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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

B is for British Boys by Blue Box, Pt. II - Penny Based

So we move to the figures I call - for obvious reasons - the 'penny-based' family. These start with Blue Box 30mm originals, move through the Hornby-Triang commission and then get into the realms of copies and copies of copies until we're looking at 20/23mm blobs that could be used to reinforce the old Combat Group from Airfix.

I would suppose that in order to fulfil the Triang contract for Battle Space figures a  permanent change was made to the bases, which meant that when green figures were required by BB for their own issues, they too appeared with the new discs.

The top row above are the hard plastic (polystyrene) figures from Blue Box that replaced the older kidney-based figures. The figures themselves are exactly the same as the older ones, in the same five Crescent poses, led by the Britains Herald officer.

Eventually, like the US troops there was a soft (polyethylene) issue - unlike the US troops though, these were painted as the older figures had been. The shade of green varies so I've shot a darker group and a lighter group to give some idea of the variation.

Decoration on  these was crude, as with all BB figures, what I call the stab-and-hope school of painting - the impressionist period! There was a variation; smaller figures on smaller bases, so far I have only found three, in two poses - the figures bottom centre; standing firing and the radio operator.

There are also a few Polypropylene figures in a tinny-sounding rigid 'soft' plastic, there is no visual difference at all, but I've shown one bottom right for the hell of it! Other shots are colour variations and a shrinkage figure who appears to have gone to the Airfix Paratrooper training school!

There is no real reason for numbering the soft plastic ones as type 3, but with the extra bases it sort of makes sense. The Battle Space figures on the other hand only get a 'b' as they are to all extents the same as the green styrene figures, but in brown! There is a type 2c, the unmarked based figures that come between the BB set and the grey set, which being all new poses (albeit very similar to the Blue Box figures) deserves a number outside the sequence.

All the above types were also looked at in the previously referenced earlier post Here, so apart from lining them up there's not much new here.

Close-ups of a size variation or two and the bases, along with decent views of the two type x prone poses. The smaller grey officer seems to be standard mould shrinkage (his chest has swelled as it fills with the plastic withdrawing from the extremities), however the smaller (unmarked) type 2c brown figure is a separate moulding, and - along with the smaller based type 3's - would seem to point toward mould damage leading to the x type being developed to replace the old Blue Box moulds?

However, before the mould was replaced it was run with various colours of soft ethylene by Blue Box and a seventh figure was added (type 4 above), namely; the standing firing pose from Britains Herald, similar to but distinct from the Crescent firer who had been run since the kidney based days of the late 1950's/early 1960's.

As this was all happening around the time of the Triang figures, the shrunken officer and the smaller bases, it all points to the moulds coming to the end of their useful life, although these figures are very clean and well detailed so they were probably cleaned-up at the same time as the additional figure's inclusion.

Type 5 are pretending to be Blue Box, but are smaller, and made from a more modern glossy polymer. Probably Ri-Toys, they came painted (a) and unpainted (b) and there has been a slight loss of size and detail.

The subsequent types listed above take us firmly into the realm of sub-piracy's, ie; those figures form small Hong Kong manufacturers, who rather than bothering to go to the source material (Crescent and Britains 54mm figures), just copy the copies from their 'rivals' down the alleyway, across the road or at the other end of the industrial park!

7a and 7b are the same mouldings with different base markings, they have yet to come together in the same lot, so can be considered different 'sets'.

A closer look at the type 4; Size differences point to a second set of mould inserts and as can be seen from the officer this is not a case of the coloured ones being later, both sizes come in both colours in the same lots and were clearing running together...by the 1970's there was more wealth in the west and greater demand for pocket-money toys. The second mouldings are clearly both smaller and thinner than the first and will have been copied from the earlier set. Along with the problems already covered it's another pointer to the death of the Blue Box/model railway's penny-based British Infantry.

There's also a close-up of the new Herald pose and the grenade-thrower on the far right has been caught by the machinery and pinched in half!

Comparison between the above figures, excluding the Triang-Hornby sets, with a size comparison and the various base markings. Photographing the bases is - to put it mildly - an inexact science!...trying to get then all readable, in focus and out of glare or flash-back at the same time is not easy. Also, these three shots are not to the same scale.


A heat-shrink top left and the marking variation of the 7's. Also shown here is a close-up of type X2, this is not actually a true member of the penny based family, as it is a throw-back from some figures we'll be looking at in about three posts time (if I've got my head round these!). As a pose it seems to be the torso of the Britains Herald charging with pack attached to the Britains Swoppet mortar crewman's legs!

The final true penny based figures based on the Blue Box offering (we will look at the 'interim' sets next) are mainly in small samples of poor quality and were mostly issued with Lucky Bags or in Christmas Crackers, in small quantities - often only one or two. As a result they are hard to find or amass in quantity, and there will almost certainly be other poses missing from the above samples, and other types/sub-types still to be annotated into the family/oeuvre.

Another size-comparison shot - the final figure (type 14) is every bit compatible with the contemporary Airfix 23mils and most of these late figures can be painted-up and used with that size of war gaming figures. Some of these - if not all - will be copies of copies of copies.

The weapon used by all the British Infantry figures in the penny based family - and the later figures we will be looking at soon - is the EM2, a bull-pup designed automatic weapon which never saw service. Wikipedia EM2 page states it did, but uses few references, mostly a single Canadian work. The fact is that it was given a designation; the Rifle, Number 9, but outside of the Demonstration Battalion at the School of Infantry, Warminster saw little or no 'real' service.

The Demo. Btn. would have provided the troops for press-days (and the Lulworth Cove fire-power demo's) in the Cold War, from whence it (the EM2) would have garnered column inches in the tabloids, and through them the boys magazines and annuals. This coverage of it led to Britains, Crescent, Lone*Star and Taffy Toys adopting it for their toy and model soldiers.

Interestingly, the first Zang Herald figure was equipped with a Lee Enfield and the latter Swoppets had SLR's.

The beauty of these small scale copies is that the external appearance of the weapon is similar to the modern SA80 and when painted these figures make better late 1980's figures than they ever made 1960's troops!

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