Well I missed Jack Alexander’s birthday in one way (he turned 92 on 22 August just over a week ago) but in other ways, he was much remembered on my painting table at the time.
Belated – Happy Birthday Jack – from the many gamers who enjoy your figures.
The first dozen of my 20mm Jacklex Mexicans, ones that arrived in their sawdust filled red box for a birthday or Christmas a year or so ago, have slowly been inching along the paint queue until being finished today (bar the toy soldier style gloss varnish).
So that’s my birthday parade for Jack Alexander their designer …
Jack Alexander was first introduced to wargaming and figure productions by reading Donald Featherstone’s 1962 book War Games, the same book that later inspired my first childhood ‘war games’ and continues to inspire my games today.
The figures were designed to be compatible with Airfix 20mm and fill gaps in the Airfix range.
The first Jacklex figures I ever saw would have been in the black and white photo pages of Featherstone books (probably the Colonials). They were fairly unobtainable at the time anyway, even if I could have afforded them on pocket money budget.
I liked the samples enough to buy the Mexicans in 2020 to put away as a birthday or Christmas 2020 present.
Airfix made Cowboys, Indians, Waggon Train, 7th Cavalry and ACW figures but never made Mexicans. The sombreros almost look like or could also pass as Tom Mix ten gallon high cowboy hats.
20 Jacklex 20mm Mexican infantry, with officer and standard bearers, 1 machine gun and crew, 1 artillery crew. The start of a small skirmish force against initially Airfix WW1 American Infantry and a few Jacklex American Infantry samples?
All are based on Penny MDF Warbases – but how to paint them?
A Colour Scheme for my Mexicans?
The Jacklex site has some good painted examples of the Mexican figures on its website, ranging from cowboy colourful to desert dusty grunge.
Arriba! Arriba! Desperados!
Who could forget the fabulous Timpo or Britain’s Deetail Mexicans of our childhood? Great and colourful characters including their leader, the central cartoon two gun ‘Yosemite Sam’ figure, suitably battle worn or play worn.
Some of my favourite Britain’s 54mm figures are the old hollow-cast Mexican infantry, produced from 1914 to 1941. For colour schemes, I found the Rurales (Pride of Mexico) figures pictured on the Archive of the Christie’s auction website
The Mexicans are also featured in James Opie’s The Great Book Of Britain’s (below). I like the colour scheme but find that the neckerchiefs will need to be simplified to a red neck cloth.
Andrew Rose’s Toy Soldiers book (below) mentions other paint schemes.
Second grade painting – Officer in green jacket, the men in blue or red jackets – useful future uniform colour scheme?
James Opie in his Britain’s Toy Soldiers 1893-1932 mentions that these are “one of Britain’s most sought after sets.”
I have only two such 54mm hollow-cast figures in my collection, both only part painted so possibly ones sold off as unpainted castings or since paint stripped and repainted? However one of these is in the unusual blue jacket colourings .
Putting these uniform ideas together and after consulting the trusty Ladybird Leaders: Soldiers, I decided to follow the attractive colour scheme used by Britain’s from 1914 to 1941. Grey trousers, brown jackets, red scarves or neckerchiefs, straw coloured sombrero.
More on Mexicans
Having already bought lots of his Mexican peasants, I am resisting the rest of the 54mm Mexicans range from Steve Weston on his Plastic Toy Soldiers website (or choppedmerc eBay sales site.)
I could of course paint the Jacklex Mexican figures in the white clothes of Mexicans seen in Hanna-Barbera Speedy Gonzalez cartoons (another influence from my childhood).
‘Mexicans’ tended to form the stereotypical or traditional bandit enemy in many western cowboy films, not surprising when most such movies are ‘Made in America‘ with its long history of border and territory disputes including the US Punitive Expedition to Mexico for which these Jacklex figure range was developed.
The Britain’s hollow-cast figures were produced by 1914, obviously picking up on the Mexican Revolution events from 1910 onwards.
These sombrero figures remind me of the opening section at the Campo Grande train station of sombrero wearing revolutionaries with sub machine guns in the ImagiNations Latin or Central American country of Parazuellia in the Morecambe and Wise 1960s comedy film The Magnificent Two, (also with its villainous President Diaz!) As seen in the YouTube Trailer https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NXOJBc_i_GE
FMI – For My Information – (as source websites tend to vanish)
The Jacklex Story (edited from the Vintage Wargaming Figures Website)
An article in Meccano Magazine was the catalyst for the Jacklex range of 20mm figures.
In 1962 military-hobby enthusiast Jack Alexander, a local government work-study officer, was travelling up to London when a piece about Donald Featherstone’s new book “War Games” caught his eye. “I had a birthday coming up, “ he recalls, “And my wife and I were going to London to get me a present. So we got off the train and went straight up to Foyle’s and bought a copy of Don’s book”.
[Jack] Alexander was soon hooked. “The trouble was the period that interested me was the Franco-Prussian War and there were no figures for that, so I started to convert my own from Hinton Hunt and Rose”.
Eventually Alexander’s efforts caught the eye of Bill Pearce, who ran The Garrison model soldier shop in Harrow, Middlesex …
Pearce put Alexander’s first models, the British Colonial Infantry into production in the summer of 1968.
“One day I went in to see Bill,” Alexander says, “and he said, “Have you got any more of those Jacklex figures?” I said, “Who are Jacklex?” He said, “It’s you, you idiot, you’re Jacklex!”
After half-a-dozen or so years The Garrison closed down … From then on Jacklex figures were sold through Arthur Cross’s Harrow Model Shop …
While the American Civil War figures – deliberately made to tie in with Airfix ACW – were always the best-selling of the various Jacklex ranges (which also included Foreign Legion, The Great War and – a prize for the most unusual choice, surely- The Russo-Japanese War), it was the Colonial selection that increased most rapidly …
In the late-1980s The Harrow Model Shop ran into difficulties finding anyone to cast the figures, which were made using hand-poured drop-moulds, a time consuming process.
As the remaining miniatures were gradually sold Jacklex faded away.
In 1993-4 Jacklex’s ACW range briefly re-surfaced with an advert and mention in Practical Wargamer (It is believed they were being cast by PW’s editor Stuart Asquith, a friend of Jack Alexander). There was a promise of the whole range being made available once more, but things soon went quiet again. A few of the 1993 ACW figures are around. They are distinguishable from earlier castings by the thick bases and poorer quality.
Peter Johnstone in 2002 took on the Jacklex figures as part of the Spencer Smith Miniatures Range.
As mentioned, Peter Johnstone in 2002 took on the Jacklex figures as part of the Spencer Smith Miniatures Range, and he still has this succinct summary of the Jacklex range on his website:
“In 1962 Jack Alexander, a local government work study officer, was travelling up to London and reading an article in Meccano Magazine about Donald Featherstone. Since it was his birthday, his wife took him to Foyles and bought him Don’s book War Games. Jack was hooked, and after early efforts working on some Franco-Prussian War figures, and following an introduction to the Garrison model shop in Harrow, Jack brought some British Colonial Infantry onto the market in the summer of 1968.”
“But the real business took off with Jack’s American Civil War range, which was designed to complement the HO/OO (20mm) Airfix range at the time. This quickly increased to include WWI, Foreign Legion, Boer War and the Egyptian/Sudan campaigns. What was particulary interesting was the extensive range of equipment to go alongside the figures.”
“Jack’s figures were sold through the Harrow Model Shop from the late 70s to the late 80s and then they went off the market, but a chance conversation between Peter Johnstone and Jack in 2002 led to Spencer Smith Miniatures taking on the moulds and production, leaving Jack to enjoy his wargaming in retirement. Slowly but surely, Peter is converting the old hand-cast moulds to centrifugal ones and greatly improving the finished product to do justice to these lovely little perfectly-scaled figures. All the ACW range are now up and running on the new moulds.”
“Back in the 60s when I started wargaming 20mm was king, mainly due to AIRFIX plastic figures. For the first time there were full ranges in inexpensive plastic like the ACW boxes. I could buy infantry for both sides, cavalry, artillery and civilians (cowboys and settlers).
Pioneering metal sculptors were producing their own 20mm figures and one of these was Jack Alexander – JACKLEX. Jack was interested in the 19th century and decided to make his figures compatible with AIRFIX.
He modelled his 20mm figures on toy figures from his childhood made by BRITAINS.
These BRITAINS were real toy soldiers, stylised and with little detail. Jack’s figures were similar, and with minimal detail – if you wanted more detail you painted it on. Yet it was this very simplicity that gave them a charm of their own, a charm that has lasted from the sixties till today. Jack’s figures are still available and he is producing new figures for the wargames group he games with.
Back in the 60s Jack was asked for advice by Don Featherstone and features in one of his books. As well as figures he made artillery, wagons and various models. He continues to do so. When he wanted artillery pieces for his Russo Japanese series he sculptured a 15 spoke wheel and scratch built the guns.
In the 70s most manufacturers abandoned 20mm and enlarged their figures into 25mm, but Jack stayed true to 20mm. He expanded his figures to feature a huge colonial range which included British, Boers, Pathans, sailors and assorted equipment including an artillery train pulled by elephants. Don Featherstone had got him started on naval modelling and as well as 20mm Victorian sailors he has since produced junks, Korean turtle ships, Victorian gunboats and pirate ships.” (2015)
How did your childhood toy soldier collection survive, if at all?
How did you preserve your collection of childhood figures or how did they survive? By luck? By accident?
One reason that I can still play with some of my childhood family Airfix figures is this battered old flight case or engineer’s aluminium suitcase.
As far as I can remember the case was passed on to me by my late Dad. Having left home for college and work, the play things of my childhood were being packed up, sorted and some things reluctantly passed on.
The core of my Airfix OOHO and 1:32 figures survived in this suitcase, an Airfix toy soldier Ark.
It has lots of height so this was packed to the brim lid with bagged figures. This stout travel case has meant that this collection has survived several house moves since first leaving home.
Similarly the odd old 1970s battered biscuit tin has preserved a medley of such bagged childhood soldiers. Reopened, they have that familiar ‘plastic death’ chemical smell of ageing figures.
Two by Two …
I remember sitting at ‘home’ before the family final move from my childhood home in a sort of Noah’s Ark mode, sorting out who was to survive, who was to be set aside and who take their chances.
I chose one of each Airfix pose unpainted and some interesting painted ones from each Airfix set.
After that, any gaps were filled with more of my favourite veteran figures – all my 1:32 Airfix Italians, larger numbers of ImagiNations Japanese, my few Airfix Space Warriors and Airfix medieval Knights all survived, crammed in.
Some of the more useless mouths (boxed Airfix Modern Infantry, boxed 1980s Britain’s Super Deetail SAS / Marine / Paratroopers) that had no play history or emotional connection were set aside to sell on early eBay type sites.
I’m not sure what happened to most of the Matchbox 1:32 boxes of figures – probably mostly sold – but my few Atlantic OOHO and 1:32 figures survived.
Some of our 1960s and early 70s Airfix OOHO family figures were already brittle and beginning to crumble by then, so they were set aside during sorting and quickly sold, especially the scarce Waterloo ones. This was at a time when Airfix 1:32 and many of the OOHO figures had vanished again from the shops.
This core collection would survive, even when some of the surplus figures were sold.
This case was to put it fancifully my Seed Bank, my Lifeboat, my Ark or Gene Pool from which to rebuild my collection in future. A Touchstone or Portal …
My small group of based 15mm Peter Laing ECW and medieval figures survived in a ‘carry case’ curious birthday present from the family, a converted 1970s/80s LP case with wooden trays, copied from an early 1980s Military Modelling or Miniature Wargames magazine. The wooden trays and figures have survived, the plastic and cardboard LP case has sadly not.
Having preserved a core of my collection in such a way, I am often fascinated by the odd mixed lots of other people’s plastic or hollowcast figures in an old tin that pop up on EBay. I have had such rusty old tins of mixed Airfix passed on to me by friends, workmates or fellow bloggers.
What I like about this metal box is that it has preserved early family ImagiNations sparse paintwork on figures with random selection of available matt and gloss Humbrol or Airfix paints.
Japanese figures with black hats and boots with red epaulettes?
It has also preserved samples of my own childhood and teenage efforts at Britain’s Deetail style or shiny toy soldier style painting on drab WW2 figures, minus the glossy varnish.
Another cardboard box in a loft held boxes of bits of 1970s and 1990s Airfix Playsets, tanks and figures crammed in – one to show another time.
Thankfully the communal family box of motley 1960s and 70s plastics, Herald and Britain’s knights, cowboys, indians, ceremonials and Guardsmen also survived in a box, along with a battered wooden Fort, having done play service for a time in the extended family.
Old plastic bags might not be the most recommended means of storage for plastic figures but it kept them all sorted until Really Useful Boxes came along and rebasing began.
Two by Two? Numbering the Airfix.
Having kept these figures safe, I am now number code labelling the bases of each of my surviving OO HO and 1:32 figures or rebasing them and labelling them before storing them in Really Useful Boxes.
One crammed metal case of bagged figures turns into a surprisingly large number of Really Useful Boxes and trays, not to be stored in the loft or garage to protect these ageing plastics from the extremes of heat. Some of them are now 50 to 60+ years old. Some of them are older than me!
Once done, I will know what I have got, what still sits on the sprue in my red box and blue box Airfix hoard and which are my original childhood figures. I am using a permanent marker Staedtler fineliner pen, the sort once used for marking DVDs CDRewriteables and CD-Roms. Remember them?
Have case, will travel again …
This metal case almost saw service again last March 2020, emptied out for the occasion, as it was how I planned to carry up by train to Woking a selection of my 54mm snowballing and Scouting Wide game figures and terrain for the Little Wars Revisited 54mm Games Day. The emerging Covid situation had other ideas on this occasion but maybe someday soon …
Crossposted from my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, see more pictures of my latest painted sample 54mm plastic figures from Hing Fat (thanks to Peter Evans who sells them via Figsculpt https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/figsculpt on eBay)
There’s also a comparison with the scarce Airfix 1:32 Italian Infantry figures.
A simple scrap kitchen towel for a headscarf transforms one of Steve Weston’s 54mm plastic Mexican peasants into a spirited serving girl, scolding Goodwife or feisty fender-off of invaders from medieval to Tudor times through to the English and American Civil Wars and the Wild West onwards.
This is another figure for my slowly developing 54mm figure and pound store conversions towards a raggle-taggle Arma-Dad’s Army militia muster and civilians to fend off the Spanish Fury of Armada invaders of the southwest coast in the 1590s.
And the title?
Crossposted from my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog – read the more fully illustrated blog post here:
2. April 23rd is also St George’s Day, an under celebrated and quite odd National Day whose main point is to ignore it if you’re English and not make a fuss about it unlike other country’s more noisily observed National Days.
“If I should die … a corner of a foreign field that is forever England”
3. It is also Rupert Brooke’s death day – 23 April 1915 – whilst serving with the RNVR en route to Gallipoli. Brooke was amongst the first to die of the well-known WW1 poets. His Neo-Pagan circle of artistic bohemian wealthy Edwardians included Harold Hobson, an early player of H.G. Well’s Floor Games or Little Wars:
Brooke met Wells when he as an emerging literary talent met several leaders of the Fabian movement including George Bernard Shaw, Wells, Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Like fellow Fabian Society members he developed an enthusiasm for long walks, camping, nude bathing, and vegetarianism (Spartacus Educational website). Through the Fabians, he would also have known E. Nesbit and her husband.
“Brooke’s accomplished poetry gained many enthusiasts and followers, and he was taken up by Edward Marsh, who brought him to the attention of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. Brooke was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant shortly after his 27th birthday and took part in the Royal Naval Division’s Antwerp expedition in October 1914.”
“Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary on 28 February 1915 but developed pneumococcal sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. French surgeons carried out two operations to drain the abscess but he died of septicaemia at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915, on the French hospital ship Duguay Trouin, moored in a bay off the Greek island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea, while on his way to the Gallipoli landings (Another Churchill’s brainchild). As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, Brooke was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros.” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Brooke)
What, no Soviet women in these 54mm figures? Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo Games is producing a new range of 28mm Soviet women of WW2 on Kickstarter and then via her web shop. I don’t collect or play with 28mm figures at the moment but I have bought several vignette packs of her interesting female figures like her Land Girls. https://badsquiddogames.com