In 1982 the classic Action Man doll was beginning to waver in popularity, with much of the blame for its demise being squarely levelled at the then insanely popular Star Wars Figures. Â Manufacturers Palitoy figured if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and promptly introduced the Action Force range of mini figures (still branded under the Action Man name, as the image shows).
This first set of figures were fairly accurate depictions of different types of real life soldiers from different ages and countries, including a British Royal Marine, an SAS Frogman, a US Paratrooper and a German Stormtrooper. Â There were also some more generic entries into the line up such as a helicopter pilot or a deep sea diver, complete with old fashioned diving bell helmet!
The figures were also accompanied by a number of different vehicles and playsets such as a Jeep or a command centre. Â These figures weren’t quite so historically accurate, as the “multi-mission-vehicle” clearly demonstrates, being a wheeled vehicle with flotation devices to enable it to become amphibious and a set of foldable wings to give it flight. Â OK, I’ll go with the flotation devices but the wings seem a bit unlikely…
The range was very successful, and the following year a new range of figures were released. Â However, this new range started to lose the more historically accurate trend of the original figures and started to group the figures into squads based on the soldiers abilities (e.g. armed soldiers, sea based or more fancifully space bound soldiers). Â An enemy squad called the Red Shadows was also introduced, led by a certain Baron Ironblood.
The figures also started coming with cards with details about the soldier in question, who had taken on a more comic book persona thanks to the Action Force comic strips that appeared in UK comic Battle. Â The Action Force strips proved so popular in fact that the comic actually got renamed Battle Action Force!
In 1985 there were more changes when Palitoy was bought up by Hasbro, who were manufacturers of a similar range of figures in the US under the G.I. Joe brand name. Â Some of the G.I. Joe figures were added to the line up, and the “good guys” in the range now became collectively known as Action Force, whilst the baddies, in line with the US counterpoints, were called Cobra.
The toys and the comic book adaptation started to feed into each other, and before long the Action Force were even taking on a reanimated Adolf Hitler. Â Quite how Hitler was reborn I don’t know, but given that the Action Force at this time always appeared to be from the present day there were obviously some kind of scientific shenanigans involved in bringing the Fuhrer back to life.
Over time the Hasbro influence took more of a hold, with the G.I. Joe name making its way onto the Action Force packaging as well. Â I certainly remember the TV advert jingle saying “G.I. Joe – The Action Force”. Â Eventually the Action Force title was lost completely and the toys adopted just the G.I. Joe name. Â A shame really, since in the UK the abbreviation G.I. would have been lost on most kids.