Following the success of the G.I. Joe Action figure, created and launched by Hasbro to the US market in the early 1960s, the UK toy company Palitoy bought the license to manufacture and distribute G.I.Joe to the UK and Australian markets and launched the, now renamed, "Action Man" toy range in 1966. Initially three dolls were launched - Soldier, Sailor and Pilot and went on to become once of the most popular Boy's toys during the late 1960s, 1970's and early 1980s with an expanding range of themes which mostly revolved around the Second World War but also included Astronauts, Football, Policemen and modern military. As with G.I. Joe, Action Men had a huge collection of accessories available including extra uniforms, weapons, animals & vehicles. The dolls and accessories continued to be popular until the early 1980s when Palitoy ceased trading and ultimately closed in 1984. Hasbro subsequently bought up the factory, moulds & copyrights from the administrators. The Action Man brand was relaunched by Hasbro, but similar to GI Joe & the Rise of Cobra, went for a more futuristic theme with comic and cartoon tie-in's. The core action figure, although still 1/6 scale, was changed significantly to before, but never really captured the imagination of the target generation, as had it's earlier predecessor.
Since the demise of Palitoy and the original Action Man range, there had long been a gap in the market for a quality military themed action figure series in the toy market (the adult collectors market had been well served in recent years). Then British Toy manufacturer - Character Options, entered negotiations with the British Ministry of Defence to license and manufacturer a range of Action figures based on modern British Armed forces. With the negotiations concluded, in May 2009 - to coincide with the V.E. Day anniversary , the HM Armed Forces Action Figure range was launched with the endorsement of the UK Ministry Of Defence (who will also receive an income from the sales, which will be used to further promote the Armed Forces) and with military top-brass and the figures real-life counterparts in attendance to promote the figures.
The first phase of the figure line consisted of eight 10" figures (slightly smaller than the standard 1/6 scale) and were created using digital sculpts of real-life serving members of the three military Services and in close co-operation with senior military figures to ensure absolute accuracy and consist of figures from the three military branches- Army, Royal Navy & Royal Air Force. Although the 10" figures appeared slightly smaller than the Palitoy Action Man, the detailing is exceptional and are far more authentic than their historic counterparts and with very fine details.
The initial launch consisted of an Army Infantryman, Army Armoured Infantryman, Army Mortarman, Royal Marine Commando , Royal Navy Frogman, RAF Falcon Display Team parachutist, RAF Winchman & RAF Fast Jet Pilot.
Additional Vehicles were also launched with the Army Battle Tank being the first (based lossely on the Scimitar) and an RAF Vertical Take Off and Landing Fast Jet, based also loosely on the (now decommissioned) Harrier Jumpet. the scale is very condensed (but in fairness, if it was the correct scale, it wouldn't fit through the front door and a small child could get injured in trying to lift!). A number of smaller accessories were launched including Royal Marine Commando Desert Raiding Party Quad Bike and Royal Marine Commando Stealth Canoe. In 2012, an Army Attack helicopter (based loosely on the Apache) was released along with a 105mm Army Field Gun.
In July 2009, Character Options launched an enemy combat opponent in the form of the "Enemy Mercenary". A fairly generic character with shades, grey fatigues, combat vest with pouches, Assault Rifle and sidearm. I'm sure Character Options would have liked to have issued a more "realistic" modern opponent, but in these days of PC, I guess they have to be careful to avoid controversy!
During 2010, further Action figures were launched including an Army Parachutist with a thrown and deploy parachute and an RAF Regiment Gunner. Also released was an excellent Royal Marine Commando sniper with "Hawk Eyes" (a clear reference to the original Action Man's Eagle-Eyes").
Later in 2010, the Arctic Mission range was released with a new figure in Arctic survival fatigues - Arctic Infantry Ski Patrol and also an Arctic Ski Doo with Royal Marine Commando in arctic camouflage (An Arctic Mission Forward Air Controller Equipment kit has also been released). Also, an additional vehicle was added to the range- the Jackal M-WMIK, which in real-life, is the heavily armoured replacement to the Land Rover, which is on deployment in Afghanistan. The Jackal accommodates three figures and features a rear 360 degree swivelling weapons mount for the 50 calibre machine gun and forward mounted General Purpose Machine Gun. The vehicle has realistic steering with jerrycans and mounted spare tyre.
Also in late 2010, similar to the Action Man series of old, CO released Six Equipment Sets which included uniform and equipment that enabled you to transform an existing action figure. The sets released were; RAF Pilot, RAF Military Police Close Protection Bodyguard, RAF Forward Air Controller, Royal Navy Rating Deck Gunner, Royal Navy Diver, Royal Navy Fire and Emergency. These sets offered good value for money (at around £10 each, as of May 2011, although the advertising on many retail sites has sometimes caused confusion, with customers assuming the action figure was included). Also released, is a basic equipment set consisting of standard Helmet, 2-piece uniform, boots, pistol and different weapons - SA80 Assault Rifle, Minimi Light Machine Gun and 50 Cal Heavy Machine Gun. A Basic Training figure with camouflage trousers and assault rifle is also available in what appears to be an Argos (UK) Exclusive.
In 2011, with perhaps again, a nostalgic nod back to the Action Man of old, Character Options released three new Action Figures with Sound Effects (with electronic push button, rather than pull-string!) the new figures emit realistic commands and combat sounds. the new characters with the Sound FX option issued are Royal Marine Commando Night/stealth Ops (with camo face and light machine gun), Royal Air Force Police Dog Handler (with Dog) and Army Infantryman with ASM Rocket Launcher. While the figures are slightly more expensive (at around £20, as of May 2011), they are an excellent addition to the range. In 2012, a wind-up crawling infantryman was added to the range, however with a significant slow down of offerings in 2012,some heavy discounting (even on the Character Options website, as of August 2012, many of the uniform ranges detailed had been on offer at just £1.99 each!) and the range slowly disappearing from supermarket retailers shelves, it could well be the gradual winding down of the range.
The HM Armed Forces has filled a gap which the Action Man range left vacant, with action figures that are more detailed and technically accurate, For the price, the attention to detail is exceptional and the figures are increasingly popular with kids (both young and old!) and as eBay attests, the figures and accessories are becoming increasingly collectible. The figures retail at between £10 and £20 (UK) and vehicles up to £40(UK), although bargains can be found on the high street (Tesco were recently selling the mortar man figure at £4.99(UK) although not sure if this was a pricing error?) online and second hand on eBay and the equipment sets are regularly discounted with some supermarkets and online retailers currently selling these for around £5.00. These figures compare favourably to some of the much higher priced "Collectors" figures such as DID (Dragon in Dreams) who produce the awesome and extensive WWII detailed 1/6 figure collections (incidentally, DID produced a 40th Anniversary Action Man range for distribution by Modellers Loft, based in Bournemouth, England, who have acquired the reproduction rights) and Hot Toys Action Figures. The HM Armed forces brand has expanded to include role-play toys such has tents & uniforms and more recently, added the Character Building range which is similar to Lego mini-figures (& Lego compatible) with a range of HM Armed Forces mini-figures and initially an Army quad bike and Navy RIB initially.
During the course of 2014, it does appear that Character Options ceased production of the action figure range, although the lego style mini-figures continued for a while longer, but have also now ceased. While the ranges were briefly popular, they have sadly now been consigned, like Action Man, to toy history.
Kieran Clarke (author) from Newton Abbot on July 04, 2011:
If you are in the UK, Tesco are currently offering many localised discounts on the HM Armed Forces line. I recently spotted in the Tesco extra store in Redruth, Cornwall HM Armed Forces equipment set and also Marine Sniper (with slight damage on box) on sale each for £3.47! Might be worth checking you local Tesco if you are interested in any HM Armed Forces Bargains?