VINTAGE ACTION MAN
1966 saw the arrival of Action Man in Great Britain - Palitoy had fought off competition from Lines Bros. to obtain the sole UK production rights from Hasbro, who made the US equivalent action figure - G.I. Joe.
Palitoy's British version was launched at the Brighton Toy Fair and consisted of a soldier, a sailor and a pilot in basic uniforms along with dog tags. Action Man would be constantly altered and given new uniforms and equipment, read on....
ACTION MAN HISTORY TIMELINE:
1964 - GI Joe action figures introduced in the United States by toy firm Hasbro.
1966 - Action Man launched in the UK by Palitoy - a simple copy of GI Joe produced in GB under licence.
1968 - Action Man sportsman and Talking range launched, including Footballer, Cricketer and Painted Head Talking Commander (10 recorded commands) - when string in chest is pulled.
1970 - Palitoy develops distinct figures for UK market, initially with British / German World War II uniforms.
Distinctive fuzzy 'flock hair' introduced, along with beards. New flock head Talking Commander introduced. The new heads all had blue eyes
1973 - Gripping rubber hands appear - a major improvement as earlier figures could barely hold weapons. Each figure sold with special thimble to protect delicate rubber fingers during dressing and undressing.
Famous accessories include Scorpion tank, jeep, helicopter, motorbike and sidecar, inflatable boat with electric motor.
1976 - Eagle Eyes make first appearance. Small slider switch in back of head allows Action Man to glance left and right.
1977-78. The 1977 figure and Talking commander was a pre issue Blue Pants with only 5 commands Hybrid figure with shorter neck post released
1979 - New "Blue Pants" - sun tanned muscular figure introduced.
New 'sharpshooter head position' allows more realistic fighting poses.
1980 - New direction, as 'Captain Zargon the Space Pirate' and 'ROM the Robot' introduced. They fail to halt sales slump.
1984 - Action Man is discontinued.
1996 - New range of fantasy-style Action Man appears, with no connection to real military.
2006 - Production of familiar figures ceased. Action Man brand name is currently attached to Hasbro's 'ATOM' range - smaller plastic fantasy figures, with no visible sign of Action Man pedigree.
VINTAGE ACTION MAN 1st ISSUE - Painted Head, Hard Hands 1966-1970
The original and now vintage Action Man figures have a moulded vinyl painted head (which shrink and become harder) and also have a livid scar on the cheek (registered as a trademark), identical to G.I. Joe. The later Talking Commander figures often have a soft (squeezable) vinyl painted head. Later Action Man figures of the seventies tend to have a pinker coloration than G.I. Joe.; the feet are of the smaller original G.I. Joe variety. These figures are held together by elastic with crimped metal eyelets through which rivets passed, for the legs, and metal hooks retaining the neck post and shoulders.
Pre-1970 bodies use the painted-rivets similar to G.I. Joe, but 1970–1977 bodies have chromed rivets which were not used on the Hasbro U.S. version.
Especially noticeable with 1970+ figures is the limb sections tend to be slightly smaller than the G.I. Joe counterpart, hence Action Man is slightly shorter in height, very similar to the "Masterpiece Edition" G.I. Joe. The pelvis, also smaller, has an extra ridge on each side immediately above the buttocks, which also distinguishes it from the U.S. version, trademarkings aside. The Canadian G.I. Joe body uses this pelvis. Bodies from 1978 on are all-plastic construction, with a flexible rubber connection for the neck post (this is subject to deterioration).
VINTAGE ACTION MAN - Flocked hair , Gripping Hands - 1970-1973
The first innovation for Action Man was a form of flocking giving the effect of a short "fuzzy" hairstyle in 1970, very similar to the hair flocking used on early "Ken" dolls produced by Mattel.
With the introduction of the soft flock-haired head, all figures came with blue eyes unlike the painted heads and G.I. Joe Adventurers that still had brown eyes in some instances. This flocking innovation crossed back over the Atlantic and was introduced for G.I. Joe within the year. The equipment for Hasbro's G.I. Joe was assembled and tested in the UK before being crated and shipped to Hong Kong for mass production; Hong Kong was also the location of Palitoy's production. G.I. Joe's "sea adventurer" was a bearded redhead, never used in the UK market.
The Action Man Sailor now dressed for the Royal Navy sported a similarly produced beard in blonde or brown only. Unlike G.I. Joe, Action Man was truly ubiquitous; he had only one face, regardless of euro-centric nationality, whereas G.I. Joe had two ethnic variants, commonly referred to as "Foreign Heads"; one European, one Japanese. Palitoy did not market the brown-skinned figure sold as African American in the pre-70s G.I. Joe lineup.
For the initial 1970-71 production run, some "soft" painted heads (some perhaps left over from the Star Scheme were treated to the flock-haired makeover by Palitoy and distributed to the public. These figures are commonly found as the blue-eyed variant, but the rare combination of flocked hair and brown eyes can also be found on an original Action Man. There are also a range of skin tones, some were paler, some were warmer in tone; all these permutations give each and every figure a personality of their own. The fact that these were hand-painted is often evidenced in the appearance of variations such as mismatched eye coloration. Given the length of time the figure was in production, it is quite possible to find heads that have been altered, but that still may appear to be "factory". The only Action Man that came with sideburns and not a full beard, was the "Georgie Best" footballer figure.
In 1973, the hands changed from a hard hand to a soft, gripping hand.
Early gripping hand versions (non-eagle eye types) have hands that darken in colour and literally disintegrate over a long period of time.
VINTAGE ACTION MAN - Eagle Eyes, Blue Pants 1976-1978
The next major body change saw an improved head with "Eagle Eyes" introduced in 1976.
The design utilized a mechanism operated by a simple lever at the back of the head, moving the gaze of the eyeballs back and forth - an improvement on the fixed stare at the price of a slightly larger head, and the loss of the original facial features of the previous 10 years. The head was only available in brown or blonde fuzzy hair and only blue eyes, with bearded versions of each figure available. This head had more of a 'tan' and shine than the outgoing painted eyes figures and gave Action Man a permanent look of sheer astonishment.
In 1978, the transformation was completed when a totally new muscular figure (Blue Pants) was introduced and was instantly recognisable by it's bright blue moulded trunks and sun-tan.
Trademarks and ID tags
From 1966-77, Action Man has "Made In England By Palitoy Under Licence From Hasbro ® 1964" on his lower back, instead of on his right buttock, as with the US G.I. Joe figure. Early talker variants were similarly marked.
Later standard figures from 1978-1984 were marked "CPG Products Corp 1978"; Later talker variants were marked "© 1975 Hasbro® Pat Pend Pawt R.I. Made in Japan" or "General Mills. Toy Group. Europe © 1975 Pat. No. 1458647". Talker torsos were held together with 2 screws recessed in the left and right shoulders, and from 1978, 2 additional screws above the hip line.
Early Action Man came with a dogtag similar to G.I. Joe's thin stamped steel tag.
From 1970 onwards, Palitoy devised their own design, made of hard plastic with "bullet holes" passing through the logo, and cast in grey or green, which was used until the 1980s.
Talkers have the tag attached directly to the pull cord, standard bodies have the tag attached to a small chain.
In the 1980s, a modified identity tag with decals to be applied was released; these decals vary according to the figure.
All original Action Man uniforms were tagged inside the neck collar; the early issue even had the bullet holes of the box logo; this was later discontinued.
The fabric used for the tags also varied, by the late seventies/early eighties a synthetic fabric was used.
Boxes - Packaging;
The first issue basic figures were packaged in boxes just slighter taller than the figure itself, with dynamic graphics depicting the figures in action poses on the front and back and photos of the various accessory sets on the left and right side panels. The graphics were direct copies of those used for the U.S. 1964–1968 production G.I. Joe. The boxes featured wood grain background detail for soldiers, blue background for sailor, and yellow/brown for pilot. The boxes opened at the top, rather than the lidded version used in the U.S, for G.I. Joe.
The figure enclosed was dressed in basic fatigues appropriate to the military branch; but since this did not match the box graphics, it raised truth in advertising issues, since the purchaser could rightly assume the contents "should" match the packaging. As a result, the boxes were modified to include a photo image on the lower right of the actual contents; and from 1970 on, the graphics depicted the actual dressed figure as enclosed.
As with G.I. Joe, during the 60s, Action Man had a wooden footlocker (Kit locker box) with plastic tray insert to store his accessories in. Overall dimensionally identical to the G.I. Joe item, but the production details varied.
Starting in 1970, Palitoy largely departed from Hasbro's lineup though some items and accessories and vehicles were still based on Hasbro's moulds. Palitoy created a wide range of uniform sets for the UK market. British military formed a large part of this range, with ceremonial outfits being among the most spectacular. From a collectors standpoint, they are very desirable. Many outfits were available as complete boxed figure sets. Some outfits were sold in a box format, some came with a Locker Box to store the outfit when not in use.
There were six "soldiers of the century", which matched Hasbro's six "soldiers of the world", with the exception of the Japanese outfit and figure, which was never offered in the Palitoy range. These sets included an "intelligence manual" that covered all the available offerings in the lineup, and pages on light and heavy weapons, officer rank insignia, and morse code. As with G.I. Joe, early issue clothing is consistently of a heavier and more durable fabric although in terms of scale, the thinner fabric is more appropriate. The standard boxed soldier from 1973 onwards was outfitted with the then current "NATO" pullover, khaki lightweight trousers, short boots, scarf, black beret, and SLR rifle typical of the British Army barracks wear of the time. A contemporary boxed talking field officer was also available.
Palitoy paid great attention to detail to their early uniforms and their accessories.
There is no question that the standard dropped by the end of the 70s, due to rising production costs.
With 60s and early 70s variations, often accessories were die-cast instead of plastic; the uniforms themselves were of heavy cotton; chevrons were typically embroidered and sewn on, rather than paper decals.
Over the many years Action Man was in production, almost every item produced had a multitude of variations.
Over the course of Action Man production, a wide variety of boxed sets were sold; one popular at the time of the Colditz TV series in the early seventies was "Escape from Colditz", which provided both. Included were reproductions of a variety of Prisoner of war artifacts from Colditz, and a history. An "Escape from Colditz" board game was already released by Parker Brothers (UK), a division of Palitoy.
The Radio BackPack was also sold in a deluxe set with Action Man Field Officer. Spain's Geyperman, although a Hasbro Licensee, used Palitoy's product line as the basis for their product, as can be seen in the referenced offering.
Literature and star scheme
All boxed figures came with certain pieces of literature; usually an "Equipment Manual"; a catalogue of then current offerings that a kid could wish for, a star scheme card and a usage guide for the specific figure type that illustrated how to use and care for the flex hands, eagle eyes, etc., as appropriate.
Some outfits and figure sets came with instructions for proper use and care, they illustrate the identical items offered for G.I. Joe at that time; the only variation is the absence of Marine items offered in the U.S.
Other related items were also produced; in the 60s-70s there were companion leaflets for various sets that provided background information on the actual activity/military division, etc.; In 1977 six novels were published under the pseudonym Mike Brogan, and into the 80s, Action Man annuals were released.
Virtually all Action Man packaging from 1966 - on; the more expensive the item, the more stars it came with, with a scale of 1 to 5 stars. These stars were intended to be clipped from the packaging, and affixed to a "Star Scheme" sheet that came with boxed figures. It had spaces for up to 21 stars, and included a list of the various items available for varying amounts of stars collected, with a "free" unclothed figure being the top item. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, his dog, and various outfits were available over the life of the program, which continued till the end of Action Man's production in 1984. Figures redeemed through the star scheme were sent in a plain manila cardboard box. The Star Scheme is credited with the poor availability of intact packaging for collectors.
Carded accessories and weapons
Small items were offered on blister pack carding in the 70s - 80s; Earlier versions of the robin James sullivan toys from the sixties were identical to G.I. Joes'; woodgrain background, plastic wrapped, with a small rivet hole for display/retail. The early items mirrored the G.I. joe releases, and were therefore primarily US weaponry. A vast array of small and heavy weapons were produced and marketed in this manner for the Action Man line. Examples such as the Emergency Highway were sold in the late seventies and early eighties. They were mostly priced to be affordable for children to purchase with their pocket money. Details that varied over the course of time were trademark stamping, coloration and straps; earlier items had elastic straps, later issues had plastic.
Among the larger accessories produced for Action Man were versions (not to true 1/6 scale) of the current British Army equipment: the Scorpion tank which is the exception in being very true to scale, Spartan APC, Ferret armoured car, the 105 mm Light Gun, Airportable Land Rover and trailer. There were also a Fire Tender, D.U.K.W., a VTOL "Pursuit" aircraft, Army Helicopter "Capture Helicopter", backpack Helicopter, Motorcycle with Sidecar, another true to scale offering; "Power-Hog", Police motorcycle, Submarine, Multi-terrain vehicle, Jeep, and a Trailer. Other large sets included a Training tower with zip line and the Mobile operations HQ. There was also a replica rigid inflatable boat with a battery powered outboard engine. The Space capsule was produced in 1970, even though Great Britain had no Astronaut program.
American Green Beret SOTC
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Armoured Car Commander*
Beachhead Assault *
Battle of Britain Pilot
Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards)
British Army Officer
British Infantryman (SOTC)
Camp Kommandant (Colditz)
Crash Crew (Silver)
Deep Sea Diver
Escape Officer (Colditz)
Field Training Exercise
Footballer Aston Villa
Footballer 'cards' (various kits & colours)
Footballer Glasgow Rangers
Footballer Leeds Utd
Footballer Manchester Utd
Footballer Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs)
Footballer West Ham Utd
Footballer World Cup
French Foreign Legion
French Resistance Fighter SOTC
Frogman (black early then later orange)
German Staff Officer
German Stormtrooper SOTC
Go Kart (Driver)
Green Beret SOTC
High Altitude (Explorer)*
Landing Signal Officer
Medic (see also Army) (2 versions in 1978)
Marines Combat Uniform
Mountain and Arctic
Parachute Regiment (INT)
Racing Car (Driver)
Red Devil (Skydiver)
RNLI Sea Rescue
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Mountie (Star scheme)
Royal Marines (Ceremonial)
Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic (see also Mountain and Arctic and Ski Patrol)
Royal Marines Exploration Team
Royal Military Police
Russian Infantryman SOTC
Secret Mission to Dragon Island
Ski Patrol* (see also Mountain and Arctic)
Talking Commander (three variants)
Underwater Film Unit