The Action Figures Collectors’ Worst Nightmare: The Action Man Packaging and Marketing Scheme

Action Man was popular in its time and had many items included in its packaging. Despite action figures collectors’ preferences for unopened, mint-condition boxes, Action Man’s highly successful marketing scheme resulted in most boxes being damaged. Read on to find out more.

The Boxes That Contained Action Man


Palitoy. 1966 & 1967 Official Action Man Equipment Manual. Source: Massimo Scotti

The first Action Man figures were sold in boxes slightly taller than the figures themselves, similar to G.I. Joe for the US market. The boxes were illustrated with dynamic graphics showing the figures in action poses on the front and back, and accessory set photos on the sides. 

As a means of distinguishing the boxes, wooden grain background details were featured on the boxes for soldiers, blue background details for sailors, and yellow/brown backgrounds for pilots. Prior to 1970, the box graphics did not match how the action figures were dressed (i.e. basic military fatigues of the relevant branch). This prompted a modification due to perceived misrepresentation of what was being sold.

Kit locker boxes with plastic tray inserts were included as part of Action Man’s packaging. 

Impressive Uniform Sets & Detailing

A variety of Palitoy Action Man uniform sets were produced for the UK market, diverging from Hasbro’s line from the 1970s. British military outfits dominated this range, which included ceremonial outfits that were highly sought after by action figures collectors. Many outfits were available as complete boxed figure sets.

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

Action figures collectors should know that during this period, there were six “soldiers of the century” included in the Palitoy range. An “intelligence manual” covered the entire lineup, as well as information on light and heavy weapons, rank insignias, and morse code. 

For their uniforms and accessories, Palitoy paid a great deal of attention to detail. In spite of the fact that some outfits were fairly simplistic compared to the actual outfit (especially compared to modern action figures), Palitoy designed accurate insignia, such as the British Royal Military Police Cap and other uniforms, to match the outfits. 

Earlier Action Man clothes were made from heavier and more durable fabrics, although the thinner fabric looked more appropriate. A typical boxed soldier from 1973 onwards was outfitted with khaki lightweight trousers, short boots, scarf, black beret, and a SLR rifle, the then-current British Army barracks attire. 

For a variety of reasons, including rising production costs, the standard of uniforms dropped by the end of the 1970s. The 1960s and early 1970s were dominated by die-cast versions, with heavy cotton uniforms being produced and chevrons embroidered rather than printed on paper decals. Due to the long production run of Action Man, items often came in a variety of variations which action figures collectors should take note of.

Manuals, Novels & Books

In addition to the “Equipment Manual” and the catalogue of what was available, all boxed figures came with a star scheme card and instructions for using and caring for the flex hands, eagle eyes, and so on. There were instructions for using and caring for certain outfits and figure sets as well which would be quite helpful for action figures collectors.

Additionally, companion leaflets were produced for various sets in the 1960s to 70s, providing background information on the actual activities and military divisions. Furthermore, six novels were published under the Mike Brogan pseudonym in 1977, followed by Action Man annuals into the 1980s.

The Star Scheme: The Marketing Scheme That Ruined Mint Packaging for Action Figures Collectors

Palitoy. 1981-84 Official Action Man Equipment Manual. Source: Massimo Scotti

Since 1966, virtually all Action Man packaging features stars. The more expensive the item, the more stars it has – on a scale of 1 to 5. A “Star Scheme” sheet that came with boxed figures included stars that could be clipped from packaging and affixed to it. Up to 21 stars could be accumulated on the card, and various items could be redeemed, including a “free” unclothed figure. For figures redeemed under the star scheme, the reward was sent in a plain manila cardboard box. 

Because of this “Star Scheme” marketing tactic, action figures collectors of vintage Action Man rarely can get their hands on intact packaging.

Accessories and Weapons in Blister Packs at Pocket Money Price

During the 1970s and 1980s, small items were packaged in blister packs. In these blister packs for Action Man, a variety of small and heavy weapons were available at affordable prices for children to buy with their pocket money. As with all things Action Man, early items were based on G.I. Joe releases, so they were mostly US weapons.

Throughout Action Man’s accessories production history, trademark stamping, colouration, and straps have varied; earlier issues featured elastic straps, while later issues featured plastic straps.

Vehicles with a Few True-to-Scale Replicas

Palitoy. 1972 Official Action Man Equipment Manual. Source: Massimo Scotti

Many of Action Man’s accessories and vehicles were not true-to-scale replicas of current British Army equipment:  the Spartan Armoured Personnel Carrier, the Ferret Armoured Car, and the Airportable Land Rover and Trailer, for example. One exception was the Scorpion tank, which was true to scale.

The Bottom Line

The vintage range of Action Man was packaged with a lot of care and attention to detail. However, the Star Scheme, which boosted profits for Palitoy certainly ruined quite a bit of mint-condition packaging for action figures collectors.

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