A 1960s Airfix Owl Pellet …

IMG_1144IMG_1145IMG_1146IMG_1158Chatting 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.

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An Airfix timeline 1960 to about 1966 along with RAF kit figures c. 1969

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.

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Left version 1 Germans and strange egg box fortifications in Terry Wise,  Introduction to Battle Gaming (1969/72) and right, Donald Featherstone 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.

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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?

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Jean-Christophe Carbonel,  Airfix’s Small Soldiers (2010)

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.

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http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/ManufacturerList.aspx?id=3

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

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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.

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From the new arrivals HK Copies or Airfix originals? Some have almost miners hats or bowler hats.

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.

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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.

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Version 1 through larger Airfix 1:72 figures through Crescent copies to a modern Pound Store 32mm figure.

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.

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Flashy 25mm Hong Kong copies of Crescent 54mm Eighth Army c. 1960 plastics

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).

http://www.heraldtoysandmodels.co.uk/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=128&products_id=2732

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Archive sold section  screenshot from Barney Brown’s Herald Toys  shop

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.

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Those four delightful words of childhood pocket money  joy – ‘Made 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.

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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.

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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

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The first figures repaired and put on penny bases. Have run out of spare pennies for now …

11 thoughts on “A 1960s Airfix Owl Pellet …”

  1. What a wonderful owl pellet. I do hope we see more of the results of dissection. Some glorious pieces within. I have the Carbonel book and it is one l return to again and again. The photos of both packaging and figures are great memory joggers. Do you have any particular plans forming for these figures.

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    1. Once the Scout project is a bit further done, The American Civil War figures will form a rag tag unit, probably Confederate. The Japanese and Foreign Legion may also form an ACW or ImagiNation Zouave unit.
      The WW2 figures I will eventually paint up and touch up for small platoon Skirmish desert games, all individually mounted. Featherstone rules. I have a small number of Airfix tanks and vehicles that have survived since childhood that will match them.

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  2. Mark
    What an interesting article. I had no idea of this fascinating history. The seated German figures came from the very early Airfix 88 mm gun and tractor kit. I bought loads of those kits, I wanted the half tracks, not much else in those days in the way of soft skinned vehicles. Wish I could remember the meaning of the base markings !!!!! As you say I still use something similar today, how strange that after all those years the principles remain essentially the same. So pleased you have had so much fun with these figures.
    Regards. Tony

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    1. Ah, I see the seated figures in an Airfix catalogue picture now. I thought they were vaguely familiar. That a lot of half tracks and 88s that you must have bought!
      I have copied the cryptic base markings onto stickers on the penny bases just for old times sake.

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      1. Mark
        I am intrigued that you think the old base markings are worth preserving to the extent of copying them onto the penny bases. Very thoughtful.
        Tony

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    1. It is a generous gift. I didn’t know what to expect or what size Airfix, maybe half a dozen / twenty figures so, maximum a packet! Very happily surprised as I really like Version 1 Airfix which many don’t. From his blog, I think Tony Adams is decluttering his games room as he first contacted me about selling and finding homes for Peter Laing figures which we have now successfully done amongst the Peter Laing collectors circle.

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  3. Impressive collection there! I too have put 1/72 figs on pennies, mostly for The Sword and the Flame; the Napoleonics I should have left on eight-man bases (easier to rank up) but tried to magnetize instead. I would love to try the Featherstone basic WWII rules, but haven’t any minis except paper from Junior General.

    Currently planning a 28mm WWI skirmish with Featherstone’s 1975 rules for next week, will try to experiment with it at work. The kids are really getting the hang of “single-man” games with large toy figures!

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    1. Penny bases work well enough except I am often running out of pennies. Like model shops, Bank branches to get cash are fewer and fewer on the UK high street so the the bulk of these old Airfix will be card based with possible magnetic tape on base.

      I have not yet tried them but Warbases do mdf movement trays for penny bases for reforming or using units of single figures.

      There are now lots more 1:72 plastics available than just Airfix. They are reasonably cheap and available online. Unpainted plastics is fine on the experimental gaming table. Plastic Soldier Review website is good for new releases.

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