Sunday, 8 May 2011

Action Man: (Part One) 1966 - 1976

Action Man' was first introduced in the UK by Palitoy in 1966. The concept was the first of it's kind - a fully poseable artist's dummy style action figure. First figures available to the UK were a Soldier, Sailor and Pilot complete with basic uniforms and dog-tags. His launch was inspired by his American 'brother', the successful GI Joe figures of two years earlier, produced in the US by parent American company the Hasbro Toy Co. Both Action Man and GI Joe were virtually indistinguishable during the first period of hard, painted head figures (black, brown, blond, auburn), and only minor differences in detailing occurred. At the end of this first period, softer squeezable heads were produced that looked almost identical for a while.
1970 saw a major change in the four year old Action man figure. A 'flocking' process that reproduced the effect of a crew cut hairstyle as perfected and the blond and black flock-haired Action Man was introduced. GI Joe was to copy this lead and gained his new look shortly after. The head was remodeled and was pliable with enhanced scar and convincing-looking skin, but the body remained essentially unchanged and in 1973 improved figures with 'gripping hands' were launched to heighten the figure's realism and play factor. These original gripping hands were a little delicate, especially when dressing the figure and protective cups were included with the figure to help guide the fingers past the clumsy seams found inside the sleeves of uniforms.
Later versions were to benefit from stronger hands. Bearded versions were soon launched which it seemed better suited the adventurer-themed costumes as did a rare sideburns (footballer) figure which quickly was given the nickname 'George Best' after Manchester United's star player. A wealth of clothing and vehicles had by now enhanced the quickly expanding range, including sports, space, underwater adventure, and mountaineering.

1976 - Final guise, Eagle Eyes:
The final period of Action Man's first outing saw the introduction of realistic 'Eagle Eyes' of 1976 which were housed in a slightly larger head and operated by a small lever on the back of Action Man's neck. This head had more of a 'tan' and shine than the outgoing painted eyes figures and gave Action Man a permanent look of astonishment. This new look was developed in 1978 when a totally new 'muscular physique' was introduced. Easily recognisable by the molded blue trunks and sun-tan, the figure could hold slightly more complex poses and was built in such a way that it could not be disassembled and ultimately have parts replaced like the earlier elastic-strung figure.
The 1960s and 1970s will have to be acknowledged as a toy age that wasn't always compromised by the cheapest manufacturing processes over quality, but was a golden age of sturdily built, over-engineered toys that have lasted all these years and are now becoming a valuable collectable to a generation of 30-somethings that are more discerning having already been spoilt with the best that Action Man had to offer.