29 March 2010

Icons of our time - Action Man.

Born the same year England won the world cup, Action Man is the one toy it's largely acceptable for grown men to enjoy, I'm not sure about actually play with, but just enjoy.
There's no denying it, this twelve inch hero is one cool cat. I'm talking about the original one here - if there was ever any doubt, not the gay new fictitious moulded plastic 'hi-tech' ones.
The original concept was the first of it's kind - a fully poseable 'artist's dummy' style action figure. The first figures available to the UK market were all based on genuine members of the combined armed forces - soldiers, sailors and pilots coming complete with replica issued uniforms and accessories and each containing a dog tag. Until 1970 he was moulded with painted hair, and then we saw the introduction of his realistic flocked hair based on a typical crew cut, in dark brown and blonde. Some even came with facial hair, this was mainly used to add an edge of realism to the adventurer and explorer versions, there was even a footballer introduced with larger sideburns, probably based on George Best.
With a blue, doe eyed demeanour, grabbing hands - introduced in 1973, 'eagle eyes' - introduced in 1976, each Action Man had seemingly been in the same unfortunate incident and bared the same large scar across his right cheek. These were a very realistic toy, and pretty revolutionary at the time of release. Extremely well crafted and built to last, these figures were in no way scrimping on cheap manufacturing costs, over thirty years later many have stood the test of time and are now highly collectable with the real older rarities fetching pretty serious money.

Produced by Palitoy in Coalville, Leicestershire for nearly twenty years, this poseable figurine was manufactured as a direct licensed copy of America's highly successful Hasbro produced "All Action GI -Joe" figure.
As an eighties kid my toy box was full of the usual stuff, anything from ET, He Man and of course Star Wars figures, I loved all that stuff, especially every one's least favourite installment of the original trilogy The Return of The Jedi, try telling a five year old that Jabba and all his crazy cronies and the Ewoks were not the best thing in the world, I had loads of them. However, I dare say the less familiar GI Joe or Action Force as it was known in Blighty were my true favourites, these were kind of like the small scale version of the Action Man, which by their first release around 1982 had all but replaced the original larger Action Man but each one, good guy or bad bared his original face - complete with sensible hair and of course the trademark scar. Around four inches in height and restricted with stiff arms and legs which didn't become bendy until a few years later, these were introduced as direct competition to the hugely successful Star Wars toys. Not fussy, I tended to lumber them all in together and made Jedi's go head to head with Cobra. I'd spend hour upon hour making them batter each other senseless as they went to war in makeshift bases, hideouts and headquarters anywhere from my bedroom to the living room floor and the back garden in summer time with all it's vast open space, secret nooks and crannies which became streams and trenches and the pre mowed lush green lawn, a perfect substitute for a deep blue ocean.
I'd not be surprised if whoever lives where I grew up is still finding a 'Yak Face' or a 'Duke', or maybe a 'Zartan' and a 'Weequay', whilst tending to their borders.
Having an older brother who was a seventies kid, he was more used to the original Action Man, and had actually saved a couple of his figures in boxed condition for my brother and I when we were old enough and responsible enough to play with them. I can recollect a Sunday drive into the hills to some park, up Derbyshire way, Buxton perhaps, or maybe it was Glossop, somewhere which had more swings, a stream and a bigger slide than the local park we'd normally be happy with. We pretty much destroyed them that day, within days of being given them, an adventure within an adventure, one which ended in tragic curcumstances for old Action Man. I can remember dropping mine off that large slide I mentioned, and breaking both of his legs to the point of unrepair. These had sat happily boxed on top of our kid's wardrobe for several years, and we had written them (and any future collectible gain) off, within a week of getting our grubby little mits on them.
I think my enjoyment of the smaller scale version of Action Man led me to not fully enjoy the big, proper version of him in all his glory, I can still hardly put his little roll neck pullover on now, and that brings back instant memories of a frustrated childhood where I'd rather just take Han Solo or Super Trooper out in my arse pocket than piss about trying to clothe that big daft action man who's arms were now the wrong way around because his jumper and smock wouldn't hang properly, and his special 'grabbing hands' kept falling off, not to mention his plus fours snagging on his by now, backward little kneecaps.
So, as an older chap I can fully appreciate the true aesthetic of our old trusty pal, I'd say they are there simply for admiring, sat static on a shelf, abseiling from the picture rail or climbing up a Yucca, rather than throwing around the concrete of the local park and muddy streams of the local wastelands re-enacting The Heroes of Telemark.
Of course playing army goes hand in hand with any normal childhood, but there's one model who's greater than them all, forget the Royal Guards, Snipers, SAS frogmen and Red Arrow pilots, for me and I'd expect many others, it's the iconic Mountaineer, Adventurer/Explorer who is the coolest thing on the planet, his facial hair gives him the edge, an edge that says, he's been there, seen it and done it, his orange smock, rucksack and boots are not a million miles away from anything yours typing would happily wear himself, if so without further ado, I'll stop going on about it, and you can just look at him...

Excellent photos from a fellow flickr

Action Man's early 80's small scale replacement.

Hat, Adidas trainers and The Casual Connoisseur's nod to the great man.

Original boxes, annual and instructions.

Action Man HQ


  1. And the memories come flooding back. I remember Action Man and Action Force very well - I had boxes full of them. Used to walk to the toy shop with my pocket money every Saturday to catch the latest member of the squad, and I was glued to the TV when those ads came on.

    My Action Men were sold to a spiv at a car boot sale in my teens when mum told me his offer of £12 for the lot (and there was a lot, including that Capture Copter) was a good deal. A little later I found him selling everything separately at £1.50 a pop. I never did forgive my mum.

    A lot of the Action Force figures were dismembered and then rebuilt with swapped heads and legs and stuff.

    What a waste of a good fighting force that was.

    Thanks for this post, great notalgia!


  2. I did the very same mate, sold everything at a car boot for pennies, it was that awkward age where you don't want to be associated with toys and childhood. I remember having a teddy of Roland Rat's mate 'Errol', had him for years, then some man bought it for about twenty pence and gave it to his dog, who tore it to pieces right in front of us in seconds.

  3. Great memories.

    My vast Star War collection is still at my ma's house in the attic, but I refuse to let her get rid. Great memories. Used to buzz off the Cantina crowd: Ponda Baba, Hammerhead, Greedo!

    Action Man was quality as well. Vehicles were mint

  4. excellent post, the polar explorer was one action man I never got, it still hurts...

  5. My dad wouldn't let me have one as: "No son of mine is playing with dolls!"

    Then again I was (probably) about thirteen at the time - so he had a point.

    Great post and images


  6. I've got a book somewhere with every item of clothing produced up until 1982. I'll try and dig it out and take some pics.