Thursday, 7 May 2009

Action Men Fight Again

by Kathryn Hadley

‘Action Man’ toys were born in 1966, when Palitoy launched its mass-production of these lifelike figures with moving joints and eyes. Production stopped, however, in the late 1990s. Over the past 18 months, the UK’s Character Group toy firm has been working with the Ministry of Defence to produce a modern version of the toy. The new figures will go on sale tomorrow, on the anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day in Europe.

The models will be sold under the ‘HM Armed Forces’ brand name and include three different types of 25-centimetre (10-inch) action figures representing each branch of the armed forces: the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. According to Character Group, the models are precise scaled-down versions of real soldiers. Their clothes and equipment are identical to the authentic uniforms. The army Infantryman is dressed, for example, in the same desert combat uniform as troops currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the navy range includes a diver wearing a wetsuit, flippers, mask and oxygen tank.

The company also announced that it would launch its first female soldier before the end of the year, as well as a villain modelled on an al-Qaida terrorist. The initial range already includes a black figure, but the Ministry of Defence said that other ethnic minorities would also be included. Jon Diver, the head of Character Group, explained, however, that the villains would not be dressed as Arabs wearing head-dresses. He was quoted in an article published on the website of The Guardian:
‘We don't want to get into that all […] We are asked by retailers to have a bad
figure, so we came up with a generic character.’
The range also includes military equipment and vehicles. The figures will sell for between £15 and £40 and the equipment will cost up to £100 for a pair of Deluxe Night Vision Goggles!

Palitoy was founded, in 1919, as the Cascelloid Company by Alfred Pallet. The first toy to be produced was a windmill in 1920. Five years later, the first doll was produced. Although toy production slowed down as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War, it recovered in the late 1940s. Palitoy was sold to General Mills in 1968. It became Palitoy Company in 1980, when Palitoy, Denys Fischer and Chad Valley broke away from General Mills. Alfred Pallet died in 1982 and, in 1986, the company ceased trading. Factories, toy moulds and copyrights were all subsequently bought by Hasbro.

As to the future of the HM Armed Forces Action Man, Jon Diver believes that:
‘What makes this unique is bringing the MoD in to authenticate the figures.
Could it be as big as Doctor Who? I certainly think it has a chance.’

A slideshow on the website of The Guardian depicts the development of the Action Man figures from 1966 to the present models.

Toys are not just a means of entertainment, however. This article by John Brewer charts the history of the educational toy and reveals the importance of toys to understand changing conceptions of childhood and social attitudes towards play, from the 16th century to the present day. Childhood Revisited: The Genesis of the Modern Toy

In the 4th century BC Plato and Aristotle were already advocating the benefits of children’s games as a stimulus to learning and good citizenship. For further information, read our article Child's Play in Classical Athens

To find out about toys, games and childhood in medieval England, read our article Child's Play in Medieval England

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