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The day actress Janie Wellborne helped Barbie doll find her voice

By Alan Smith

With Barbie, the ubiquitous children's doll, celebrating her 60th birthday today, the actress who first gave Barbie a voice in England has been recalling her part in Barbie's career.

Barbie first debuted at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, wearing a swimsuit and ponytail.

Actress Janie Wellborne said that as a child she loved the Barbie dolls.

Janie Wellborne with some of her Barbie collection
Janie Wellborne with some of her Barbie collection

"I played with dolls till I was about 11, but they were mostly dolls of babies, then along came this glamorous creature in a bathing costume."

But it was not until almost 10 years later than Mrs Wellborne, from Chiddingstone, near Sevenoaks, became directly involved with the doll.

By 1968, she was a 17-year-old actress, and her agent said that Mattell, the doll's makers, would like to her to record some tapes.

Janie Wellborne with Barbie
Janie Wellborne with Barbie

On March 28, 1968, she travelled to a recording studio in London and recorded a few sentences as asked on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. "Let's do the shopping!" Let's play some records!" and "How shall I wear my hair?" among them.

She thought not much more about it until she was shopping in London almost a year later and visited Harrods with her mother to see a huge display advertising a new talking Barbie doll, who was dressed all in pink with a voluptuous figure.

She asked the assistant to pull the chord to play the voice, and it was her own words that came out.

Mrs Wellborne said: "Barbie had already changed a great deal. When she first came out she was quite severe with pointed eyebrows and very black make-up.

"But by 1969 she had softened her appearance and now had an incredible 36/18/33 figure."

Later she was asked to go back into the studio to record words for Barbie's cousin Stacey

Barbie has continued to adapt throughout her long career. She has appeared as a pop-star, nurse and flight attendant, and more recently as a pilot and business woman.

She has also changed colour several times and appeared as a black Barbie, a Hispanic Barbie and a Hijabi Barbie.

To celebrate her birthday, Mattel has released six new versions of the doll, including an astronaut, a pilot, a politician and a firefighter.

Mrs Wellborne said: "Barbie is a phenomenon and I'm proud of my part in her career 50 years ago."

Around 58m Barbie dolls are sold across the world each year.

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