richard Herman, added the magic. That included – of course – the box, the design and the marketing plan around it.

Brilliant. Let’s wrap this up, Gavin: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
That’s easy, you could’ve asked me my favourite piece of London Underground trivia!

That would’ve been great! Shame on me for not thinking of it… And what’s the answer?
So… Before World War II, they started building an extension to the Northern Line that would’ve seen the line go from Edgware to a different terminus in Bushey Heath, via Brockley Hill and Elstree South.

Okay…
Sadly, after the viaducts were bombed during World War II, the project was abandoned. However, for about 15 years, my office at Happy Puzzle was situated in what would’ve been the car park of Bushey Heath Station. Then Happy Puzzle moved to its current site… Which would’ve been next to the platforms of Elstree South Station. Howzat?!

Brilliant! Thanks Gavin. Great license – beautiful product!

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