Having dissected the ‘owl pellet’ of Tony Adams’ 1960s Airfix gaming figures in my recent blog posts, I thought I would share with you some of the Airfix reference materials that I have used alongside online websites like Plastic Soldier Review to date these version 1 figures.
This is not my only vintage hoard or kind gift from older colleagues and acquaintances. 2017 was a lucky year for vintage Airfix:
Before I start chasing older packaging – one attractive and useful book that I mentioned in a previous post was Jean-Christophe Carbonel’s 2010 book Airfix’s Little Soldiers (translated from French, 2010).
This book alone has saved me a small fortune collecting early Airfix packaging and playsets that I don’t have the storage space or money for.
Arthur Ward, ex Tailgunner columnist of Airfix magazine, has produced several Airfix and kit company history books. These are a good rainy day, loose end sort of book to read with attractive figures pictures to inspire you!
Best of all, I have the odd scrappy Airfix catalogue from my youth like this 1982 one to remind me. Too many of my teenage years, high on paint and kit glue in small unventilated rooms, were spent happily looking at these pages.
These pages recall many happy hours planning how many boxes of figures I would need and how to convert them, then working out if I could afford them. These pages also remind me that being shown in a catalogue didn’t necessarily mean these figures were available in the shop. The usual Airfix feast or famine, boom and bust.
No wonder, almost forty years on from this catalogue, I still have to restrain myself from impulse buying and hoarding Airfix figures whenever I see certain boxes. There should be an AA, an Airfix Anonymous for men of a certain age for such occasions : “My name is Mark Man of TIN and I am a vintage Airfix addict. I am resisting the need for my next Air-Fix (although I did buy the new version WW2 British Infantry a few weeks ago and it felt good.)”
Still a uniform reference guide for me years later, this catalogue is what the different troops of history should look like. As the BBC say for balance, other figure manufacturers are available. (Admit it though, they’re just not the same.)
There, a quick bit of weekend Airfix nostalgia, decades in the making!
I was intrigued by some of the colour schemes and set about repairing some of the American Civil War figures first. Hats of reddy brown, yellow and blue as painted by Tony many years ago were kept, refreshed or patched where needed. On a ragtag Confederate Unit, who would notice a bit of patching?
So there we have some new life breathed into some old figures, along with a few repaired rifles. I bet they thought in their tiny increasingly fragile plastic heads that their fighting days were over forever.
although in my mind they might be needed as ‘Japanese’ as I have ideas for an updated Gondal or Gaaldine type Bronte ImagiNations Pacific based island which is invaded by Japanese style troops 100 years after the Bronte’s 1830s / 1840s ImagiNation settings. A chance to use my spare Airfix first version Eighth Army figures as defenders (they are wearing shorts – perfect for the tropics) or use the ACW figures above as the Island militia.
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.
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.
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 …
I don’t check my blog stats that often but I noticed in passing a little spike on June 26th Of over 300 hits on one old blog post from two years ago in a week of not posting much new. The referrer site was the TMP website http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=510247
Following up my post about Jen B’s version of Featherstone’s Close Wars Rules, fellow games blogger Stealth contacted me to say that he had been playing around with his own variant of Donald Featherstone’s simple Close Wars rules.
These were first published in Don’s appendix to War Games (1962) and Stealth had been looking at my variants Close Little Wars.
Stealth’s rules have a slight D & D influence or feel (see his other blogs) in that carrying or capturing crates forms part of the victory conditions, scoring and scenarios. Interesting idea for ambushing a supply column etc.
I hope you find something of rules variants interest here. I enjoy seeing how people adapt and tinker, go back to basics and then elaborate a bit more.
Man of TIN AdventCalendarDay3 – Looking up “Toy Soldiers” on the Etsy website is an easy way to lose several hours of an evening (and hopefully not lose or spend too much money).
The Etsy prices are generally not cheap (it is a retro, vintage, crafty, antique sellers platform site) but you do see some fascinating metal and plastic Toy Soldier figures from all over the world including Eastern Europe and America.
Perfect for online “window shopping”.
Shipping sometimes obviously adds prohibitively to costs from outside the U.K.
Disclaimer: Man of TIN cannot be held responsible for the loss of your time or hard earned cash from mentioning toy soldiers and Etsy. Searching for ‘toy soldiers’ on Etsy also occasionally brings up ‘adult’ material / figures.
I have bought from Etsy several times from UK and overseas sellers with no problems.
One set that caught my eye but I didn’t buy (no longer available – ships from Bulgaria http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RETROne?ref=si_shop ) are these interestingly blue uniformed versions of the Airfix 1:32 British paratroopers with very thick bases – Eastern European clones or copies?
I took a screen shot of these for my toy soldier scrapbook, so that now when they are sold and gone from Etsy, I still have the memory. All good reference and research.