Action Man

Action Man

:"For the 2nd-generation Hasbro Action Man, see . For the 40th anniversary reproductions, see . For the TV show, see Action Man (TV series). For the pro wrestler, see Dick Beyer."

Action Man is an action figure boys' toy launched in Britain in 1966 by Palitoy as a licensed copy of Hasbro's American "moveable fighting man": G.I. Joe.

Action Man was originally produced and sold in the United Kingdom and Australia by Palitoy Ltd of Coalville, Leicestershire from 1966 until 1984 (Palitoy also offered sub-licenses to various toy manufacturers in various markets).

The figure and accessories was originally based on the Hasbro (US) 1964 G.I. Joe figure (for 1966-1969 production). Hasbro's GI Joe figure was patented in 1966 [U.S. patent .

Action Man was subsequently reintroduced in 1993, based on the GI Joe Hall of Fame figure of that time.


Palitoy (from 1968 to 1980, a British subsidiary of General Mills) was the UK licensee for Hasbro Industries the company grew out of a plastics firm established by Alfred Edward Pallett in 1909 and went on to become one of Britain's leading toy manufacturers until its ultimate closure in 1984. [ [ Leicestershire County Council] ] .

In the early years Action Man competed with the entirely British Tommy Gunn by Pedigree Toys who were the producers of the Sindy doll. The Tommy Gunn figure copied aspects of Hasbro's G.I. Joe, released two years earlier in the United States. Regardless, Tommy Gunn was generally regarded as a higher quality in terms of equipment and accuracy of accessories, especially since the Action Man of the sixties was little more than a re-packaged G.I. Joe. However, he was ultimately unable to compete with Action Man and was discontinued in 1968. In the late sixties and early seventies many other companies produced competition for Action Man, but all were of the cheap blow-moulded variety, which produces thin-walled components lacking the articulation and sturdiness of the Palitoy components, which utilized more costly Injection and Rotational moulding processes.

Action Man was then developed with primarily British themes from 1970-onwards; military, adventurers, and sportsman, as Palitoy wanted to distinguish their product line from the U.S. counterpart. (Bill) William A.G. Pugh was the head of Action Man's product development at Palitoy, and can be credited with the development of innovations to the product line which included the flocked hair, gripping hands, and later "Eagle Eyes" which all crossed over to the GI Joe line [Michlig, J. (1998) "G.I. Joe; The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action", Section 12, pp.178-187] , and by extension to that of other Hasbro licensees.

One series that truly set Palitoy's line apart from Hasbro's was the "Ceremonials". Although Hasbro had a set of Cadet ceremonial outfits, they did not match the scope and range of the British versions, which also included a horse of the Life Guards with full ceremonial regalia as an optional set [Hall, A. (1999) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.2, p.5] . The non-military was also covered with adventurous elements such as mountain rescue, Arctic exploration, scuba and deep sea diving. One outfit was only available through the Action Man stars scheme; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (and accompanying mastiff dog). In the G.I. Joe lineup, this outfit was sold with figure in a variety of configurations through Hasbro Canada.


Military styled Action Man made a brief resurgence in the early 1990s but between 1996 and 2006 Hasbro used the name without any military theme as a modern adventurer complete with arch-enemies Dr X and Professor Gangrene. Marketing changed from producing a basic figure with the option to buy several different outfits to whole packs of figure plus outfit and equipment for a given "mission". This specialization together with improved production techniques led to figures with built in abilities such as karate moves or a working blowpipe.

A tie-in "Action Man" animated series was produced but was only available on video in the UK, because of broadcast rules about advertising to children; a toy could follow a TV production but not the other way around. [Ian Harrison "Action Man - The Official Dossier"]

Collectors version

Hasbro has since licenced in 2006 reproductions of a variety of the original boxed Action Man figures, under the 40th Anniversary "Nostalgic Collection" banner, in a packaging format similar to Hasbro's G.I.Joe collection.

Appearance; 60s - 80s

Figure construction

The original Action Man had a moulded hard vinyl painted head, with a livid scar on the cheek registered as a trademark, identical to G.I. Joe. Talking Commander figures often have the soft vinyl painted head also used for talking GI Joe figures. Action Man figures of the seventies tend to have a pinker coloration than G.I. Joe.; the feet are of the smaller original G.I. Joe variety. They were held together by elastic with crimped metal eyelets through which rivets passed, for the legs, and on each side immediately above the buttocks, which also distinguishes it from the U.S. version, trademarkings aside. The Canadian G.I. Joe body uses this pelvis. Bodies from 1978 on are all-plastic construction, with a flexible rubber connection for the neck post (this is subject to deterioration).

The initial releases had hands that were virtually identical to those of GI Joe. The hands were always an element of frustration, as noted by (Bill) William A.G. Pugh during setups for the annual toy fairs [Harrison, I. (2003) "Action Man - The Official Dossier" (ISBN 978-0007165506) ] ; he observed that it was hard to get them to really hold any of the accessories securely; being of hard vinyl construction, glue had to be used to secure the accessories. As a result, gripping hands were the next feature to be introduced in 1973; the hard moulded hands of the original were replaced by rubber. These hands were designed by Bill Pugh [assigned a U.S. patent ] A modified (simpler) version was used by Hasbro for GI Joe in 1974 [Michlig, J. (1998) "G.I. Joe; The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action", Section 12, pp.179] . A thimble was provided with each boxed figure to protect the fingers when changing its outfit. The early rubber is prone to breakdown as with the G I Joe version while the deterioration of 73-77 flex hands includes hardened of the outer layers, cracks and sometimes shrivelling.

Flocked hair and Eagle Eyes

The first innovation for Action Man was a form of flocking giving the effect of a short "fuzzy" hairstyle in 1970. Bill Pugh contacted the company he saw on a TV programme producing bottles covered with a flocked fibre [Michlig, J. (1998) G.I. Joe; The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action, Section 11, p.164] . Dracon Limited, whose promotional items included a flocked car, provided the basis for the electrostatic process that would give Action Man his new look [Michlig, J. (1998) "G.I. Joe; The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action", Section 11, pp.162-167] . With the introduction of the soft flock-haired head, all figures came with blue eyes unlike the painted heads and G.I. Joe Adventurers that still had brown eyes in some instances. This flocking innovation crossed back over the Atlantic and was introduced for GI Joe within the year. The equipment for Hasbro's GI Joe was assembled and tested in the UK before being crated and shipped to Hong Kong for mass production; Hong Kong was also the location of Palitoy's production. G.I.Joe's "sea adventurer" was a in the pre-70's G.I. Joe lineup.

As a footnote to the eye colours mentioned above, for the initial 1970-71 production run, some "soft" painted heads (some perhaps left over from the Star Scheme) were treated to the flock-haired makeover by Palitoy and distributed to the public. These figures are commonly found as the blue-eyed variant, but the rare combination of flocked hair and brown eyes can also be found on an original action man. There are also a range of skin tones, some were paler, some were warmer in tone; all these permutations give each and every figure a personality of their own. The fact that these were hand-painted is often evidenced in the appearance of variations such as mismatched eye coloration. Given the length of time the figure was in production, it is quite possible to find heads that have been altered, but that still may appear to be "factory". The only action man that came with sideburns and not a full beard, was the "Georgie Best" footballer figure [Hall, A. (1998) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.1, p.7]

The next major shift in marketing of the doll occurred with the introduction of an improved head with "Eagle Eyes" in 1976. Invented by George W. Ptaszek and James A. King at Hasbro [ , "Eye shifting mechanism for doll construction" dated February 1st 1977.] The design utilized a mechanism operated by a simple lever at the back of the head, moving the gaze of the eyeballs back and forth - an improvement on the fixed stare of the original albeit at the price of a slightly larger head, and the loss of the original facial features of the previous 10 years. The head was only available in brown and blonde hair and only blue eyes, with bearded versions of each.

Trademarkings and ID tags

From 1966-77 he was tagged on his lower back "Made In England By Palitoy Under Licence From Hasbro ® 1964", instead of on his right buttock, as was G.I. Joe. Early talker variants were similarly marked. Later standard figures from 1978-1984 were marked "CPG Products Corp 1978"; Later talker variants were marked "© 1975 Hasbro® Pat Pend Pawt R.I. Made in Japan" or "General Mills. Toy Group. Europe © 1975 Pat. No. 1458647". Talker torsos were held together with 2 screws recessed in the left and right shoulders, and from 1978, 2 additional screws above the hip line.

Early Action Man came with a dogtag similar to G.I. Joe's; a thin stamped steel tag. From 1970 on, Palitoy devised their own design, made of hard plastic with "bullet holes" passing through the logo, and cast in grey or green, which was used until the 1980s. Talkers have the tag attached directly to the pull cord, standard bodies have the tag attached to a small chain. In the 1980s, a modified identity tag with decals to be applied was released; these decals vary according to the figure. On talker figures, the tag was tied directly to the pull-string, on standard bodies, it was suspended by a black cord around the neck. The Hasbro-authorised reproductions of the 60s metal and 70s identity tags are virtually indistinguishable from the original.

All original Action Man uniforms were tagged inside the neck collar; the early issue even had the bullet holes of the box logo; this was later discontinued. The fabric used for the tags also varied, by the late seventies/early eighties a synthetic fabric was used.

Body variations; 1978-84

In 1977, the official catalogue included four new figures. Three of them were variations on the standard Action Man; a cyborg Atomic Man (influenced by in November of 1976. ]

From 1978 to the end of the original period of Action Man in 1984, the body was replaced with an entirely new design; at a glance, the most obvious detail is fact that the flesh coloured pelvic area of the body was replaced with a blue section giving the effect of blue shorts rather than the sexless mannequin look; at the same time the body took on a more muscular tone. This body type was known as the "Dynamic Physique", and in 1980, a notch was added to the neck to allow the head to be held back in a "sharpshooter" (Palitoy's marketing description, added to the boxed figures) pose. This body was designed by Bill Pugh (and others), who was also responsible for the development of other Action Man innovations that transferred to both GI Joe and other market licensees. The U.S. patent was applied for in November 1977 [by CPG Products Corp, assigned the patent ; "Toy figure having movable limb members".]

The talking Action Commander released in the late sixties issued eight commands at random (depending on how far out you pulled the cord); "This is your commander speaking", Enemy aircraft action stations", Volunteer needed for a special mission", Enemy in range 1000", "Action Man patrol fall in", Hold your fire until I give the order", "Mortar attack dig in", and "Commander to base request support fire". The 78-on Dynamic Physique Talker issued only 5 commands: [
] [
] [
] [
] [


In 1980 one more figure not based on the Action Man doll was added: "ROM" the Robot, licensed from Parker Brothers and originally called Rom Spaceknight, that would be adapted into a long-running comic book series by Marvel. A new line was also released featuring spacemen; Captain Zargon (the Space Pirate), and Zargonite and Space Ranger Captain. Captain Zargon used the same body mould, but in black plastic with silver printed tattoos and a "skull" head inside a moulded helmet. At the same time Action Man gained a new set of equipment under the "Space Ranger" title, including a "Space speeder", a four-in-one vehicle. These were futuristic outfits rather than previous space suits which had been based on the equipment of the Gemini and Apollo missions. Subsequent Space Rangers had clotyh outfits, rather than the somewhat impractical rubber of the first release. One Space Ranger produced by Palitoy was only sold in the European market under the "Group Action Joe" licensee as Captain Cosmos.

Packaging; 60s-80s

Figure boxes

The initial releases of the basic figures were packaged in boxes just slighter taller than the figure, with dynamic graphics depicting the figures in action poses on the front and back, with photos of the various accessory sets on the left and right side panels. The graphics were direct copies of those used for the U.S. 1964-1968 production GI Joe. The boxes featured wood grain background detail for soldiers, blue background for sailor, and yellow/brown for pilot. The boxes opened at the top, rather than the lidded version used in the U.S, for GI Joe. The figure enclosed was dressed in basic fatigues appropriate to the military branch; but since this did not match the box graphics, it raised truth in advertising issues, since the purchaser could rightly assume the contents "should" match the packaging. [Hall, A. (1999) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.2, p.62] As a result, the boxes were modified to include a photo image on the lower right of the actual contents; and from 1970-on, the graphics depicted the actual dressed figure as enclosed.

Wooden footlocker

As with GI Joe, during the 60s, Action Man had a wooden footlocker (Kit locker box) to store his accessories in. Overall dimensionally identical to the GI Joe item, but the details varied.

Uniform sets

Starting in 1970, Palitoy largely departed from Hasbro's lineup though some items and accessories and vehicles were still based on Hasbro's moulds. Palitoy created a wide range of uniform sets for the UK market. British military formed a large part of this range, with ceremonial outfits being among the most spectacular. From a collectors standpoint, they are very desirable. Many outfits were available as complete boxed figure sets. Some oufits were sold in a box format, some came with a Locker Box to store the outfit when not in use. There were six "soldiers of the century", which matched Hasbro's six "soldiers of the world", with the exception of the Japanese outfit and figure, which was never offered in the Palitoy range. These sets included an "intelligence manual" that covered all the available offerings in the lineup, and pages on light and heavy weapons, officer rank insignia, and morse code. As with G.I. Joe, early issue clothing is consistently of a heavier and more durable fabric although in terms of scale, the thinner fabric is more appropriate. The standard boxed soldier from 1973 onwards was outfitted with the then current sweater, khaki trousers, short boots, scarf, black beret, and SLR rifle typical of the British Army of the time. A contemporary boxed talking field officer was also available. The deep sea diver was so innovative it was also patented by Sam Speers. [ (Patent Number 3,364,616 on January 23, 1968] .

Uniform details

Palitoy was quite particular about the level and attention to detail for their uniforms and accessory detailing; so even though in some respects, some outfits were fairly simplistic compared to the actual outfit (certainly in comparison to the level of detail achieved with modern offerings from Dragon and other action figure companies) as can be seen in any of the product catalogs on offer from a variety of online vendors [Cotswold Collectibles, Modeller's Loft, etc.,] , Palitoy was fairly meticulous in the creation of appropriate insignia, such as the British Royal Military Police Cap and other uniform. There is no question that the standard dropped by the end of the 70s, for any number of reasons, not the least of which being rising production costs. [Harrison, I. (2003) Action Man - The Official Dossier, pp 98-101] With 60s and early 70s variations, often the were die-cast instead of plastic; the uniforms themselves were of heavy cotton; chevrons were typically embroidered and sewn on, rather than paper decals. Over the many years Action Man was in production, almost every item produced for the line had a multitude of variations.

Boxed sets

Over the course of Action Man production, a wide variety of boxed sets were sold; one popular at the time of the "Colditz" TV series in the early seventies was "Escape from Colditz", which provided both. Included were reproductions of a variety of Prisoner of war artifacts from Colditz, and a history. An "Escape from Colditz" board game was already released by Parker Brothers (UK), a division of Palitoy.

The Radio BackPack was also sold in a deluxe set with Action Man Field Officer. Spain's Geyperman, although a Hasbro Licensee, used Palitoy's product line as the basis for their product, as can be seen in the referenced offering.

Literature and star scheme

All boxed figures came with certain pieces of literature; usually an "Equipment Manual"; a catalogue of then current offerings that a kid could wish for, a star scheme card and a usage guide for the specific figure type that illustrated how to use and care for the flex hands, eagle eyes, etc., as appropriate.

Some outfits and figure sets came with instructions for proper use and care, they illustrate the identical items offered for GI Joe at that time; the only variation is the absence of Marine items offered in the U.S.

Other related items were also produced; in the 60s-70s there were companion leaflets for various sets that provided background information on the actual activity/military division, etc.; In 1977 six novels were published under the pseudonym Mike Brogan, and into the 80s, Action Man annuals were released.

Virtually all Action Man packaging from 1966 - on; the more expensive the item, the more stars it came with. These stars were intended to be clipped from the packaging, and affixed to a "Star Scheme" sheet that came with boxed figures. It had spaces for up to 21 stars, and included a list of the various items available for varying amounts of stars collected, with a "free" unclothed figure being the top item. The RCMP, his dog, and various outfits were available over the life of the program, which continued till the end of Action Man's production in 1984. Figures redeemed through the star scheme were sent in a plain manilla cardboard box. The Star Scheme is credited with the poor availability of intact packaging for collectors.

Carded accessories and weapons

Small items were offered on blister pack carding in the 70s - 80s; Earlier versions from the sixties were identical to GI Joes'; woodgrain background, plastic wrapped, with a small rivet hole for display/retail. The early items mirrored the GI joe releases, and were therefore primarily US weaponry. A vast array of small and heavy weapons were produced and marketed in this manner for the Action Man line. Examples such as the Emergency Highway were sold in the late seventies and early eighties. They were mostly priced to be affordable for children to purchase with their pocket money. Details that varied over the course of time were trademark stamping, coloration and straps; earlier items had elastic straps, later issues had plastic.


Among the larger accessories produced for Action Man were versions (not to true 1/6th scale) of the current British Army equipment: the Scorpion tank, Spartan APC, Ferret armoured car, the 105 mm Light Gun, Airportable Land Rover and trailer. There were also a Fire Tender, D.U.K.W., a VTOL aircraft the Army Helicopter "Capture Helicopter", Motorcycle with Sidecar, "Power-Hog", Police motorcycle, Submarine, Multi-terrain vehicle, Jeep, a Trailer, a Training tower and the Mobile operations HQ. There was also a replica rigid inflatable boat with a battery powered outboard engine.



* [ Leicestershire County Council]
* [ ActionManHQ Equipment Manual page]
* [ United States Patent and Trademark Office]
* Michlig, J. (1998) "G.I. Joe; The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action" (ISBN 0-8118-1822-5)
* Baird, F. (1993) "Action Man - The Gold Medal Doll for Boys 1966-1984" (ISBN 1-872727-36-0)
* Harrison, I. (2003) "Action Man - The Official Dossier" (ISBN 978-0007165506)
* Hall, A. (1999) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.1 (ISBN 1-901706-141)
* Hall, A. (1999) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.2 (ISBN 1-901706-29X)
* Hall, A. (1999) "Action Man - the ultimate collectors guide" Vol.3 (ISBN 0-9536199-0-7)
* King, K. (2000) "Action Man - the real story 1966-1996" (ISBN 0-9538870-0-6)
* Le Vexier, E.; Gavigniaux, H. "trans".(2004) "Action Joe - The Story of the French GI Joe" (ISBN 2-915239-21-5
* Taylor, N.G. (2003) "Action Man - On Land, At Sea, And In The Air" (ISBN 1-872727-99-9)
* DePriest, D. (1999) "The Collectable G.I. Joe" (ISBN 0-7624-0536-8

External links

* [ Vintage Action Man] - Images, Flash and video clips, information and repair tips on Vintage Action Man
* [ Action Man HQ] - focusing on the "vintage" 1966-1984 figures
* [ Geyperman] - page on the Hasbro-authorized Spanish version
* [ One sixth collectors] UK based collecting club for 12" dolls
* [ Vintage Action Man]
* [ AMCC] UK Action Man & 1/6 Forum.

ee also

* A.T.O.M, a spin-off of Action Man.
* Action Man (TV series)
* G.I. Joe
* Geyperman

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