A tandem-rotor helicopter, the Piasecki H-16 was first revealed to the public at Philadelphia airport in 1953. However, the crash of the second YH-16 prototype in 1956, which killed the two test pilots, led to the cancellation not only of the YH-16, but also the planned 69-passenger YH-16B version. Designed by Frank Piasecki, the son of an immigrant Polish tailor who went on to concentrate on VTOL development, creating the VZ-8 Airjeep to fulfill a US Army Transportation Research Command contract for a flying jeep in 1957, Revell’s 1:96 scale kit was released in 1955.
With its name deriving from the conjunction of ‘bi’ – meaning two and ‘reme’ – meaning oar, a bireme is an ancient galley with two decks of oars reckoned to be an invention of the Phoenicians, the ancient eastern Mediterranean civilisation who can also claim to be the originators of the first modern alphabet. Biremes were famously used by the Romans and Julius Caesar employed such vessels for his invasion of Britain in 55 BC. Founded in 1955, Aurora Plastics Corporation released its first kit, an aircraft in 1952. Aurora’s 1:80 scale Roman Bireme was released in 1967.
Aurora’s 1:8 scale Green Beret kit dates back to 1966, predating John Wayne’s ‘The Green Berets’ movie by two years.
Since their establishment in 1952, when they evolved out of close cooperation between the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Pentagon’s Special Operations Division of the Psychological Warfare Staff (OCPW), US Special Forces have served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo,1st Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite receiving a mauling from critics, especially as its release coincided with the Tet Offensive, which revealed the North Vietnamese as a very formidable foe, in direct contradiction to their portrayal in the movie, ‘The Green Berets’ proved a box office success.
However, unlike the movie, which is not very well regarded, Aurora’s fifty-year-old kit of a Green Beret has more than stood the test of time as testified by the prices commanded by mint-in-box (MIB) examples today.
Some historians claim that the term ‘Hot Rod’ is derived from the fact that originally, many of the older vehicles forming the basis of souped-up customizations after being mated with powerful engines were... stolen! Whatever, Hot Rods definitely originated in America.
There can be few greater stars of this genre than Tommy Ivo, actor and drag racer. Famous for the nitro burning Slingshot and the Showboat, a four-engined four-wheel-drive exhibition dragster, in 1964, together with Don Garlits, Dante Duce and other stars, Ivo’s participation in the First International Drag Festival (held on the runways of five RAF airbases) did much to promote drag racing in the UK.
Ed Roth was another legendary customizer. Artist, pinstriper and creator of hot rod icon Rat Fink, Roth created The Outlaw in 1959. In 1962 Roth began a long relationship with Revell, who manufactured many of his hot rods as well as replicas of some of his wilder creatures like Brother Rat Fink, Drag Nut and Mr, Gasser. When I visited Revell’s famous Morton-Grove factory outside Chicago in 2004 for my book Classic Kits, I learned that Mr Roth often accepted payment in kind, Revell sending him consignments of kits which he then signed and sold on at auto gatherings.
Since the early nineteen-sixties until their demise in 1982, BMW Models of Wimbledon regularly advertised on the back cover of Airfix Magazine. Back then they were part of every keen modeller’s childhood, importing and distributing kits and in the days before the interweb and providing one of the most reliable mail-order services available. Owner Jim Horseman even employed an ex Airfix pattern maker, the late Joe Chubbock, to create the masters for BMW’s proprietary Formaplane vacuum-form brand. What a lot of people might not know is that BMW originally stood for Builders Merchants Wimbledon!
Screening for an amazing 168 episodes between 1965 and 1971, Hogan's Heroes was set in a German POW camp during World War II. Leading the would-be allied escapees was Colonel Robert E. Hogan and on the German side there was Colonel Wilhelm Klink and the inimitable Sergeant Schultz. This cool Jeep by MPC (Model Products Corporation - a US company founded in 1963) dates from the late ‘sixties.
Star Cruiser and Star Cruiser Interceptor are a couple of great spaceships from the fertile imagination of Gerry Anderson and, notably, Space: 1999 model maker Martin Bower. The larger Interceptor actually carries a version of the Interceptor piggy-back. Allegedly, the Starcruiser was originally intended as a Dinky toy but when Binns Road passed on the opportunity, Airfix picked up the baton. Starcruiser was also promoted through a comic strip in Look-In magazine, which ran over 75 issues between 1977 and 1979
“Building a remote-controlled airplane is an adult hobby that is just as much fun as any childhood pastime,” says Bill Adler, author of Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets. From laser keyrings and miniature desk games to multi-tool pens and movie-themed gadgets, ‘boys’ toys’ are more than just gizmos to entertain guys when they’re bored – they’re about reconnecting with childhood fun!
Our endless fascination with tech
Every generation had their own wave of gadgets that captured the imaginations of young boys through to grown men. In the 1950s, it was Scalextric; in the 1970s, along came the Rubik’s cube; and today we have drones! There’s always something new around the corner ready to relegate your new gadget to ‘retro’ status.
Little has changed other than the technology – we’re just as addicted to the buzz of playing with new gadgets and toys as ever before, and we still admire the craftsmanship of the inventors who created them. For instance, when the Boy Scouts was established in the early 1900s, the pocket knife was a vital tool for social ranking. To this day, opening up a Swiss Army Knife produces that same feeling of excitement and admiration for many men.
The perfect way to escape reality
Just as childhood toys led to hours of fort-building, spud-gun-shooting and play-acting, men’s gadgets allow us to create imaginary situations in much the same way (even if we’d rather not admit it). Now that we’re all grown up, the fantasising goes on inside our heads rather then on the playground – like when you see the latest model Ferrari, you probably imagine taking it for a spin, right?
It’s the same with any ‘boy toy’. Take an impressive scene of newly painted military models or an intricate model railway set, most of us will instantly imagine the real thing in action. That’s because toys and gadgets have the ability to focus our minds into a state of child-like simplicity and enjoyment, effectively blocking out life’s worries (if only for a brief moment).
New excuses for playing with gadgets
If there’s one advantage to growing up, it’s that when you become a father you have a perfect excuse to play with your favourite toys all over again (and discover new ones). Even if you make all the sound effects, who cares what your partner or friends think of your act of ‘pretending’ to have fun while your kid discovers their creative side? It’s all part of discovering your inner child. Plus, there’s the bonus of receiving novelty gadgets for Father’s Day.
The value of classic hobbies as time away from the screen is perhaps more important than ever. According to Ofcom, two thirds of people in the UK now own a smartphone, with 90% being 16–24-year-olds. More and more young children have access to smartphones and tablets, and many parents use screens as a means of keeping them occupied, which has caused a great deal of concern about the educational and developmental impacts of technology on young children.
On the other hand, playing with puzzles and games has been proven to develop good hand–eye co-ordination and problem-solving skills, and improve concentration. There’s a lot to be said about sticking to the old classics when playing with your kids, and it’s always more fun when you get to teach them the rules, rather than the other way round!
You get to show them the ropes
Games help kids develop self confidence, social skills and even bring out their competitive nature – whether that’s through winning everyone else’s marbles or declaring themselves ‘king of the castle’. It’s pretty much the same when they go through their teenage years into adulthood, only this time it’s about driving a flash car or wearing fashionable clothing – but all this has changed through technology.
What might have been seen as off-the-wall futuristic a few decades ago is now readily available to consumers. The Smart Watch makes most of the stuff from Back to the Future look dated (ok, maybe not the hover board), but the point is that technology is constantly getting better and more affordable than ever.
As Bill Adler says, “Sword fighting, arm wrestling and drinking contests are out as ways to prove manliness; more expensive watches and faster computers are in.” The ever-improving capacities of technology mean that internet-enabled gadgets are the new indicator of status and taste. App and cloud-controlled devices like Hive or Nest have made it easy to set up smart home technology within your house, making it possible to control systems within the home remotely. And last year’s Apple Watch, which felt like the pinnacle of modern consumer technology, was proudly worn on the wrists of many like a badge of honour.
Of course, there’s another reason why men like gadgets. It’s because they’re cool and provide a distraction from the realities of everyday life. Boy’s toys don’t necessarily have to do anything – they simply have to distract us momentarily. And that’s the beauty of them.
Swiss Army Knife and Rubik's Cube - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
Ferrari image - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Bill Adler's book - http://www.adlerbooks.com/book/threshold/
I like plastic. Most modern scale model construction kits are made of polystyrene, perhaps the most famous plastic. Airfix, perhaps the most famous brand name in plastic kits, has relied on injection-moulded polystyrene since the early 1950s. I like Airfix and have been lucky enough to write books about the brand.
I’ve written other books, some about toys and some focussing on wartime subjects such as the air battles during the Battle of Britain or the threatened Nazi amphibious invasion of the UK in 1940. Nostalgic fascination is my passion. But history isn’t always about grand things and a recent purchase in Brighton’s Snooper’s Paradise, one of my favourite emporiums, got me thinking about other things that were a significant influence on my childhood.
Founded by American Ron Popeil in 1964, Ronco was all pervasive when I grew up in the 1970s, sharing prime-time TV advertising slots with K-Tel, another US icon, founded by Philip Kives, a salesman, who incidentally bought and marketed a number products from Seymour Popeil, Ron Popeil’s dad. Which man can be truly credited with introducing the suffix ‘-O-Matic’, I don’t honestly know, both Ronco and K-Tel’s catalogues were full of Veg-O-Matics, Dial-O-Matics and Brush-O-Matics. Sadly, in 2017, Ronco filed for Chapter 11 in the US. K-Tel is still with us, leveraging its enormous back catalogue of hits which include Chubby Checker’s The Twist, Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti and Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953, more than a year after the death of her father, King George VI, tradition holding that such celebration was inappropriate during the period of mourning following the death of a monarch.
It was the first coronation to be televised in the United Kingdom and over 20 million viewers managed to see it on TV, with dozens crammed around a shared set, so rare were they in Britain in those days. With only five permanent transmitters in 1953, the nation’s infrastructure had to be urgently upgraded so more people could receive the signal and temporary transmitters had to be installed on the flatbeds of lorries. A TV boom naturally followed, with the number of TV licences shooting up from a mere 700,000 in 1952 to 1,100,000 in 1953. The introduction of ITV in 1955 was a direct consequence of this surge of popularity.
I bought these commemorative hair grips (bobby pins in the US) in Northumberland whilst visiting my friends Kris and Dave. £5.00 well spent I think.
The Model Engineer Exhibition of 1953 took place at the New Horticultural Hall Westminster in August, only a couple of months after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June. Consequently, London was the place to be that summer and Britain was bursting with pride about its technological and cultural significance. Perhaps not on the same scale as the conquest of Everest or the commercial operation of the Comet jet airliner the year before, the Model Engineer exhibition nevertheless show cased the talents of another highly skilled component of British, the hobbyist model maker. 1953 was significant for another reason: it was the year Airfix released its first proper construction kit, the Golden Hind!
Despite releasing its first plastic construction kit in 1952, a tiny replica of Francis Drake’s flagship Golden Hind, Airfix waited until early 1962 before publishing a multi-page catalogue of the kind we are familiar with today. There obviously wasn’t much point in producing such publications before that, when Airfix’s range comprised only a handful of models, but since the late 1950s the company had regularly distributed attractive sales leaflets. Interestingly, these publications continued after the first catalogue appeared and enabled Airfix to announce new kits that weren’t in the current catalogue. This autumn 1962 ‘catalogue supplement’ featured an assortment of kits including a Heinkel HeIII, Vickers Vanguard, the German battleship Bismarck and the British 3-wheeled tractor unit, the Scammell Scarab.
I don’t know too much about Cecil Coleman Toys, the manufacturer of the fine Action Man clone, Adventure Man. I know they exhibited at the 1947 British Industries Fair at London’s Olympia. Held at Olympia and Earls Court from 5 to 16 May, this was organised by the Export Promotion Department of the Board of Trade.
In the exhibitors catalogue they were listed as
Manufacturers of Building Bricks, Christmas Crackers Puzzles, Christmas Stockings, Constructional Sets, Metal Toys, Modelling Materials, Musical Toys, Indoor Games, Wooden Toys, Paper and Cardboard Toys and Games.
Based in Pentonville Road, London, N1, in the 1960s Cecil Coleman certainly held a license with Gerry Anderson because they manufactured a successful range of hand painted puppets for both Fireball XL5 (I’ve seen photos of a fine Steve Zodiac puppet) and for Thunderbirds (I’ve also seen a neat Scott Tracey puppet). They also produced a great plastic replica of Supercar.
Dinky No.724 was a fine replica of Sikorsky’s SH-3 Sea King helicopter. Liveried in a white and dark blue scheme, it came complete with a nice set of US Navy decals and, of course, a delightful Apollo capsule with an opening hatch which revealed three crewman. Upon its introduction in 1971 this replica sold like hot cakes, but by 1974, when it was withdrawn from the range, people had become quite blasé about Moon landings and sadly interest in NASA and, as a result, space toys, waned.
Two versions of Dinky’s model were available. The earliest type came in a cardboard box, later editions in a transparent blister pack. Ironically, because the latter packaging material was prone to discolouration and cracking the older, boxed versions are easier to find in good condition.
The full size helicopter was introduced into service in 1961 and broke records because it was the only amphibious helicopter in the world. This unique virtue made it ideal for the maritime recovery of NASA capsules which it did starting with the Mercury-Atlas programme in 1962, continuing with Apollo into the 1970s.
I thought it worth sharing a couple of Airfix box top/catalogue roughs that were given to me recently by my friend Peter Allen. As many kit fans will know Peter is the designer of many classic Airfix kits, most notably perhaps, both the 1:12 Bentley and 1:24 Harrier Superkits.
Both artworks are anonymous. The Airfix North American Harvard II was first released in 1964 but I think this one relates to the 1978 rerelease which included variants for an RAF Boscombe Down machine, one of three kept there at the time.
Airfix released their Britten Norman Islander in 1972, following it with a Defender variant in 1976. This rough proves that in the late nineteen-seventies Airfix seriously considered releasing a version of the aircraft as used by the Red Devils Free Fall Team. The Airfix Tribute Forum reveals that in response to a request for a Red Devils variant from an enthusiast s as recently as October 2008 the company said that they had “no plans to release these kits but we do keep a record of all customer requests and suggestions, which we do take into consideration when planning all future ranges.” I wonder if the Airfix Customer Care representative knew that nearly 30 years earlier Airfix did indeed have plans for such a kit and had even gone to the trouble of making a box top rough of the potential model!
The Space Shuttle was officially retired in July 2011 with the completion of Atlantis’s last mission. Atlantis had been in service for twenty-six years; having first flown in 1985. The inaugural launch of the Space Shuttle took place on 12 April 1981, when the orbiter Columbia lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center.
Despite some notable setbacks, especially the loss of Challenger and Columbia and a total of fourteen brave astronauts, in its thirty years’ service NASA’s Shuttle proved that the concept of reusable space ships were more than just science fiction. Indeed, without the Shuttle the International Space Station simply wouldn’t exist as the large orbital base it is today. Come to think of it, without the Shuttle, the 1979 James Bond movie Moonraker would have been missing a key component of the plot. And yes, other than with a concern for feminist issues perhaps, 007 was always ahead of the game; the Bond movie featured the Shuttle years before its first flight...
Space ships and astronauts, not to mention aliens, ray guns and intergalactic time travel, have long inspired toy makers and the advent of the Shuttle was manna from heaven for manufacturers on both sides of the ‘pond’, Corgi and ERTL being perhaps the preeminent companies in this field.
Well, to be honest it all started with Barbie. If Mattel hadn’t released their amply proportioned bombshell in 1959, the first time girls had been sold an adult doll rather than the traditional bottle-fed baby, enjoying massive sales as a result, rival toy maker Hasbro wouldn’t have been minded to try the same with boys, the result of which was GI Joe and in turn Action Man.
In 1964 the advent of GI Joe in the US caused a sensation. First off, boys would play with dolls (although Hasbro banned the use of the term insisting these were ‘action figures’) and secondly it established a hugely successful toy line which worked on the ‘razor blade’ principal, the razor being just the start, the money was in the consumables – the blades. And so it was with GI Joe/Action Man - the figure was the bait, the uniform sets and accessory packs were the real catch. As a consequence manufacturer Hasbro and Palitoy, its UK subsidiary, struck gold.
Unsurprisingly the success of the above boys’ toy encouraged rival manufactures to jump on the band wagon, with varying success. Louis Marx was among the most prolific in producing a wide range of competing action figures. Three are shown here: Sir Percival, a Gold Knight from their popular Noble Knight series which also featured armoured horses; young cowboy Jay West, from the Best of the West series which also included Johnny West, Jane West and Geronimo among others; Stony ‘Stonewall Smith’, the Battling Soldier.
Noble Knights and Best of the West figures were available in the UK but Stony didn’t sail across the pond and consequently is among the rarest. I had to purchase my boxed version from the US. Marx was pretty quick to cash in on GI Joe, releasing Stony the same year as Hasbro’s toy. Initially because he came with a box full of accessories he enjoyed good sales. But Stony had a major flaw. His uniform was moulded on, the only one he ever had. He hit the dirt in 1968 and never got up.
I recently received a review copy of Sixty Years of Airfix Models, another fine addition to the growing library of books about the famous British kit manufacturer. As most enthusiasts will know, Jeremy stood up to the plate, taking over as editor and publisher of fanzine Constant Scale in 1999 (founder John Wells having started this august publication in 1994).
It is fitting therefore that this new book is written by a true fan. Jeremy not only fits that category very well but his encyclopaedic memory and impressive archive of facts and figures about Airfix mean that the author leaves no stone unturned as far as detail is concerned. Consequently, this book includes very useful chapters about the varied types of logo and styles of packaging in which the famous kits have been sold since the company’s inception in the nineteen-fifties.
Sixty Years of Airfix Models is available from The Crowood Press (ISBN: 9781847979759)
RRP £25 although discounted editions can be purchased from The Crowood Press of via the Airfix Collectors Club website:www.airfixcollectorsclub.co.uk
Richmal Crompton was born in Bury Lancashire in 1890. Trained as a school teacher, she is best known as the author of the famous ‘William’ books, thirty-nine of which were published between 1921 and 1970 (Crompton died in 1969). Throughout this fifty-year period Crompton’s protagonist, William Brown, the leader of a gang called The Outlaws, remained aged eleven. Apart from one novel, Just William’s Luck, Crompton’s impressive series comprised individual volumes full of short stories.
Famous for his mischievous behaviour, it might come as a surprise that William also served a useful propaganda purpose during wartime. The fact that Crompton was also a member of the Suffragettes might be another surprise.
Often reflecting current events, the William books mined a rich seam during the Second World War. In fact one volume, William The Dictator, published in 1938 at the time of the Munich Crisis, tackled Fascism before Hitler triggered the conflict by invading Poland. William and ARP was published in 1939 to be followed by William and the Evacuees and William Does His Bit in 1940.
A Guide to War Publications of the First & Second World War: From Training Guides to Propaganda Posters (Pen & Sword 2015 ISBN 10:1783831545)
George and Joseph Lines founded their company, G & J Lines in 1876. Based near London’s Caledonian Road it soon grew to become the largest toy manufacturer in Britain. In 1919, returning from the Great War, Joseph Lines' three sons William, Arthur and Walter, who had worked in their fathers' company since leaving school, took over the running of the business and by 1924 they had relocated their still rapidly expanding company to Merton, South London.
Because a triangle is made up of three lines they registered Tri-ang Toys as their brand name. By 1931 they employed over 1,000 staff and even purchased Hamley’s, the famous London toy store. Soon after, they registered Pedigree as the name of their subsidiary doll-making business and also established International Model Aircraft Ltd with the brand name FROG (flies right off the ground). Non-flying models such as cars were manufactured under the brand name Penguin (a non-flying bird – geddit?)
Founded in 1946, Alexander Gregory Vanetzian’s Rovex Plastics Ltd, specialised in toy trains. Because Lines Bros were looking to expand into railways they purchased Rovex and began selling their new range as Tri-ang Railways from 1951, moving the new subsidiary, Rovex Scale Models Ltd to a new factory in Margate, in Kent, in 1954. Later this factory would become home to Airfix when it was acquired by Hornby Hobbies.
Tri-ang introduced the first 'Battlespace' model in 1957. A slow burner with just seven models at first, it took off in a big way during the Tri-ang Hornby years (in 1964 Tri-ang purchased Meccano, the then owners of Hornby), reaching its peak with over 20 models by 1967.
Sadly, Lines Bros went bust in 1971.
Rare mint in shrink wrap Tri-ang Battle Space! Tactical Rocket Launcher complete with a squad of 7 Battle Space Commandos, one of whom can be seen in the small window.