About Me

My photo
No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 60-year-old Aspergic gardening 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”. Likewise, 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. I will 'bite the hand that feeds', to remind it why it feeds.

Monday, May 7, 2012

B is for Britains Balls-up

So to a real rarity, though - not as rare as they were once considered to be? It is a fact that I'm known for my cries of; "They're not rare - it's all mass-produced plastic crap" ...whenever the subject of rarity comes up in conversation at shows, it's the cynic in me! However there are always a few pieces that really are rare, the Lone*Star musketeers for instance, and these guys. But then how rare are they really. I ask because these have quite play-worn bases which would suggest someone thought they were run-of-the-mill figures to be chucked in the toy box with all the others.

They are - of course - the first attempt Deetail paratroopers from Britains, also their first attempt at the over-moulding process making them Super-Deetail! Except they ended-up 'Super-mess'. There is no real mystery to over-moulding, Italian Army badges had been made from layers or panels of different coloured PVC for years (since the last war? - Certainly since the 1950's), which required a high degree of accuracy in placing the different layers or 'panels' of colour next to or inside each other, however it wasn't as complicated as the techniques Timpo were developing at the same time with their figures.

Not that Timpo got it all right, the finer the detail, the more likely they had problems leading to the various sandal types on the Romans or the relative rarity of the last version ACW.

So, Britains; starting to struggle in the charnel-house that was the toy industry of the late 1970's, looking around for a new angle, thought they could do better than Timpo...overnight! They couldn't...these were quickly dropped from the range and replaced with the four poses we are all more familiar with in SAS, Royal Marine and Para schemes.

Looking at them (click on the images for a larger version) it is clear that the problem is the black, which one suspects was the final 'shot' and while whether it was injected from one of the feet or the main weapon will always be a mystery, it's obvious that it had to travel the whole length of an otherwise cold moulding to produce not only the boots and weapons, but very fine detail like rank badges on the arm and a cap badge. They must therefore have had to inject at a high (higher than usual?) temperature, which then allowed the plastic to flow into places it wasn't meant to go to. Similar problems are clear with the face-vail/scarf, webbing & puttee green and the red of the berets, which has given one chap an interesting non-tactical tee-shirt!

The rumour that has grown-up around these figures is that there were 400/500 sets issued to salesman (some sources will tell you 50 sets!) and that they were given to shop/store owners. Well...there are problems with this rumour, as with all rumours given as fact in the hobby! Firstly they turn up far too often to be from a sample that small, secondly, by the late 70's Britains were a massif toy company and the High Street had already started to change under the pressure of supermarkets meaning the likelihood that Britains were still using 'travellers' to market their products is a hard one to swallow.

I would imagine that what happened was they decided to make the best of a bad job (they had already placed the image of these in the catalogue for the forthcoming season), and had a couple of workers sorting-out those that were 'passable' to cover the confirmed orders which would have come from that Winter's toy fairs in Harrogate, London and Nuremberg.

Now - I've had the displeasure of using a hot-polymer injector, albeit in another industry and for another type of product with even more variables, which regularly left me under the - idle - machine spraying lubricant in my eyes while hot-glue dripped on my fingers and I sped-up my male-pattern inherited-baldness with the aid of various sharp protuberances and the edges of the machine! So I can tell you that as the ambient temperature in the room, the running temperature of the machine and the actual thermostatically controlled (by a human) vat of granules all heated up as the day progressed the problem mouldings would have increased to the point where our girls (the sorters - lets imaging three women round a table somewhere in a corner of the factory) were throwing away maybe 9 out of 10 figures, as opposed to the 1-in-4 (or so) they had been rejecting earlier in the production-run.

As the problem had been identified and the pre-publicity was driving the need for the replacements to be rushed through, the truth is - far more boringly than the rumour - likely to be that a few thousand figures were sent out to the bigger clients (a few hundred (?) boxes), and - like the Super-Deetail Ballet Dancers - have suffered from 'separation' over the years leading to few survivors, helping the myth creationists, who can never tell you how they 'know' there were only 50 or whatever number they give you - sets, just that "there WERE that many!".

These four are also quite complicated figures, very well animated and realistic poses, with lots of under-cuts while the final four were altogether more two-dimensional, so there's a possibility that - moulding of the finer detail apart - they (Britains) were also having problems just getting these four out of the machine in one piece, looking like they were supposed to look!

Also these four came from Belgium or at least; via Belgian dealers, there is also a set for sale in the US  and while I don't know if they started their journey to the collectors table from toy shops in those countries (the downside of FeeBay is that it's getting harder to know for sure where anything was originally 'sold exclusively' as it's all gone all over the place without proper records being kept!), it's equally clear that they have got around a fair bit, which they wouldn't have, had they actually been as rare as some would have you believe.

As this is already a long article (with not enough photographs!), I'll waffle a little longer, at a slight tangent...

Take a look at your cordless kettle, grab your mobile (cellphone), check out where over-moulding is in the 21st century. They can seamlessly mould a PVC rubberised-polymer, an ABS or styrol plastic and a ridged ethylene or polypropylene (with metaflec) next to each other, sometimes (on things like 'phones) less than a millimetre thick. creating ergonomic knife handles, laptop cases, tools, toothbrushes or electronic components with tolerances in the thousandths of a mill!

And in 5 to 10 years you will be able to print your own in the corner of your living room as convergence technology makes it possible for you to download the CAD/CAM file or hand-laser scan the object you need to make or replace and then just print it out in three-D.

As a 30mm Erzgebirge wooden figure looks next to an Airfix 20mm Roman with his little plug-in shield, so these Britains rejects look next to modern over-moulding! Sadly, the economies of scale mean it's unlikely we'll see such detailed multi-shot techniques used on toy soldiers in the near future...Nokia, Lenovo or Russel-Hobbs can afford to, as they look to sell between 1 and 30 million+ units within 18 months of the product going live, I don't suppose HaT or BMC think along those lines when it comes to production numbers!!!

So there you go, not as rare as they 'used' to be! But you'll still need a friendly bank-manager to buy a full set!


Scott B. Lesch said...

"Super-Deetail Ballet Dancers"

So thats what happened to them. I had a couple and gave a few to a ballerina girlfriemd. Mine broke easily after a short time. Sad.

Paul said...

A nice post Hugh.

A call to arms is rumoured to re bringing them out in 1/76 or 1/72 scale, and there is a master photo on PSR.


At the bottom of the page. But like most things this rumour has been around for a couple of years now and not seemed to have developed.

Nice one.

Hugh Walter said...

Hi guys

Scott; Yes, sadly they've ended-up more brittle (in a different way) than their 1950's Herald originals, although there is a secondary problem with the pink flesh on some batches which expands and and cracks on the larger parts and just snaps on the finer items...arms and legs.

Paul; Aha? The rumour-mill...too much of it around! And sometimes it gets into 'definitive' publications as fact!! I hope people take notice of the number of question marks I use and the regular requests for more info!

Though it would be nice if someone made small scale versions of all sorts of 54 and 60 mil' figures. Someone did produce plug-in versions of the Deetail Germans (first series) in 25mm, green, nylon or polypropylene type plastic.

I have a few and saw them with the 'thing' they plugged into in a catalogue somewhere, I'll try to did them out one day and chuck them up here, they did appear in PW's 1 Inch Warrior at some point on the 'What the #$&£! is it' page.