Before there was HMAF, there was Action Man and GI Joe…
It all began with Hasbro back in 1964. US toy giant Hasbro created a line of 12″ military GI Joe action figures based on the soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines of the US Armed Forces.
Then in 1966, licensed by Hasbro, Palitoy released their own British version of GI Joe – Action Man. The very first figures in the Action Man range were the WWII-inspired Action Soldier, Action Sailor and Action Pilot.
Throughout the seventies Action Man was an enormously popular toy which Palitoy recreated in numerous adventure and sports as well as military versions. He was given a range of accessories and vehicles and along the way acquired flock hair, moveable eyes and gripping hands. Some versions could even talk!
Palitoy closed its doors for the last time in 1984 but in the 90’s military style Action Man figures based on the American GI Joe range were once again available in the UK this time thanks to Hasbro itself.
From the mid-90’s onwards new Action Man figures were still released though in generic ‘adventure’ outfits with no direct military connection.
All of which leads to 2009 and the launch of British company Character Option’s new line of military-inspired action figures and toys HM Armed Forces. In close consultation with the Ministry of Defence UK design company Designworks and Character have sought to once again recreate a line of action figures which take direct inspiration from serving military personnel.
One obvious distinction between prior lines of military figures and HMAF is their scale. Whereas Action Man came in the time-served 12″ version, HMAF action figures are in an all new 10″ scale format.
In terms of accuracy, authenticity and attention to detail, qualities for which the early 1960’s Action Man figures are well known, HMAF action figures score very highly.
Its great to see the return of the metal dog tags. But its not just in the uniforms that the attention to detail can be seen. In the range of accessories and vehicles accompanying the HMAF figures an incredible dedication to detail and authenticity is strikingly apparent.
HMAF figures are indeed a worthy successor to GI Joe and Action Man military action figures.
Some of the mainstream media were reporting last week that there were no women figures in Character’s HMAF line up.
Thats not the case at all. There’s a female figure on the way and at least one other in the design stage.
The MoD are stressing that they want to see the range reflecting the diversity of serving service men and women in terms of both gender and ethnicity.
Therefore (drumroll) the first female action figure in the HM Armed Forces range will be … an Army Medic wearing desert camouflage. The Medic will be out in time for Xmas 2009.
One footnote, the head sculpt for the medic is in fact based on an employee at Designworks, the Windsor UK based company that designs HM Armed Forces figures for Character Options.
There are already plans for a second female figure. This could be (not confirmed) a frontline Army figure, but will feature the digital head sculpt of Olivia Smales of IMG, a licensing agency to the MoD.
So whilst the Army Medic will be available over the counter by Xmas we may have to hold out till 2010 for Olivia’s frontline reinforcements.
The whole concept of the new range of HM Armed Forces toys was summed up by Brigadier Mark van der Lande at the HMAF launch yesterday “To promote the image, ethos and reputation of our service personnel”.
Contrary to inaccurate weekend press reports there are of course action figures in the line that reflect the diversity of serving members of HM Armed Forces. And many others are planned.
Snapped on display yesterday at the HMAF Press Launch at RAF Northolt were three figures reflecting the diversity of the Armed Forces.
Only thing missing now is a picture of certain national newspaper editors chowing down to a plate of humble pie…
To be sure, 1966 was an inspirational year for the UK. Not only did England win the World Cup, but Palitoy launched the Action Man.
Over the years a pristine vintage Action Man has become about as rare as an England victory in a major tournament. A much sought after 1960’s first wave Action Man figure mint in the box can today easily sell for a four figure sum.
Not surprisingly, comparing todays HM Armed Forces figures with the vintage 60’s Palitoy Action Man you’d have to conclude that the detail and articulation on the HMAF figures is far superior.
Just as Palitoy introduced a number of innovations over the years – gripping hands, flocked hair, eagle eyes, talking figures – let’s hope that Character do the same for HM Armed Forces. After all, Character Options award winning Doctor Who action figures have undergone continual refinement in terms of their sculpts, paintwork and articulation since they first launched in 2005.
If HMAF thrives and develops like the original Action Man then 2009 will in time be remembered by fans as fondly as 1966.