Peter Laing’s first figures – the first 15mm Wargames figures ever produced in October 1972 – were a small range of Marlburian figures. Literally a small range as they are somewhere between 12mm and 15mm and very slender!
I have been chatting by email with fellow Peter Laing collectors Ian Dury and Alec Green in the Midlands about this Marlburian range, a few of which I bought directly by post from Peter Laing and painted c. 1983. Recently I found a small group of a few unpainted Marlburians, mixed in with other figures in a 15mm figure job lot online.
What I liked about Peter’s range were the link items or his suggested possible “Dual Use” items that fitted more than one range – more for your money if the figures could be (painted to be) used in several periods. I have some of these lovely Highlanders, but that’s another blog story.
The Duke of Wellington dismissively observed to William Siborne, “You can as well write the history of a ball as of a battle.”
Siborne had asked for the Duke’s memories of the day amongst others to help accurately construct his diorama model of Waterloo, which now rests in the National Army Museum. Well worth visiting in its new restoration.
A short account of this model can be found in Harry Pearson’s autobiography Achtung Schweinhund! featured as a warning against investing too much money in toy soldiers over the years (whoops!); a longer account can be found in a book by Miniature Wargames games writer and historian Peter Hofschroer’s cleverly titled Wellington’s Smallest Victory (Faber, 2004).
Having just finished one longish games write up (the longer as sections of it wiped once), I find this Wellington quote interesting as the possible difference between ‘history’ and ‘fiction’ – the point of view (or continuously confusing shifting point of view if you are Virginia Woolf) that it’s written from. Is it an impersonal lab report? Is it the skeleton plot of historical fiction? A confused blend of both?
As I write up recent tabletop skirmishes, I have been thinking about the links between fiction and gaming. Writing up games reports of past battles, I am reminded of Wellington’s (dismissive?) quote. Commonly many games bloggers feel that their thrilling accounts can appear somewhat tedious for other readers.
Some of the more interesting ones (insert your favourites here) go further than a blow-by-blow account; they reflect on the rule changes or improvisations that crop up, being a form of playtesting.
Such blog write ups become demonstration games for rules, very much in the spirit of H.G. Wells in “The Battle of Hook’s Farm” section of Little Wars or Donald Featherstone’s classic battles in his 1962 War Games. Others like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Yallobelly Times newspaper style battle reports take on a life of their own.
Games reports also hopefully share and remember the escapist “joy and forgetfulness” that gaming brings with itself.
The full Wellington quotes from the ever reliable WikiQuotes are:
“The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.” Letter to John Croker (8 August 1815), as quoted in The History of England from the Ascension of James II(1848) by Macaulay, Volume 1 Chapter 5; and in The Waterloo Letters (1891) edited by H. T. Siborne.
“Just to show you how little reliance can be placed even on what are supposed the best accounts of a battle, I mention that there are some circumstances mentioned in General —’s account which did not occur as he relates them. It is impossible to say when each important occurrence took place, or in what order.” Wellington’s papers (17 August 1815), as quoted in The History of England from the Ascension of James II (1848) by Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817), being Wellington’s shorter lived contemporary (Wellington lived 1769 – 1852), would have something to say about the value of writing the history of a ball, from many shifting viewpoints and many carefully observed details, especially if you want to point up character. The famous Brussels ball on the eve of Waterloo also features in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847/8).
Inside Peter Hofschroer’s book (page 178 ) is another version of the “writing a battle and ball” quote, when Wellington talked about his view the accuracy of Siborne’s Waterloo model (quoted by Hofschroer from Sir John R. Mowbray, “Seventy Years at Westminster”, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine July 1898):
“… If you want to know my opinion it’s all farce, fudge! They went to one gentleman and said “What did you do?” “I did so and so.” To another, “What did you do?” “I did such and such a thing.” One did it at ten and another at twelve, and they have mixed up the whole. The fact is, a battle is like a ball; they kept footing it all the day through.”
And to another, Francis Egerton in 1845 (Hofschroer, page 179):
” … of which beautiful work he [Siborne] has made a scene of confusion, such as would be a drawing or representation in one view of all the scenes and acts of a play in five acts.”
Wellington in his old age in his actions towards Siborne does not come out of this account by Peter Hofschroer too well.
And now for some gratuitous photographs of the few Peter Laing 15mm Waterloo / Napoleonic figures I bought as a young teenager, still much as I painted them 30+ years ago. They are due for rebasing and some odd retouches of paint soon. I wished I had bought more and have since acquired a few additional ones for future small skirmish games.
As a tribute to the late John Mitchell, one of figure designer Peter Laing’s colleagues in early 15mm wargames products, who died in June 2016, I am posting my battered copy of what I believe are John’s typed English Civil War 15mm starter rules (with my childhood pencil additions).
As far as I can remember, these rules were bought from Peter Laing c. 1982/3 and are focussed around the figures and artillery (A501 Culverin, A502 Saker) in Peter’s English Civil War ranges.
As far as I know, the rules have probably not been sold for many years since Peter Laing and John Mitchell retired. They are posted here in tribute.
John Mitchell sold starter sets of 15mm (hand painted?) Wargames armies.
The advert here does not mention ECW specifically …
… but in this advert from Military Modelling October 1983 it gives more details:
Send no SAEs for details, as sadly John Mitchell has passed away but how many wargames enthusiasts started with one of these sets?
Hmm, If you could whizz back to 1983 in my Man of TIN Tiny Tin Time Machine, which starter army or armies would you choose?
Did you get figures for both sides, so both Roundhead and Cavalier?
I presume many of the starter set figures came from the Peter Laing range. The historic periods covered in the adverts match Peter Laing’s extensive 15mm catalogue well, including his trademark Marlburian figures, the unusual Crimean and Franco-Prussian War ranges and the smaller, almost half to a third of the cost for the WW2 starter set as Peter Laing only made a small WW2 infantry range which we have featured on another blogpost. The costs varied quite a lot in price!
If anyone was lucky enough to be bought or to buy one of these 15mm Starter Armies, I would love to hear more about them in detail. Did they spark a lifelong gaming interest? Did it lead to a wider collection of Peter Laing figures? I hope that you liked them, although Peter Laing figures have both admirers and their detractors on many gaming and figure forums.
As a young gamer I could never afford a hand painted starter army – I hand painted my own choice of Peter Laing figures instead. I would have counted how many unpainted Peter Laing castings at 6p or 7p per foot figure I could have bought for the cost of a starter army.
These rules were an interesting specific set for the ECW to supplement the simple rules for other periods available in early Donald Featherstone books. They served me well for my first few teenage years of English Civil War gaming.
The supportive business relationship between John Mitchell and Peter Laing is hinted at often throughout Peter Laing’s catalogue:
More about John Mitchell’s 15mm card buildings and building sheets in my next Peter Laing related blogpost.
Hopefully John Mitchell’s hand painted 15mm starter armies were the introduction to the scale and our hobby for many of today’s gamers.
John Mitchell, remembered wherever and whenever his hand-painted starter sets of tiny 15mm metal soldiers fight for his card buildings, by happy gamers across the world enjoy “a most satisfactory infantry action game.”
Tribute posted by Mr MIN, Man of TIN, 19 August 2016.
Possibly my favourite of Peter Laing’s 15mm figures, this is the dismounted Dragoon firing (figure F515) from his English Civil War range.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s probably my favourite Peter Laing figure (at least of the non marching advancing figures). Is it the colour scheme or the slightly independent elite status of dragoons?
Anyone else got a favourite (Peter Laing) gaming figure?
I’m not suggesting however that we start a Peter Laing “guess my favourite figure” charades competition as some gamers allegedly do for Airfix figures, according to reliable sources in Harry Pearson’s autobiography Achtung Schweinhund! That would be little too niche …
I have a few spare unpainted ones of these figures already destined to become 7th Cavalry or dismounted Union Cavalry in a very different Civil War, so will see how that paint conversion works out.
Posted by Mr. MIN, Man of TIN, 1st August 2016.
Peter Laing “PL P.S.” postscript
Lovely to hear from several Peter Laing fans and Bloggers on favourite figures – both John The Wargames Hermit and Ian Dury liked Peter’s Late Victorian Parade figures, bicyclists and goose stepping figures.
Ian Dury sent me this picture of his favourites. Thanks Ian for sharing these:
I bought the latest issue of Miniature Wargames with Battlegames number 400 this week (August 2016 issue) at W.H. Smith’s on the local high street. To be honest I haven’t bought this magazine much over the last ten to thirty years, beginning to read it again about two months ago on a long train journey.
To be honest the local High Street has changed a lot too since I read issue 1 in late 1982. Just around the corner is the vanished Woolworth’s, now Poundland or Wilko, both home to erratic supplies of cheap pound store plastic warriors. Nearby is the sad site of an empty British Home Stores; never again will I have an affordable family snack (shades of John Shuttleworth there) in the BHS café, a High Street standby since childhood shopping trips. Instead there are dozens of coffee shops, clothes, lifestyle and interior shops to choose from.
The High Street today feels like the obituary columns of the last few years as childhood icons of light entertainment and music from the 1970s to 80s die off or are (posthumously) disgraced.
So how have things changed in the gaming world between Issue no. 1 late 1982 of Miniature Wargames and this milestone issue number 400, now edited by Henry Hyde?
In his editorial in issue 400, Henry Hyde reflects on first writing for the original magazine under the original Editor Duncan McFarlane in issue 47 which would have been in the mid 1980s.
Henry was writing his Editorial or Briefing as the Brexit vote was declared and writes about his hopes that Brexit will not affect the friendly gaming fraternity’s travels and the business side of the wargames / gaming / fantasy industry across Europe.
One of the reasons I haven’t bought many gaming magazines over the last ten to thirty years since regularly gaming as a child and teenager is the boxfile of Miniature Wargames I have kept from its first issue through to its early twenties. Along with a couple of folders of useful Military Modelling tips, history and gaming articles cut out and filed away in plastic A4 sleeves, these have been just enough for when the gaming mood has recurred over the last thirty years like a benign form of malaria. For some people their recurring malaria or family curse is steam trains or sci-if, for me it is toy soldiers and gaming.
On the rare occasions since the late 1980s that I have bought or more likely flicked through random issues of games magazines in the newsagents, I have found many of them very advertorial, very product and current games system based, great if you’re playing that complex games system, puzzling or dull if not.
The launch issue of Miniature Wargames brought home for me by my late father was of great interest, not least for the eight full pages of colour photographs of figures and terrain from Peter Gilder’s Wargames Holiday Centre in Yorkshire (which featured in a two page article). “We shall have great regards for the aesthetics of the hobby …” Duncan Macfarlane the Editor claimed in his introductory Editorial. The magazine certainly did. These were not the Airfix and assorted plastic figures I had grown up with. Airfix figures featured in Donald Featherstone books. Where were they here? This was the grown up world of hex boardgames and metal gaming figures.
Miniature Wargames is now £4.50 a month; the 75 pence cover price of Issue 1 in 1982 was almost beyond my reach at the time, if I was to buy any figures or paints but this magazine remained a kind monthly gift from my dad for several years. That meant 10 more Peter Laing foot figures a month …
The articles in Issue 1 were by some games people I had heard of in Military Modelling (also first encountered around c. 1981/82) or from borrowing their books in the local library: Terry Wise, George Gush and Phil Barker.
An article on Computer Assisted Wargaming by Mike Costello was forward looking but beyond me in 1982 (and arguably now) – “A minimum of 12K usable memory will be needed …” for programming, less than the average single email today?
Some articles I found beyond me at the time, such as Paddy Griffiths’ article about Wargames Developments which formed in May 1980 and mentioned their journal or newsletter ‘The Nugget’, edited then as now by one Bob Cordery, writer of Wargaming Miscellany, one of the gaming blogs I regularly read.
Now having rethought my way through some early Featherstone rules, I find the Wargames Developments much more accessible now. Good reason to keep these early articles and refer back to them.
The idea of ‘fanzine style’ digital colour photography enriched gaming blogs and digital download copies of magazines were in 1982 almost Science Fiction in themselves at the time. At the time Peter Laing’s lists were typewritten and reproduced faintly on A4, as were John Mitchell’s English Civil War starter rules that I bought from Peter Laing (I will post more about these soon).
Hex-A-Noughts the free Sci Fi Board Game by Julian D. Fuller, a staff writer who also reveiwed several board games in this issue, remains uncut in my Issue 1 and unused to this day. These were way beyond my ‘bear of little brain’ style of gaming both then and now, preferring the simple ‘back of postcard’ rules that began to appear in later MW issues.
The article on building “Small Buildings for the Battlefield” by Ian Weekley of Battlements with some inspiring but sadly black and white photos was of more immediate use. Basil Fletcher of Fortress Models and Ian Weekley’s “How to build terrain and fortresses” articles would be a great reason to keep buying Miniature Wargames over the next few years. A one page article by John Sharples on random generation of the location of terrain features is something I still use today as a solo gamer.
The article on the English Civil War siege of Chester and Battle of Rowton Heath 1645 by Terry Wise and an excellent article by Nick Slope on A Plain man’s Guide to 15mm Figure Painting would soon become very useful once I made it to the adverts pages.
It was overall the colour pictures of terrain and figures that caught my attention then as today, since most wargames books at the time were sparsely and often badly illustrated in black and white. Colour pictures still form an important and inspiring part of Miniature Wargames today, along with the ever important adverts.
Amongst the familiar names are some ranges that survive today, others are now the subject of wargames blogs and vintage figure hunting. There are late 1982 adverts for Minifigs, Jacobite Miniatures, QT Models, Heroics and Ros, Skytrex, Campaign Figures, Chronicle and Dixon Miniatures, Wargames Research Group, Gallia Buildings, Irregular Miniatures, Standard Games with its Felt Hexes and Cry Havoc games (paper soldiers). Bill Lamming’s advert is cancelled by an overprint breaking news – “Bill Lamming Has Retired.” I hope Bill enjoyed a happy retirement!
The adverts are interesting from the point of view today of possible alternative universes of “what if I had chosen those figure ranges and periods rather than that one?”
The one that caught my eye and matched my schoolboy pocket money funds was Peter Laing’s 15mm English Civil War range. “Send 21p stamps for List and Sample” from “Over 750 items from Ancients to WW2”.
Write off I did and the ECW sample must have impressed as I bought hundreds of Peter Laing English Civil War and Medieval figures over the next few years. What wasn’t to like about foot figures at 7p, his curious horses and riders at 14p and guns or waggons at 20p? I still have them and still use them regularly today.
Scroll forward 34 years from 1982 to 2016 and for a magazine to achieve 400 monthly issues is quite an achievement. I was surprised a few months ago to still find it on the magazine shelves. Airfix magazine has gone and come back again, Military Modelling has survived and even Miniature Wargames was launched in the demise / aftermath of Battle for Wargamers merging with Military Modelling.
As launch Editor Duncan MacFarlane observed in his opening Editorial,
“Those of you with a knowledge of the recent history of wargames magazines may well consider our launching of this one to be a somewhat perilous adventure! However there is definitely a gap to be filled; no general circulation wargame magazine has succeeded in establishing itself since the demise of “Battle” several years ago. We feel that we can become established because we have a solid financial basis from the outset and thus have several advantages over those magazines which have tried and failed in the recent past.” Editorial, Issue 1 Miniature Wargames.
400 issues on in Miniature Wargames there are regular or perennial favourite articles such as new figure, rules, board games or book reviews and exhibition reports that would not be out of place 34 years ago, but are now enhanced with beautiful colour photographs.
However being up to date on the hobby, there is a regular review article on wargames blogs where Henry Hyde the “Editor takes his regular reconnaissance flight over the digital front line”, beautifully and wittily phrased.
Interestingly Henry’s opening rant is about “anonymous blogs …so please reveal who you are. if you are broadcasting to the world and want us to read what you write, the least you can do is have the courtesy to tell us who you are!” Whoops! I, Mr MIN, Man of TIN have been duly warned.
Similarly technological and unimaginable in 1982 is a Kickstarter funded “Miniature Wargaming the Movie” by Joseph Piddington, reviewing the past, present and future of the hobby from H.G. Wells to modern figure designers, a Who’s Who of the industry. A documentary movie like this is a natural step, developing the thriving YouTube and podcast audio-visual citizen contribution to the gaming hobby. Unimaginable in 1982, even before you could imagine an 80s Cable TV station for wargames?
YouTube of course allows you now to track down the slow but beautiful Gilder landscaped wargames featured on Tyne Tees 1978 TV series Battleground, which hopefully visually did for the “Aesthetics” of the hobby on TV what Miniature Wargames did (and still does) in magazine form. Duncan Macfarlane, then a school librarian in Hull and soon to be the original Editor of Miniature Wargames, featured as one of the two gamers in the Edgehill episode in 1978.
Some authors continue to pioneer and review their scene, John Treadaway having written about fantasy since I started reading his articles in the Battle for Wargamers Wargames Manual (Military Modelling Magazine Extra, MAP 1983) and he’s still reviewing figures in Miniature Wargames Issue 400, 3o+ years on.
Lovely article in MW 400 as part of a series by Diane Sutherland, “Wargames widow“, in this issue for example turning a pound store gardening bundle of willow twigs into frontier log cabins. One project to try, after searching pound stores for more cheap plastic warriors of course! I remember another series of similar articles by women gamers, modellers or wargames widows like Nell Clipsom in early Miniature Wargames issues.
Paper Soldiers return?
I look forward to photocopying, downloading (what did that mean in 1982?) and printing off the free French Foreign Legion game paper figures featured in an interesting exhibition demonstration game by Phil Dutre from Belgium.The stepped hill idea was just brilliant. Aesthetics were certainly there in bundles … and a French Foreign Legion Airfix Desert Outpost just like mine at home.
What with the new release of Helion books wargaming series of paper soldiers and rules reviewed in issue 399, who would have thought that paper soldiers would be making a comeback?
Junior General website aside, these paper figures are gifts that remind me of those included as a giveaway from the Standard Games Saxon Army paper figures (now unobtainable?) given away free in the Battle For Wargamers Wargames Manual (Military Modelling Magazine Extra special issue, MAP 1983) and advertised for sale (then £2) in the back pages of Miniature Wargames Issue number 1. Scanned copies of these may be gracing my tabletop this Autumn to coincide with the 1066 Battle of Hastings anniversary.
“Old School” wargames and large scale games (featuring fabulous Spencer Smith Miniatures and 18th century games) are a colourful feature of Issue 400.
Henry Hyde, having jokingly in his own words “burnt out” several regular MW contributors, has now turned this space over to an interesting new feature that I hope runs and runs – Wargaming My Way, featuring a different contributor each issue. Could be one to watch …
Burnout or stress of a different type is featured in the Miniature Wargames / Battlegames commendable contribution to PTSD forces charity Combat Stress(the veterans’ mental health charity), a lingering and crippling after-effect of service more widely understood and publicly supported since witnessing the effect on the service generation of the Falklands War of 1982 (Miniature Wargames’ launch year), Iraq, Afghan and Northern Ireland conflicts. Thankfully this charity is in place and the condition recognised now that the last of my own 1980s school friends who became servicemen are retiring from the forces.
Towards Miniature Wargames Issue 800 to be downloaded in 2050?
Joy and Forgetfulness blog author Conrad Kinch in his regular page offer hints on how to encourage or include new wargamers or hobbyists, something discussed in Issues 398 or 399 as my whole generation and above gets older, who will be buying the Airfix figures or their own version of my much loved Peter Laing figures in 10 to 20 years time?
Teaming up with model railway exhibitions and other craft hobbies into multi-faceted hobby exhibitions is one interesting suggestion in an article by David R. Clemmet and Thomas Davidson from issue 398. Model railwayenthusiasts (for some people, their version of the recurring hobby malaria that they can never quite shake off throughout life) are apparently pondering the same “who will play with Hornby trains or model railways in 20 years?” question.
Will all the games have gone digital or 3D Virtual Reality by 2050?
Will the missing Peter Laing moulds have turned up by then?
If there are any of us still left gaming by 2050, maybe, just maybe I will by have gotten around to contributing 2000 words towards Miniature Wargames new feature “Wargaming My Way” on the stuff you might have seen on this blog over the next 34 years on very, very simple rule sets and cake decoration soldiers.
Woolworths, BHS and other staples of British life have gone since 1982. Airfix figure supplies come and go. Miniature Wargames magazine and this hex-scapist, diverting and fulfilling hobby and community will hopefully keep going strong for another 400 issues. Huzzah!
Happy Anniversary Henry Hyde and his team at Miniature Wargames, 400 issues young!
Posted by the (irritatingly anonymous) Mr MIN, Man of TIN, July 2016.
Miniature Wargames No. 2 featured a well-remembered article by Paddy Griffiths of Wargames Developments which featured the infamous Hair Roller Armies, an idea developed into artillery, wagons, cavalry and full ACW rules by Andy Callan in Miniature Wargames No. 9. This went down really well (or not) in a family with hair dressing amongst its trades, namely “WHERE ARE MY BEST HAIR ROLLERS?” I still have them today. But this is a topic for another blogpost.
I only bought these four sample 15mm World War Two figures from Peter Laing back in the 1980s and now wish I had bought more.
Peter’s range was very limited, British and German infantry and some American infantry which I never bought.
These Peter Laing metal 15mm figures had to compete for my limited pocket money with the burgeoning and cheaper 20mm plastic figure scene (Matchbox, Esci, Atlantic, erratic Airfix) in the 1980s. I wish now that I had chosen differently, although my love of cheap plastic figures still extends to Vintage Airfix, Britain’s Deetail (not so cheap), Atlantic Wild West figures and pirated / pound store plastic warriors.
Luckily I am now collecting and painting my way towards Peter Laing WW2 infantry tiny skirmish games “at platoon level … To give a most satisfactory infantry action game” as Peter Laing describes it in his catalogue.
I have been lucky enough to spot some distinctive Peter Laing WW1 and WW2 figures in job lots of other 15mm figures recently.
As Peter Laing didn’t make vehicles for WW2, I intend using the troops as he intended “at Platoon level” wood field and forest bocage bolt action and bayonet game version on suitably cluttered terrain hex boards of my usual Little Close Wars games.
The bulk of the WW1 Peter Laing Germans in my collection are wearing Steel Helmets and carrying rifles, so will easily suit. A couple of Peter Laing WW1 maxim guns F746 and loader gunners F747 will pass muster for German Machine Gunners with Steel Helmets.
These rules for natives versus troops will require a little alteration to incorporate machine guns, light mortars, small field guns and motor cycles! No natives but plenty of awkward terrain and no vehicles. Still an infantry slog!
The various WW1, native and late Colonial figures I have would also make an interesting African campaign:
” Few collectors seem interested in World War 1 , although there is much of value to be found in the battles of 1914 and 1915, before the war bogged down in a mass of trench warfare – a fascinating little campaign can be made of the German East Africa fighting in which natives can be used.” Donald Featherstone, War Games (1962) , p. 20.
These figures came with a small online job-lot of what may be Peter Pig 15mm WW2 figures, some of which are similar in style and scale to Peter Laing figures. There are a number of peaked cap officers, some French resistance ladies and some paratroops with bikes to add some variety. It may be possible to mix a few of these in as needed with the Peter Laing figures. Peter Laing purists, look away now!
I even have a few surviving unmade card sheets of John Mitchell’s card buildings to make up to match Peter Laing’s catalogue suggestion that “these items can be used in conjunction with John Mitchell’s building sheets … to give a most satisfactory infantry action game.”
A lovely couple of posts on the Tims Tanks blog about meeting with Peter Laing and showing some of his WW1 / WW 2 range. I too found Peter Laing was always very helpful, encouraging and efficient dealing with young gamers with small pocket money orders by post. Often Peter included a free sample figure or two from his new ranges to offset breakages and postage costs – and no doubt to tempt more purchases. Smart marketing!
Note some interesting post blog comments (June 2016) that the elusive Peter Laing moulds may have turned up in the collections of the late John Mitchell with many Peter Laing figure fans interested in re-establishing these ranges. Me too!