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Annual Action Man convention comes to Wales to celebrate his fortieth birthday.

Byline: By DARREN DEVINE Western Mail

He was the moveable fighting man with eagle eyes and according to the proud boast of the toy's marketing men you could shift him into 'action positions'. Before Space Invaders and Pacman there was Action Man - the military-themed doll that enthralled a whole generation of boys who loved nothing better than spending hours with him on a daring mission.

And it seems those joyous times foraging through dense jungle or deep sea diving in enemy waters have lived long in the memory as the boys are unwilling to abandon their toys.

For the first time in its history the annual Action Man convention is coming to Wales in the toy's 40th anniversary year.

Scores of middle-aged men who derive endless pleasure from dressing the dolls in their military garb and adding bits of 'lovely detail', like little pouches and belts for guns and ammunition, will descend on Chepstow for the convention.

But chairman Ade Pitman, from Barry, in South Wales, insists there is nothing 'geeky' or 'sad' about the 500 members of the UK 1:6 (scale) Collectors Club.

The club's members are simply pursuing a 'harmless hobby' and often raise money for charities at their get-togethers.

Besides Action Man they collect a whole range of figures and toys manufactured to the 1:6 scale, including tanks, planes and cars.

A former RAF St Athan aircraft engineer Mr Pitman, 40, says around a third of the club's members are ex-military men and this background fuels their continued interest in the figures.

He said, 'There are a lot of middle-aged men involved and it's driven by a certain amount of nostalgia for their favourite childhood toy.

'But most of us have an interest in military toys and because we have an interest in the military we like to give a bit back and last year we raised pounds 1,200 for the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

'Also around a third of our members are from military backgrounds.

'Whatever people collect - whether it's tanks, cars or aeroplanes it's generally because they have an interest in the subject.

'For example I've got one member in Newport who loves horror films and he has a range of action-man-sized horror figures of characters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees - all the modern horror classics really.

'If it brings happiness to someone's life it cannot be bad.'

Action Man sales peaked in the 1970s when the toy was consistently one of the most popular gifts given to young boys.

The eyes that moved with a twiddle of a stick at the back of the head make up the childhood memories for an entire generation.

But when the market for home computers took off Action Man sales began to decline and by 1982 Palitoy, the company that produced the dolls under licence from Hasbro, ceased trading.

Action Man as a 12' figure was re-issued in the 1990s, but without the authentic uniforms from the 60s and 70s.

Also the new figures did not keep faith with the military flavour, but instead turned action man into an environmental or space age hero without the jointed arms and legs of the original.

The popularity of this figure quickly went on the wane and the only ones manufactured now are re-productions of the originals.

Andy Colman, of Surrey-based Modellers Loft, which is now licensed by Hasbro to sell Action Man in the UK, says the original figures are winning a new audience among the children of the middle-aged enthusiasts. 'We're selling them to people who had them originally, but now fathers are buying them for their sons as well. 'The only toys made now are reproductions of the originals and it's very popular still. ' It was the toy of the decade in the 70s and probably the early 80s.' The 'Welsh Action Figure Show', will be held at the Severn Bridge Social Club, Chepstow, on October 15.: Four decades of Action Man-how he has improved with age:Action Man came in various guises from its inception in 1966, including a pilot, a sailor and a soldier. The dolls were essentially the same, but with different costumes and hair colours. After this Action Man came in at least 59 guises including a deep sea diver, a footballer and even an astronaut.

Hair on the original dolls was painted but in 1970 Action Man's hair was flocked - giving it the look of a tight perm.

In 1973 Action Man with gripping hands was introduced - the figures were now able to hold their weapons and equipment much more effectively.

Action Man with eagle eyes was introduced in 1976 - these were moved by a small lever on the back of the head. By 1978 the figures were given a new more muscular physique identified by blue underpants.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 12, 2006
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