Photos by Rob Tysall
Deep in the heart of Epping Forest there was some real action going on. Ann Evans went along to find out what was happening.
Who doesn’t love a nostalgic reminder of our childhood toys? For some people, memories of those halcyon days of childhood have stayed with them, and their love for their favourite toy is as strong now as it ever was.
That’s certainly the case for Action Man figures, and recently, in a quiet village hall in the heart of North Weald Bassett in Epping Forest, hundreds of Action Men marched onto the stalls laid out for them along with a mountain of uniforms, vehicles and accessories. The occasion being the Action Man Show organised by Roy Minshull.
Action Man was the first ‘doll’ for boys, although he was regarded as an ‘action figure’ or a ‘moveable fighting man’ rather than a doll. He first appeared in toy shops in 1966 based on the US action soldier, G.I. Joe. Made by Hasbro, this 12-inch (30cm) plastic figure with its robust, articulated body strung with elastic, came with a choice of four painted hair colours.
It was hugely successful in the USA until support for the Vietnam War waned and sales began to drop off.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Leicestershire toy company, Palitoy, brought out Action Man in 1966 and continued to develop and increase the range of figures, uniforms, accessories and vehicles until 1984 when production ceased. The end of the line was possibly due to the smaller Star Wars toys and merchandise soaring in popularity and proving too strong competition.
Although production ended, there has been no stopping Action Man. In 1992 Hasbro briefly brought out four Action Men as collector’s limited-edition boxed figures with accessories. These were ‘Duke’, ‘Stalker’, Fuzzy Head Paw Tucket and a villain known as Dr X. Hasbro continued from 1993 to 2006 with many more themed Action Men but moving away from the military to more fantasy-related figures. Additionally, there have been 30th and 40th anniversary collector’s items marking those special milestones of this iconic toy.
For the 50th anniversary in 2016, West Sussex company Art & Science International who are the UK license holders of the Action Man brand, introduced a range of Action Soldiers and England Footballer recreations including a limited edition of 1,966 Action Man Bobby Moore figures in support of the Booby Moore Fund supporting Cancer Research UK’s work fighting bowel cancer.
Roy Minshull has been collecting Action Man for 25 years, and his aim is to have one of everything that has ever been produced. He admits that he’s not far off that goal! Now that lockdown has eased, Roy is delighted to be back running his Action Man Shows in North Weald. Normally he runs three shows per year, but all these came to a sudden stop when Covid struck last year.
“You do worry that people will lose interest and stop collecting,” said Roy. “So it was with great relief that when I arrived this morning to open the village hall doors, there was a car park full of eager dealers ready to set out their stalls, and early bird collectors were soon queuing up to get in.”
Action Man figures and accessories can fetch hundreds and even thousands of pounds when in mint and boxed condition. But also, many enthusiasts simply enjoy collecting simply for the nostalgia and pure enjoyment the character brings.
It’s not just the men who enjoy Action Man, many women are fans too. Roy’s daughter Cally likes to support her dad at his shows. She said, “There’s a really nice community around Action Man, you get to see the softer side of some men as they remember the toys of their childhood.”
There was a lively, cheerful atmosphere at the August event with people finally meeting up again after the long lockdown. The 32 tables were well spaced out for social distancing purposes, each one selling a huge array of figures including G.I. Joes, Action Men with painted hair and flock hair, eagle-eyed Action Men with eyes that swivel from left to right at the flick of a switch, Action Men in the buff and Action Men in blue pants which Palitoy introduced in 1979.
There was a multitude of Action Men outfits from astronauts to deep sea divers, horse guards to mounted police and air pilots to Space Rangers. There were horses for Action Man to ride, military vehicles, space capsules, boxed and unboxed Action Men outfits with all the accessories. Naturally, so that Action Man had someone to battle against, there were his enemies in war and spy situations and even Brutus, the mastiff and companion of the Canadian Mounted Police Action Man. Additionally there were boxes of spare parts, everything from limbs and heads to boots and rifles.
Everyone had stories and memories to share about Action Man, not least our own photographer, Rob who treated his Action Man from childhood to a space suit with all the accessories. He recalled the times as a boy he would drop his parachuted Action Man from the bedroom window and watch him sail down to earth. His older brother would be on the ground taking photos of Action Man as he descended with his parachute.
It seemed that everyone recalled the stars on the boxes which you cut out and saved. When you had enough you could send off for another figure or accessory. Of course, this resulted in the boxes usually being disposed of, or with bits missing – meaning that these days, those all- important boxed toys aren’t seen so often. And that is one of the reasons that Action Man enthusiasts enjoy these toy fairs so much – that and the joy of reminiscing.
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