Mirror dinghy at the V&A

A Mirror dinghy kit shown 'exploaded' hanging from the ceiling of an exhibition

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is currently running an exhibition called 'Plywood: Material of the Modern World', this is the world's first exhibition dedicated to plywood. Amoung the exhibits are a Mirror kit of parts, a publicity brochure from the 1960s, some original Bell Woodworking building instructions and a complete Mirror dinghy, 32173.

Labour as Leisure - The Mirror Dinghy and DIY Sailors

Cover of the journal showing a family involved in DIY

'Labour as Leisure—The Mirror Dinghy and DIY Sailors' by Andrew Jackson is an an academic article which appeared in volumn 19, issue 1 (Spring 2006) of the Journal of Design History.


The Mirror was conceived in 1962 by Barry Bucknell as a kit boat for amateur woodworkers. Bucknell was the first popular DIY expert, appearing on television programmes throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He played a major role in the popularization of home improvement as a leisure activity, particularly amongst men. In collaboration with Jack Holt, a yacht designer, he also managed to revolutionize the previously elite sport of sailing. This paper explores the place of the Mirror dinghy in the development of the post-war male's role in the home. Working with frameworks drawn from social and cultural theory, it argues that DIY and the home workshop acted as means of integrating men into family life, whilst simultaneously preserving existing masculine role models. The paper concludes that the success of the Mirror dinghy can act as a representation of increased social and economic autonomy for large sections of the British population in the last half of the twentieth century.

J Design Hist (2006) 19 (1): 57-67.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epk005


Histrory - brochures

This page lists and provides links to Mirror dinghy publicity brochures produced over the years

  • 1960's Daily Mirror colour brochure (8.4Mb). This is a poor scan of a poor quality original. The date of introduction of the brochure is unknown. Given the sail numbers of boats which feature, it must be 1964 or later. Some of the photos are by Eileen Ramsay. It was in use around 1968 - 1969 when my dad brought us my first Mirror.

As it was in the beginning...

Like a lot of brilliant Ideas, the Mirror dinghy literally "just growed". In fact, the first seed was planted by a small boy who complained to his father that when the family dinghy was being used he never had the chance to sail because others always muscled in. Normally, that would have been the end of the matter but, in this case, the lad's father was BBC TV s do-it-yourself expert Barry Bucknell, who characteristically set about making a dinghy to increase the family fleet and train up another helm at the same time.

Always ready to discover an easier way of doing things, Barry adapted for his dinghy a system of construction used by Ken Littledyke to make KL canoes by joining adjacent panels with resin and fibre glass ribbon. When it was completed, it was seen by one of the Daily Mirror writers, Paul Boyle, who knew Bucknell and being an ex-Navy man himself, chatted to him about the unusual design. At that tine, the newspaper's Publicity department was always ready to look at new ideas for promoting the newspaper and, after a lot of discussions, it was thought that boats bearing the name "Daily Mirror" might usefully keep the name before the public. However, newspapers are ever sensitive of their vulnerability towards complaints by readers and so the publicity executives needed to be absolutely positive that any boat bearing the name of the paper must be 100 per cent safe and foolproof.

It was an easy step, therefore, to consult an expert within the Group, Bernard Hayman of Yachting World, who, in turn, suggested that Jack Holt should cast his experienced eye over the project. Jack inspected the second prototype made by Barry and decided to retain the construction method and the general lines of the boat, yet treat the hull concept as a radically new design. The third boat to be produced, therefore, looked quite different to its predecessors and yet boasted the same jaunty aspect.

Two of the most radical changes were suggested by the Daily Mirror Publicity staff who suggested the Viking red sails to match the paper's front-page title (the original prototypes had blue and white mainsails) and they also designed the insignia.

The third prototype, Mirror dinghy No. 1, "Eileen", came into being and it is this boat which the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich considered important enough to put on permanent display in 1986 as an important example of our national nautical heritage.

In 1992 "Eileen" was moved, with the rest of the National Small Boat Collection, to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth.

Editors note, this is the first part of an article which appeared in Reflections & the book Mirror Mania.

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