The Story of the Success of the Action Man Vintage Line and Its Ultimate Rebranding

The 60’s saw the spectacular launch of the Action Man vintage line. At first to an unsuspecting British public, but soon after, the world was taken over by what would later be considered a classic of children’s and collector’s toys. 

Action Man Vintage Line (1966 – 1984)

After the success of GI Joe figures in the US in the 1960s, in a context where a Third War could seem imminent, military-themed toys for children were quite common. Palitoy and Hasbro Inc. launched Action Man in 1966 in the UK under the concept of a “mobile fighting man.” This would then be the start of the Action Man vintage line. And for approximately 20 years, it was a bestseller until its withdrawal from the market.

Palitoy. 1969 Official Action Man Equipment Manual. Source: Massimo Scotti

The first three figures of the Action Man vintage line were the Action Soldier, Action Sailor and Action Pilot

They were outfitted with the basic uniforms of their trade, a small “training” and usage manual, and a metal dog tag in an attractive cardboard box.

It could be complemented, in aspects such as uniforms, equipment and Army, Navy and Air themed vehicles with American-style GI Joe’s accessories. It was an immediate success and became Toy of the Year in ’66.

Action Man is, in fact, a licensee of ‘GI Joe’s’ toys line. But in the UK, the name ‘Action Man’ was used because ‘GI Joe’ was not a term that the British public were used to. 

What started out as three indistinguishable figures to the original GI Joe soon branched out into several new characters. Not only did Palitoy add more uniforms, they also made innovative changes to the key figures themselves and came up with the iconic Action Man with Eagle Eyes.

Action Man’s Story as a Character

Palitoy. Action Man Soldiers of the Century Intelligence Manual. Source: Massimo Scotti

In order to further differentiate the brand from its American relative, Action Man was given its own narrative. So much so that the appearance of Action Man as well as his backstory has varied over time. There is a distinct difference between the Action Man vintage line stories with the more modern ones.

Action Force – Battle Action Force (1983)

The Action Man vintage figures produced by Palitoy during this time were a mixture of historical and international military men. Each included a file card stating his backstory. They were also featured in a British war comic called the Battle Action Force. Most stories in the comic were centered around World War II.

Action Force – Action Man Series (1995)

No longer part of the Action Man vintage line, Action Man’s story drastically changes from being based off of real world events to a more fictional one. The 1995 series follows the interesting journey of Action Man as a highly skilled man with amnesia who tries to recover his memory.

He is a member of the elite Action Force and they try to stop the plans of supervillain Dr. X and his Council of Doom. Several adaptations to animated series and movies have been made on the character, but always maintain common points with the original story.

Photo credit: Brent Van Der Veken

Action Man’s Tragic Childhood & Psychopathic Foster Brother

The real name of ‘Action Man’ in this story is Matthew Exler. He was an orphan adopted as a baby by millionaire and respected scientist and inventor, Dr. Alfred Exler, who already had an older son named Dorian. With the strict upbringing of Dr. Alfred, both of the kids were considered intellectual prodigies.

Sadly, Dorian was a psychopath and willingly started a fire, killing his parents in it. He also made his young brother think that he was responsible for the “accident.”

The Supervillain of Action Man: Doctor X

Each child received a legacy from their parents. Matthew was sent to Europe to finish school and college at the best institutions. Meanwhile, Dorian not only increased his financial fortune by a factor of millions but also built a major private paramilitary organization, the Council of Doom. Destroying all records of his past, Dorian assumed the frightening identity of Dr. X.

Matthew Becomes Action Man

Seeking inner peace, Matthew learned of an ancient cult called Akash Maharishis, deep in the Himalayas. He immersed himself for some years in intensive fitness, survival, ninja martial arts, and stealth tactics training.

By mastering these activities, he earned the cult’s “AM” tattoo. In deep meditation trances, he recovered the memory of his parents’ deaths in detail, discovering that his brother was responsible for the murder. 

Team Xtreme (2000)

In this first CGI Action Man series, Action Man’s character is Alexander Mann, an extreme sports athlete and member of Team Xtreme. He has mental powers that get activated by adrenaline as a result of secret experiments made by his former coach. The supervillain in the story is still a Doctor X, who wishes to duplicate Alex’ mental powers to genetically enhance humans.

The ATOM Line (2006)

Under the exclusive name “Action Man,” consequential reappearances were made. In 2006 it was replaced by a spin-off product, the “ATOM” line (Alpha Teens On Machines), a range of smaller-scale toys with a more futuristic theme. Over time, from being a franchise inspired by military themes during the Action Man vintage line, it evolved to themes more focused on extreme sports, team adventures and the use of super technology.

Collecting Action Man Vintage Figures Today

Collecting Action Man vintage figures is a very rewarding and exciting hobby for its followers. Although a collector can spend weeks, months or even years to complete a set since many pieces, especially boxes, were easily destroyed as they were made of cardboard.

The more complete the set of accessories, the impeccable uniform and the state of the doll in perfect condition, the price increases. If the box is also in top condition, the demand will increase in question.

What is considered part of the Action Man vintage line will ultimately depend on the collector, but is usually those produced from1966 to 1984. For the most purists of the franchise, the original Palitoy line from the end of the 60’s is considered a rarity, being its value per piece very high while it is in the best condition.

On the other hand, there is a large section of the public that is more associated with the reboots of the franchise in the 90’s.

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