1966 - 1970 Vintage Action Man ('VAM') issued in UK.
'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 the success of his American 'brother', the successful GI Joe figures of two years earlier in 1964, 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, red), and only minor differences in detailing occurred. At the tail end of this first period, a softer squeezable head were produced. Europe too were to have versions of the figure called Geyperman, and Group Action Joe.
Read more on the Forum here.
1970 - 1976 Action Man flocked ('fuzzy') hair and 'gripping hands'
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 was perfected in the UK 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 soft 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. The first batch original gripping hands were a little delicate, especially when dressing the figure and a protective cup, metal at first then nylon, was included with the figure to help guide the fingers past the inner seams found inside the sleeves. These first batch perish and go hard after a few decades.
Later versions were to benefit from stronger hands and these survive the ravages of time a little better. 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.
Read more on the Forum here.
A Tank Commander flocked hair Action Man
1976 - 1984 Action Man final guise, 'Eagle Eyes' and 'Dynamic Physique'
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.
The final Action Man from 1981 with 'Sharpshooter' head could pivot upwards to a degree not possible with the traditional heads to add to the realism of a prone shooting position. Towards the end (that was 1984), cheaper and faster production methods resulted in perceivably less-well made, thinner fabrics and plastic webbing in place of stitched material. Star Wars was all the rage in the late 1970s and the old Action Man formula tried to evolve into something it wasn't and the over sensitivity to political correctness of the period ultimately contributed to his loss of popularity.
Today. most of this period of figures suffer from the neck post failing and the head dropping off.
By 1984 his first chapter was coming to a end. He was replaced by 'Action Force' - a smaller action figure started in 1982, copying on the successes of Kenner with their mini-sized Star Wars figures. He was not to re-emerge until 1994 a changed man.
Read more on the Forum here.
1993 - 2006 Action Man ('MAM') click here to visit this new section
From a collectors perspective, the 1993 return of Action Man figure was disappointing. To children it was another toy. The the modern Action Man (MAM) figure seemingly learnt nothing of the lessons from the vintage Palitoy Action Man, which by its retirement was an exceptional toy that reached its final guise by a process of evolution. The new figure appeared to throw away the textbook and start again to a degree, and with it valuable lessons which could be learnt from the past. The new figure didn't hold complex poses, had clumsy hands that would not hold the new out-of-scale weapons, and was made crudely by comparison to its 30 year old 'father'. But children's play patterns had changed, a generation on, now the formula was to sell the figure and clothing and accessories in one purchase. Children were now more likely to reject the purchase of additional accessories at 80% the price of a new figure - they would rather pay the extra for another figure!
The original Palitoy Action Man borrowed uniform lines from history - namely Viet Nam, the Second World War and modern issues. It seemed every kid in the 1960s and 1970s had a Father, Uncle or Grandad who served during WWII and we as children acted out the heroic acts of those special family members with Airfix kits and Action Man. We all wanted the Astronaut figure when the Apollo 11 mission landed man on the Moon.
The new Hasbro Action Man's initial uniforms by comparison were generic, contrived and unauthentic. The new Hasbro theme was an all-action fictitious hero, day-glo clad, multi-weaponed eco-warrior, positioned somewhere between James Bond and Indiana Jones (who had the scar first?) and any number of Xtreme sports personalities! The new Hasbro Action Man gained new foes such as Dr. X, No-Face and Professor Gangrene. Again, draw comparisons with all of James Bond's myriad of evil foes, with their signature clothing and clumsy henchmen! The Action figures came comparatively cheap, and typical children would own a multitude of figures, but uniforms and weapons were commonly bonded onto the figure so exchange of clothing and weapons, and ultimately inventiveness in play were now a distant memory. Action Man's headsculpt changed many more times than the original, which is a strange policy to adopt, but the tell-tale Action Man trademark scar remained.
The innovative Hasbro packaging was a great improvement over the earlier Palitoy Action Man. A 'wall of orange' greeted children as they visited toy shops. Many more vehicles were created than before to enhance the Hasbro Action Man's new missions (or X-Missions!) - transport to come in handy on land, under the sea, across the snow or ready to traverse Dr.X's evil Island. Action Man had new allies too - the Australian skateboarding 'Flint', and Redwolf the Native American archery specialist.
Hasbro finally pulled the plug on Action Man with some remnants remaining in stores for early 2006 - now Hasbro was marketing the smaller Action Man A.T.O.M figures (Alpha Teens on Machines) easing these gently in (12" figures at first) to win the affections of the children and subtley replace the Action Man for good, the smaller plastic figure again positioned to be Action Man's new successors (David beats Goliath once again!)
Read more on the Forum here.
Dr X - Action Man's evil nemisis
1996 - Action Man Collector's Edition
Hasbro UK Ltd celebrated Action Man's 30th Birthday in 1996 with the issue of a 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition, limited edition boxed Action Man that was more akin to the original Action Man of 1966. He had painted hair, and many accessories based on the 30 year old recipe, only for some reason everything was at a larger scale. It came in a special edition window box, and included inside a reproduction box that was similar design to the first box, albeit in a shoe-box 2 piece shape. The limited edition number of five digits is to be found inkjeted in black to the small of his back. Because of its intended resemblance to it's 30 year old big brother, comparison of the two figures is inevitable. So compare if you will the two Action Men as they stand shoulder-to-chest! Note especially the height difference, and the size of the 1996 Action Man's hands!
The 1966-1996 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition Limited Edition Action Man Set - with (oversized!) period-style accessories. Original Action Man dating from 1966 is shown far left.
In 2003, Hasbro began releasing large boxed sets that contained both a boxed figure, and a large or small window boxed related outfit set Some sets came with a few carded accessories instead of a window box set. One soldier footlocker set was released; the large outer box has a diagonal stripe with "Timeless Collection" as did all 40th Anniversary sets.
The 40th packaging was almost identical to the original items, with the addition of "Anniversary Edition" to all boxes, and "40th" imprinted on all plastic items to clearly distinguish them from original items. All literature and boxes contain the amended copyright "© 1964,2003 Hasbro, Pawtucket, RI 02862 USA." These sets typically retailed for around $30 U.S. There were 23 general release sets all together; numbered 1-21, and 30.
Others numbered between 22 and 29 have been released through collector clubs at premium prices (23; Combat Soldier, and 25; Pilot Dress Parade) since the general releases were cancelled. The figures were generally available in all Blonde, Black, Brown and Auburn hair variants, with the appropriate eye colors. A few sets came with American-ethnic variants. The body itself is simply the Timeless Collection, with a revised copyright, skin tone and head mold.
Who said nostalgia isn't what it used to be? Life truly begins at 40, or so it seems. As Action Man once more goes AWOL from our toy stores, the original Action Man reappears for duty. This time he has been carefully aimed at the growing number of action figure collectors and is as authentic as you could possibly wish. Modellers Loft, a specialist model shop chain based in the south of England has gained the production rights to recreate the original Palitoy Action Man in his 1960's guise.
The key figures, uniforms and packaging have been painstakingly recreated and on launch cost £35.00 for a figure in its original cardboard box, and a uniform tray, packaged as an irresistible bundle. Also included in some bundles are items associated with a third accessory card, which thoughtfully have been included in the set. So this time around, you can buy Action Man, and have him kitted out in just one purchase. Other uniforms are set to follow in a number of phases. Full list posted: Here.
Available now is the Action Soldier with Amoured Car Commander uniform (pictured), Sportsman with Chelsea FC football kit, Action Sailor with Navy Frogman kit (pictured), and Solider with Life Guards uniform. So, now we can re-live our childhoods, AND enhance that of our children's at last.
Early editions did not have reproduction giveaways printed on packaging and items which was later remedied to some degree, but it has shaken the collector's world because caution is to be exercised before purchasing online. Many instances of 4oth items being passed off as the more expensive vintage items have been reported, sometimes by mistake, sometimes by design. Even though produced recently, flaws have surfaced: Namely in choice and quality of materials used and have lead to melting accessories, staining and detaching limbs: Read more: Here
As appealing as ever - Action Man resurfaces to fill a overdue gap in the market.
2016 - 50th Anniversary comeback?
2016 sees the 50th anniversary of the brand and, to celebrate, Hasbro and Art + Science International are bringing back a range of Collector Edition Action Man figurines. Art + Science is producing five collector editions, two will be released in June 2016 to coincide with Father’s Day and Armed Forces Day.
The range of five will feature the classic British infantrymen, the skier, the parachutists, the scuba diver and, to remember 1966, the footballer. The collector editions will be inspired by the best of the Action Man brand and will feature accessories, gripping hands, the flock hair and the famous scar. Other features like Eagle Eye and Muscle Torso will appear in later releases. Each Action Man figure will be presented in a special diorama scene, with a 50th Anniversary Edition dog tag and illustrated Action Man manual.
The original Action Man artist, Douglas Hart, will be providing the illustrations for the packaging and manual. This unique range is being developed exclusively for the gift and collectors’ market and it is hoped that it triggers many fond memories of everyone’s childhood play.
Through a series of themed releases starting in 2016 they hope to capture the very best of the Action Man brand.
The Anniversary box is a shoe-box style 2 piece box, the lid in full colour, and the tray a brown card, inside there is badges to apply to the figure, and a period style.
LINKS TO ALL PAGES ON ACTION MAN HQ
Action Man Brief History from 1966 - 2016