Chatting by email to Tony Adams of the Miniature Wood Screw Army blog, he mentioned passing on a few Airfix figures that he no longer needed. I little expected an A4 jiffybag to arrive a few days later full of unwanted 1960s version 1 Airfix figures.
I find it interesting to see the mix and the range of paint schemes when buying the odd job lot of figures or seeing the OBEs on Hugh Walter’s Small Scale World.
This lovely gift was heavy on version 1 Afrika Korps but had an interesting early 1960s mix from the Guards Colour Party 1959/60 through to the First World War.
In Plastic archaeology terms this was a short stretch of time from Guards Colour Party (1960) to WW1 figures (1966), as the Version 1 figures were replaced from 1972. The version 1 Airfix figures are those used in Donald Featherstone’s WW2 game in his first book War Games 1962.
The beautiful paperback Airfix’s Little Soldiers (2010) by Jean-Christophe Carbonel has a useful Year by Year chronology of Airfix HO/OO figures. A book well worth getting for the pictures of the figures and their packaging alone.
Version 1 Airfix replaced by Version 2 Chronology
(based on Plastic Soldier Review and Small Scale World Airfix figure listings)
1960 Infantry Combat Group (British Infantry) replaced 1973
1961 WW2 German Infantry replaced 1974
1962 British 8th Army replaced 1974
1962 Afrika Korps replaced 1973
1962 French Foreign Legion replaced 1970-72?
1963 US Marines replaced 1979
The American Civil War figures were all produced in 1962 and the slender and versatile Russian and Japanese infantry in 1964 before the shift to slightly larger figures such as the WW1 figures which appeared in 1966. The Chunky British Paras appeared in 1965.
These larger or version 2 figures are the ones still available from Airfix over 40 to 50 years later on their sporadic reissue as Vintage Classics. https://www.airfix.com/uk-en/shop/figures.html
I wonder what was behind the change from the charming version 1 figures? Version 2 figures are often a scaled down (pantographed) small version of the equivelant 1:32 poses. Was it a change in technology or different sculptor?
Were the Version 1 figures deemed too crude or small by emerging metal figure and kit standards? Jean-Christophe Carbonel in Airfix’s Small Soldiers suggested that John Niblett sculpted lots of the Airfix HO/OO and 1:32 figures for Airfix until 1974 when Ron Cameron took over, Ron having also sculpted figures for Matchbox. Hopefully someone can tell me more.
By the time my pocket money was being spent on Airfix kits and figures in the early to mid 1970s, it was mostly the chunkier or more detailed Version 2 that was available. The same slender and smaller to chunkier and bigger figure shift can be seen in the Airfix platform and railway figures still available in hard plastic from Dapol. Was it a HO/OO scale issue trying to resolve the 1:72 / 1:76 thing?
Sadly figures of this age, condition and style are not accorded much value. Some of these charming Version 1 smaller figures that were my quiet childhood favourites are beginning to crumble now. Usually it’s just lost rifle ends but occasionally heads, arms and bases. These can be carefully repaired or replaced. I wish someone would recreate or recast the Version 1 figures in metal as vintage gaming figures.
One of the attractive features of someone else’s playbox are the mysteriously painted or coloured figures from past battles with their now cryptic base markings and uniform colours. I like these OBE figures on Hugh Walter’s Small Scale World, for example the Afrika Korps http://airfixfigs.blogspot.com/2010/06/1962-wwii-afrika-korps-1st-type-s11-hooo.html
Amongst the figures were some odd ones with slightly unusual hats that I take to be from their harder plastic and dark green colour to be Hong Kong copies.
There were some recognisable Airfix kit vehicle crews such as Bren crews (1964) and cut down Afrika Korps version 1 figures, amongst some unusual and very versatile hard plastic German seated troops. Manufacturer identified by Tony Adams (see comments) as Airfix kit crew for the half track towing the 88mm gun (1967). At around 60 seated infantry and 15 drivers, that’s a lot of half track kits ! A seated platoon may possibly be created.
It was interesting to see the change in size from Airfix version 1 to the larger Airfix Version 2 style, whilst also amongst Tony Adams’ figures were some larger pirate copies of other figures, seen here next to one of my Pound Store equivalent 32mm figures.
There were also some larger Hong Kong copies of Lilliput style Herald Britain’s 1958 1:72 or 54mm Herald 1953/54 Modern Infantry or Crescent 54mm Eighth Army figures.
I have a battered few of these Crescent 54mm Desert Rats, seen here in better condition set on Barney Brown’s Herald Miniatures website (archive pages).
Those familiar and classic Britains Herald plastic ‘British’ Modern infantry in 54mm (1953/4) were also briefly issued in 1957/8 as 1:72 figures, similar to the Britain’s Lilliput Range. These tiny figures weren’t issued for long, but long enough to be pirated in Hong Kong.
So the best of these figures will be repaired, painted up and penny based for Future Featherstone vintage nostalgia ‘War Games’ 1962.
With a bewildering variety of scale and figure choice today, harking back to the restricted pocket money choices of the Sixties child or adult gamer of my youth has some Featherstone War Games (1962) charms.
These figures have some unusual paint schemes, probably making the most of the figures in hand, along with cryptographic colour markings on the base that only Tony Adams would understand. Look at his Miniature Woodscrew Army and you will see similar hat, base and body markings for different branches of the armed forces still.
Thanks Tony, for sending these and the pleasant evening sorting through this Airfix Owl Pellet of the Sixties gamer into a Really Useful Box tray for future games inspiration.
Blog posted by Mark , Man of TIN, child of the 1970s nostalgic for version 1 Airfix, 2 August 2019.
B.P.S. Blog Post Script
The first figures repaired and put on penny bases. Have run out of spare pennies for now …