17 May 2022
A time when Action Man grew a beard, pulled on a thick jumper, and climbed a cliff face with just a rope!
In 1966 Palitoy’s launch of Action Man was spectacularly successful, but also quite straight forward. As a boxed figure he was either a soldier, a sailor, or a pilot. Alternative outfits and weapons packs were sold separately. In 1968 a 4th boxed figure was added, a talking Commander with a pull cord, internal mechanism and 5 random spoken phrases. All sold in their thousands! But by 1970 it was time for further updates to the boxed figures range. Firstly, Action Man’s appearance changed noticeably with the introduction of flocked hair. Secondly, updated outfits for some of the boxed figures – a new soldier uniform, this time with a machine gun, and a new updated sailor outfit. And third, two new roles for Action Man: the Sportsman and (the focus of our study today) the Adventurer!
The first Adventurer figure from 1970 is one of the iconic figures in the vintage series. Along with the Sportsman he was non-Military. That said, I always liked to think of him as being a military man who was on leave, or maybe on an undercover mission? But either way it gave parents an option to buy something that wasn’t portrayed as a military or war related doll.
The figure, like the Sailor, also had a flocked beard! In fact, throughout the series, and subsequent updates, the Adventurer and the Sailor were always bearded. The Adventurer came with a straight forward outfit with no accessories included: A white thick roll neck jumper, blue jeans – occasionally these were a denim look similar to the French Resistance Fighter outfit of the late 1960s, but more often a pale blue chino type jean with white stitching, and some light tan boots. The boots remained unique to this figure and are a nice variant to add to your modern day collection. The box art showed him on a snowy mountain side looking into the distance, his tent in the background. Probably planning the next stage of his Everest ascent? The artwork nicely tied the figure to some of the Adventurer accessories that already existed in the range - 1969s base camp set (including an orange tent, Union Jack flag and assorted mountaineering bits of kit), and the Polar Explorer accessories kits which included things like ski’s, a husky pulled sled, anorak’s and snow shoes.
The first update to the Adventurer figure came in 1973. This coincided with another well documented evolution of the figures, the change from hard fixed hands to softer rubber gripping hands. Four new figure boxes and outfits were released in ‘73, a new Soldier, Sailor, Commander and Adventurer. The Adventurer’s outfit changed slightly. From this point onwards his roll neck jumper would be navy. His boots reverted to standard Action Man black. He also came in either brown or blond hair and beard. The updated box art showed him climbing a cliff face with a rope, and looking in a somewhat precarious position with the rocks crumbling beneath his feet. There is a little known variation in the box art here that’s worth looking out for. The very earliest releases of this box show a rope without knots in it and the side panel shows the Talking Commander as well as the Sailor and the Soldier. Within a year the art had changed slightly to show knots in the rope he was climbing; there was some extra text added to the lower left of the front stating ‘Made in Hong Kong’; and the side panel had replaced the Commander with another image of the Adventurer himself. There doesn’t appear to be much of a price difference on the secondary market between these two box variations, but it’s an interesting one to look out for.
The third major change to the Adventurer figure and his box art came in 1977. This was when the famous Eagle Eyes were introduced. The new box art was in line with the whole ‘77 series and showed the face and upper body, rather than the full pose. These releases had fine artwork and again included the Soldier and Sailor, the new Pilot, the ultra-rare Indian Brave and Cowboy, and our own Adventurer. A nice series to put together for the artwork alone. The Adventurer’s outfit was unchanged from the 1973 release. The box art showed him with his trusty rope once more and it’s a shame the boxed figure didn’t come with a rope or any accessories. Again these could be purchased on separate cards.
1979 saw the final domestic release of the Adventurer figure. This coincided with the last major change to the vintage doll, the addition of his blue moulded trunks and his more “dynamic physique”. This is a fine and quite rare box. Pale green background, side flap, and artwork that matched the look of the boxes that would run for the next 4 years, the serious pose that also adorned the Soldier, Commander, Pilots (2 colour variations), SAS, Frogman, Space series figures and the Basic nude figures. Despite being the last release, it was available for a much shorter period, and whilst all the aforementioned figures from 1979 saw an updated simplified box version in ‘81 (no side flap but same artwork), the Adventurer himself was retired in 1980, never to return to the original series. The Sailor had already retired by 1978, and it was likely that the series move towards Space adventurer meant the mountain climbing adventures of Action Man had to make way for the newer Sci-Fi focussed direction the line would take.
As far as rarity goes, the 1979 box is hard to find. Complete and good condition versions can command prices of £200+ at auction today. The first release from 1970 and the ‘77 update are easier to find but still command £150+ today. The ‘73 release was produced in greater numbers over its 4 year run and today can be found for around £100 subject to condition.
Domestically that covers the boxed Adventurer figures. Spain’s Action Man, known as Geyperman, had alternative versions of the Adventurer in more colourful outfits and including weapons and accessories. As did the German releases of their Action Team series. But they will have to be covered in a future article I think. But one foreign release I feel I must mention, because it so closely mirrors the UK releases, is the French Meccano branded Aventurier Action Man. I found this one a few years ago - there’s always new versions to catch you out in this game! Here the box art closely matches the ‘79 UK release, the back ground is yellow not green, there’s no side flap to the box, but… the big difference… have you spotted it? No beard! Why? I’ve no idea? Both the front, rear and side panel artwork show a clean-shaven adventurer. The figure inside also has no beard. His outfit is identical to the UK version though. A cool and quirky variation that was a delight for me to discover and purchase a few years ago. I wonder what other Action Man Adventurer variations remain out there still to be discovered? That’s an adventure I’ll always keep returning to…