Plastic scale model kit manufacturer Airfix may be more synonymous with aircraft and warships than little toy houses but in the early 60's they went head to head against Lego and produced their own building kit series.
Betta Bilda (often mistaken for 'Better Builder' or ‘Betta Builder’) was essentially a cheaper version of Lego. Although suitable for children of all ages, Betta Bilda sets were notoriously challenging and instructions recommended that you got used to how the bricks worked together to provide the best 'structural support' before endeavouring to set out to construct a bigger object.
At the time, Betta Bilda bricks were a little bit sturdier than Lego, so it was possible to make far more adventurous designs (although the huge Empire State Building design on the front of instruction booklet that was twice the size of the lad building it may have been a trifle ambitious).
The most popular Betta Bilda package was the housing set. The original 60's packaging was a cardboard box with a transparent blue tray inside. All of the various sized bricks were split into different compartments and included green tiles, windows and doors. The instruction booklet that came with the sets explained in great detail how you could gradually go from basic little huts to a more elaborate ‘country club’, ‘office block’ or even a ‘tudor house’. “Until you are familiar with the different components and their uses, start by making some of the smaller building illustrated in this folder,” explained the included booklet. “First set out the necessary bases and then begin building the walls, interlocking the bricks as shown. This is particularly important as it adds strength to the whole building and prevents a wall collapsing due to lack of the proper support. Before putting windows and doors in position don’t forget to snap in the correct size panes.” Although the Betta Bilda building kit didn’t go to great lengths explaining how to build the various designs from scratch, like some Lego kit books did, it did provide some good, clear diagrams of some of the bits of architecture you could only aspire to create.
The other kits in the series, including the vehicles were suitably impressive. However, as well as getting your head around the ins and outs of building the basic structures, you also had to master the mechanics of a ‘standard’ or ‘4-wheel drive motor’.
Betta Bilda trivia
Airfix was founded in 1939 by Nicholas Kove, a refugee from Hungary who originally manufactured rubber inflated toys.
Betta Bilda replaced Airfix’s previous building set from the 50's and 60's – “Airfix Builder”.
All the components in Betta Bilda were scaled so that they could be included in “HO” and “OO ScaleRailway Layouts – another series from Airfix.
My son found my old Betta bilda building set in some stuff I had stored in the roof, he asked me if I could find the instructions. I tried to tell him I last played with it some 40 years ago and for some reason could not recall where I put them. :-)
Sunday April 26, 2009, 01:31 PM
Still got the set my brothers & I played with, somewhere. I remember we had the castle drawbridge etc ...
Thursday July 30, 2009, 04:52 PM
I loved the set but gave it away before I was ready to. I would like to get hold of a set again. Any suggestions as to how I could achieve this aspiration?
Saturday August 1, 2009, 07:51 PM
Betta Bilda was one of my childhood toys. I had a housing set, but not a lot, so spent time building a small house or and flat roofed building- my friends and i loved playing with it..... for hours..days on the front lawn.
In the passage of time it was passed on to someone else to use and duely forgotton, until a few months ago when i found this site.
Those fun-filled memories promted me to look at buying some again
and I already have enough to build some much larger projects.
It costs more these days, however I am an avid fan and am finding a lot of differing coloured bricks, tiles, window frames, curved bricks and castle parts.....most of which i never knew existed.
HAving the time of my life....... are we all just big kids!!!!
Sunday August 30, 2009, 12:34 PM
Oh how I loved my Betta Bilda (and so did my Dad!) I used to build planes fitted with hospital wards and operating rooms so you could provide mobile hospital care in places not served by the NHS!! I didn't have the castle bits but I did have the curved bricks and made forts complete with accommodation blocks and mess hall!
What I wouldn't give to have my BB set back!
Friday September 4, 2009, 09:38 AM
Fred Ledicott said:
Yes, I loved it, best toy I had as a child, Loved building castles curved towers firing slots, Betta Bilda had the lot, building the tiled roofs were great too, far better and more flexible than leggo at that time, (Mid 60's).
It was only a radio station phone in which reminded me today of my favourite childhood toy.
Didn't know you could still get it now so I'll be ordering some asap.
Wednesday October 21, 2009, 07:44 PM
I got "building set no1" of Betta Bilda for my birthday back in the 60's
in england, and had hours and hours of fun making different houses, and drawing plans. We built houses and played with our matchbox and husky cars. I still have it today, and have kept it in the original box with
all the pieces. Compared to today's kids , we didn't have much, but we sure did have alot of fun with great products like Betta Bilda, i'd love to buy some more and show todays kids, how to have fun , if ever the power goes off :)
Sunday March 21, 2010, 12:57 PM
Can anyone remember a similar building system which used a series of metal rods inserted into holes in a base. Brick-effect 'tablets' were then slid into place between adjacent rods, and built up to form the walls of buildings.
Or maybe I just dreamed it!?!
Sunday June 6, 2010, 03:06 PM
Probably my favorite toy ever. Built a Roman Villa with courtyard and underfloor heating system which had pride of place at school for whole term when I was about 8 back in '64. Always despised chunky babyish lego system, especially unrealistic roofing system!
Wednesday July 7, 2010, 10:54 PM
Joe, the building system with rods fitting into a base with holes was 'Bayko'. My big brother had a set and I loved it when I inherited it. I also had lots of Betta Bilda in the 60's and would love to have both sets back today - all availalable on eBay I see. Yes, still kids at heart!
Sunday August 15, 2010, 01:04 AM
I was lucky enough to have a set we weren't rich so my set was small.Still lucky enough to still have my set today still have an odd play when I can
Friday January 28, 2011, 04:49 AM
Oh I loved my betta bilda set, definitely my favorite from my childhood in the 60's. I remember my mum having a clear out when I was @ school when I was about 14 & gave it away. Never forgave her!!
Monday February 28, 2011, 04:01 AM
Was given a bucket full of bricks by my inlaws for my children, inside was lots of lego and some other "curious looking" bricks, for some odd reason something clicked in my mind and the name betta builda suddenly came into my head, I can remember my older brother having a kit of this in the 70's so I just had to confirm my thoughts and found this site - relieved to think the grey matter is still working. Now tomorow I can dump the lego and play with a few hundred real bricks (might even let my kids join in!). Thanks for bringing the memory to life!
Friday April 1, 2011, 10:09 PM
I loved betta bllda as a kid! Mine had green tiles, white bricks, and red (I think) windows. I always thought lego looked really amateurish compared to it.
In the early 60's I also had a skyscraper type construction set with plastic 'girders' that you used to made up the building frame. then plugged in various panels into the frame. Can't remember the name of that one!
Wednesday June 8, 2011, 10:02 PM
Ooh, I was starting to think that I was the only one who had this system, rather than the better-known Danish product.
The reference to the drawbridge triggered a long-forgotten memory - there were also the red triangular-section pieces for capping the crenelated battlements in your fantasy castle. Does anybody else remember the hinged garage doors? I used to enjoy making garages for my Matchbox motor cars!
We also had the electric motor - great fun with that!
Dad was amazed when we found ways of making things such as aeroplanes and spaceships - he'd been brought up on things like Bako, which could only be used for making models of buildings. He did find it tremendously therapeutic to assemble the green tile roofs, for which I lacked the dexterity and patience.
Saturday June 11, 2011, 05:22 PM
What a trip down memory lane. I had a large amount as a child still have it in a box in the loft. today I found a bungalow set in its original box which led me to this site. no-one I know has ever heard of Betta Bilda.
Thursday July 21, 2011, 01:40 PM
As a child, I had Betta Bilda and loved it. Now, at the age of 60, I have begun collecting it again, thanks to Ebay
Tuesday September 6, 2011, 12:34 PM
Mike - Can we all come round to your place, and play?
Friday September 23, 2011, 08:49 PM
No need to go to Mikes I've decided to sell mine -its on ebay at present-none of my grandchildren are interested unfortunately so it may as well go-it was/is a cracking system-cheaper than Lego & I think more realistic although possibly more demanding
Tuesday October 4, 2011, 09:15 AM
Jimmy Preston. said:
I had Betta Bilda Blocks when I was a child.One of my favorite toys if you can call them that.I saw some on Ebay and am thinking about bidding on them.
Friday October 7, 2011, 10:34 PM
Had betta builder as a kid, and taught myself about half and quarter bonding, hip and valley roofing. I never took to lego, buildings toys with bricks and wheels never made logical sense to me as a kid.
Sunday December 18, 2011, 10:02 PM
I agree with those who think Betabilda was far superior to the rather crude and unrealistic Lego. The tiled roofs and the windows were very convincing...... I am surprised that it is not being manufactured today. I hope that it will be resurrected one day!
Monday December 26, 2011, 04:32 PM
k elms said:
i have a betta bilda building set number 1 don't know whether to let my 5 year old have it - its complete i believe, didn't know if was valuable or not, any advice would be fab, thanks email@example.com
Wednesday March 14, 2012, 12:01 PM
Oh The joys and memories of Betta Bilda! I still think that it was far superior to Lego. I was given my first set in the early 60's as a Xmas present. Then every Xmas afterwards, I would find a small 'accessory box' in my Xmas stocking. One year, this little box contained a wheel shaped disc, that was threaded through in a hollow brick. This opened up new horizons for me. I built a windmill with sails that actually spun! Well they did when I pushed them. Fantastic! Bring back Betta Bilda I say.
Wednesday May 2, 2012, 06:05 PM
My Sister reminded me today of the 'garage doors'. They were red, and broke far too easily in our clumsy, childish, fingers.
Friday May 4, 2012, 05:57 PM
Padi Phillips said:
Ahhh, Betta Bilda. I got my first set for Christmas when I was 5 years old, and gradually over time this was added to with the various 'top-up' boxes of components that were available from Woolworth's. I received a much bigger set when I was seven years old, together with a chest in which to store it in made by my grandfather. The chest has various compartments to store all the various components. I still have this set, and though I haven't used it for many years I shall never part with it. I'd like to replenish my set, as some parts, including the notoriously fragile garage doors have become broken, and for some reason my collection of bases has become rather small.... Oh, for 2/6 and Woolworth's now!
Saturday August 25, 2012, 07:20 PM
Liz from Kenya said:
I used to save my pocket money, then go into Woolies and buy more bits for my Betta Bilda collection. LOVED it, especially the curved bricks that you could build towers and rockets with.
Was heartbroken when I got in from school one day to discover my mother had donated all my toys to a jumble sale as I was too old to play with them - I was all of ten!
Saturday December 29, 2012, 02:22 PM
gee marie kane said:
to Liz from Kenya the lose of our toys is always heart breaking, its almost like our parents cant wait for us to grow up n leave. the beta bilder is one of the things that is left from my childhood aswell as my 1973 zoo. i love it, ive just rebuilt a Swiss type chalet, it took me ages to do the roof properly!!lol however my friend only afew years ago had his childhood Lego thrown out by his spoilt brat flat mate! so we get that even though its replaceable its not the same!!
Wednesday February 13, 2013, 10:18 PM
Actually....better than Lego - which is for those with limited imagination. As a child, I loved Betta Bilda and had hours of fun making everything from castles to bridges. Probably one of the best toys I ever had!
Tuesday May 14, 2013, 10:52 AM
I had (and still have) a great set built up over Christmas after Christmas. Several castle sets although those draw-bridges were too flimsy. Special pieces (never enough) were the white windows and the glass bricks. I agree about the garage doors tho' I still have some. I thought the green roof tiles a bit of an eyesore as around here all the pointed roofs had slate on. I had lots of quarter round bricks, but my cousins I dimly recall had much larger curved beams. I got a hack-saw to cut a few castle bits and base units to half size. Before long I hope to play with mine again, but a good wash will be needed - the set, not the owner.
Wednesday May 29, 2013, 06:48 AM
I too had Betta Bilda, the drawbridges, round bricks, garage doors, clear bricks, the "steering wheel" brick, everything that's been mentioned. My dad didn't rate Lego, saying Betta Bilda was far more educational, and I have to agree with him. I wish it had been kept now, so I could show my sons. My elder son loved his Lego, but he didn't have a choice!
Monday August 5, 2013, 08:25 AM
Mick Bolton said:
Betta Bilda was far superior to Lego in my book
Tuesday November 19, 2013, 07:35 AM
John Harper said:
I share the same memories as all those above and still have some BB in a couple if Tupperware boxes. And I also had the "tower" type construction set mentioned in an anonymous post above. It had square green painted hardboard bases into which you "plugged" upright red plastic posts, which could then be connected by "girders" of the same colour. To make a bridge on which you could play with Matchbox sized cars, the set/system included very thin yellow "road" sections with black road markings. I too wish I could put a name to this very fragile and easily broken construction set. It was on sale in the early 60's at the same time as BB.
Friday January 17, 2014, 08:19 PM
Rachel Edwards said:
We have found a set of Betta Bilda bricks etc... would anyone be interested in it?
Wednesday February 12, 2014, 08:19 PM
Ah the memories!I had forgotten about the red bricks and clear bricks.I clearly remember my more intelligent friend constructing a Cathedral from a picture in the instruction booklet.
Can only assume that lego was promoted more successfully.
Friday February 14, 2014, 05:19 PM
Having just watched the Lego movie I decided to bring out my Betta Bricks to show my 9yo son how we used to use our imagination in building. I still have an instruction manual with the blocks. Rooves are tricky.
Wednesday April 16, 2014, 02:23 AM
I was given the No 1 set for Christmas c.1964; everyone else had Lego (which I thought was rubbish, it was so unrealistic.) But I was never given any more-I'd no idea that supplementary sets were available! I still have the set, in its original packaging; may get it out in a few years for grandchildren-my boys weren't interested, Lego was all to them.
Sunday April 20, 2014, 06:48 AM
Colin w said:
Had a set in the 60s no one else around seems to remember it far better than the lumpy Lego bricks
Sunday April 20, 2014, 08:17 PM
Seeing those roof tiles and panes for windows brings back memories.
Saturday May 10, 2014, 12:45 PM
My grandchildren still play with my set. Kept in a case that my dad used when he was a painter and decorator back in the sixties.
Sunday May 18, 2014, 04:43 PM
Lesley I said:
I still have my betta builder and reading all the comments reminded me of going to woollies to buy extra sets. I keep it just in case I ever have g children. I had many hours fun building
Wednesday May 28, 2014, 06:48 PM
I was born in England during 1958 and migrated to Australia in 1964, but had to left most of my toys including my construction set. I couldn't remember what brand it was other than it wasn't Lego, although what do you know when you're five years old. I built and rebuilt many different houses for many cold, wet days. What I could recall was the green individual roof tiles, which was clever, and the red window frames. I searched online about this tonight and found this website. This is it! I had quite a set and my younger brother shared me with it. Why does this matter? During the couple of weeks after we arrived in Adelaide my mum bought me my first Airfix bagged model kit, a 1/72 Mk1 Gloster Gladiator with a tube of glue as well as a W.E.Johns 'Biggles' novel. While I moved on from Biggles I'm still a big reader, and I still build model kits. Still, I wish we kept the Betta Bilda sets as our sons (21 and 24 y.o.) have kept their many Lego sets. Perhaps I was their problem?
Tuesday July 8, 2014, 10:48 AM
Yes, this was so much better than Lego ~ and I certainly can't agree with the comment that it was a cheaper version of Lego. This was a great toy for boys (and girls?) probably best for over 7 years old whereas Lego was until quite recently I think really for younger children. I remember the roof tiles too, it was so well designed and really allowed you to be creative (not the case with Lego current complicated offerings where the kit is designed to build one specific item). Bettabuilda should have taken the world by storm, and perhaps it was only a lack of marketing nouse which meant that most children had to make do with inferior Lego! I wonder when they stopped making it?
Monday November 24, 2014, 08:38 AM
Every time I tried to play with Betta Bilda out my dad would completely take over, he loved it! We always made a farm house and outbuildings. I had some tiny plastic farm animals but also had a lion and a giraffe which seemed to live quite happily amongst the cows and sheep. I can even remember the smell of the bricks, a bit plasticky but lovely. I would love to find it and make that farm again.
Wednesday November 26, 2014, 04:41 PM
loved my betta builda, started with basic set and every two weeks bought more bricks; windows, etc,
I built a castle and played for hours with my toy solders, I still have it in the attic but sadly I've lost a lot of the tiles to build it on.
it was so much better than Lego in being more realistic, roof tiles and windows and doors, could have been improved if these opened.
Tuesday December 2, 2014, 06:17 PM
just saw this love it when a was a kid
Saturday December 13, 2014, 08:02 PM
To my surprise, my sister had kept my better bilda bricks and her son found them in his wardrobe whilst looking for board games to play. They must be at least 10 years old. What memories, what fun I had, surprised to see some of these bricks still sold on ebay today..
Sunday December 21, 2014, 03:28 PM
Carol pt2 said:
Sorry, it should say, the bricks must be at least 47 years old and not 10 years, as that was my age when I played with the Better Bilda bricks.. Senior moment :-)
Sunday December 21, 2014, 03:56 PM
I will never forget my Betta bilda set. I think I had it 40 years ago and when I left home my mum kept it in a tin box and all the new kids over the years to follow went straight to the tin box, so it was played with over and over until she sadly passed away seven years ago. I was the only child in my community that owned Betta bilda. Everyone else owned Lego. I am going to try and buy some more to build with my grandson.
Sunday February 8, 2015, 08:21 PM
Andy Stephens said:
I bought a second hand set but cannot remember how the green roof tiles fix onto the bricks/walls.
I don't seem to have any bricks that are angled on one side or that have anything where the green tiles can be clipped onto?
Is it my imagination that the roof was fixed onto the building?
Saturday February 21, 2015, 08:50 AM
Steve Smith, Salford, England. said:
I agree with everyone's comments on betta bilda. Got mine for Xmas back In the mid 60s. My brother was bought a Lego set at the same time. He soon lost interest in it when he saw all the different things I was building compared to the limited, unrealistic, and bulky things he was attempting to build. Castles, houses, garages, ( I to used it with my matchbox cars) planes, boats etc. I was mad on space flight and astronomy (still am) back then, so built a Saturn 5 Apollo moon rocket with my set. It may have been square but it had everything even a lunar module that fit inside the third stage of the main rocket, just like the real thing. Had hours of fun with it. Always wanted the proper Airfix Saturn 5 Apollo model but couldn't afford it, ha ha. Probably wouldn't have lasted any where near as long as my betta bilda set up. Only looked up this sight as a couple of weeks ago my brother and myself were reminicing about how superior it was to Lego. Along with my Meccano set they were the best things I was given as a kid. Should still be going today.
Monday March 9, 2015, 02:57 PM
got a basic set and added to it every week with some of my pocket money. more realistic than lego as it had half bricks and windows and doors, I remember building a fort and with working draw bridge. might have been poor mans Lego, but it was and is by far better.
Tuesday May 26, 2015, 08:33 PM
I wanted Lego back in the 60's. Mum and Dad got me Betta Bilda. I was disappointed. Then I started to use it. Guess who wanted more Betta Bilda? I loved it.
Monday August 10, 2015, 04:10 PM
I can remember my mum treating me to a box of Betta Bilda in Woolworths back in the 60s .I Played with it for hours ,at a car boot last weekend i picked up a box of BB it was the green roof tiles that jogged my mind .I bought the box for £2 .
Tuesday August 11, 2015, 01:37 PM