1966 - The Action Man / G.I. Joe legend begins...

'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 - 'Fuzzy' hair

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 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.

 


A Tank Commander flocked hair Action Man


A British Major 'Eagle Eye' Action Man

 

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.

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.

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...

 

 

1993 - 2006 Action Man returns click here to visit this new section

From a collectors perspective, the 1993 return of Action Man figure was disappointing. To kids it was very exciting. The Hasbro 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 had soul and a kind of dignity - His early uniforms were copies from the Second World War. 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 partly gone. 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!)


Action Man ATOM Axel Hydro Tag (what?)



Action Man Aqua Blaster

Dr X - Action Man's evil nemisis

SPECIAL EDITIONS

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.

2004 - GI JOE 40th Anniversary Figure

A 40th Anniversary Action Man was made available in 2004 which is very close to the original figure and includes Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Pilot.

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 manual. In the picture opposite the original 1966 figure is to the left (value approx £45-£65), and the new reproduction figure (approx £15-£20) is to the right.

The new figure is the closest thing yet to a reproduction of the original, only minor changes in production technology separate them. The new figure is well made well and has the feel of real durability - much better in fact than the departed 1994-2006 Action Man range! Standing a little taller, he has GI JOE dog tags 'by Hasbro' and "G.I.JOE™ ©2003 HASBRO, INC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED MADE IN CHINA' is reverse embossed diagonally across his right buttock.

A range of Anniversary period accessory cards in the first issue style, has also been launched, again stating discreetly that is is 'ANNIVERSARY EDITION'. You should take care that you identify which is which when buying - a collector will have little difficulty differentiating the new from old. Both old and new figures are both very attractive purchases, but there is obviously a great price differential between the two!

 

2006 - Action Man 40th Anniversary Figure

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.

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. Action Man HQ recommended!

As appealing as ever - Action Man resurfaces to fill a overdue gap in the market.

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Action Man Brief History
1966 - 2006