After the recent airing of an episode of BBC2 TV’s James May’s Toy Stories titled “Action Man at the Speed of Sound,” fans of the iconic UK action figure from Palitoy were quick to respond. As we’ve reported previously, May’s repeated declarations that the 12-inch action figure had “never really done ANYTHING” rankled many, prompting the Unofficial Action Man HQ forum to light up like a Christmas tree. Here are just a few of the more eloquent examples:
“ARE YOU A NUTTER?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Again, another snide-swipe at our hobby. You can’t blame Hasbro for not wanting to celebrate the 50th with all the negative polling that was shown on this programme, i.e. we don’t collect it—we are not interested in it—we dont want it.
It’s going to make our job harder in the new year when we resume discussions with Hasbro regarding our plans for the 50th. But in the meantime, from one P taker to another—This is what you get for dunking AM in your beer.” —Sierra1
“It was clear from the PR guff on the B.B.C. website that the tone would be disparaging at best. I thought it was nasty as well as being grossly inaccurate about the success of Palitoy Action Man in terms of contemporary sales, awards and longevity. Action Man is remembered with fondness by many – not just us collectors – and was recently voted equal FIRST in a Leicestershire museums’ poll of the objects in their collection, reflecting the affection that people still have for the original Action Man, at least in this area where he was manufactured and where many former Palitoy workers live.
They are proud to be connected with this iconic toy and to have Action Man’s legacy ABUSED on primetime TV by James May for the sake of cheap entertainment will be hurtful to many. I have submitted my complaint to the B.B.C. and I hope other fans of Action Man will do the same.” —MrAction
“The programme was passable viewing, but AM’s involvement in it was pointless. All but a few seconds worth of the AM collectors who took part seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Action Burt was missing completely!
My hope was that the show might rekindle a few viewers interest in VAM and that they’d rescue their childhood guys from the loft and join the forum but given the tone of the show I can’t see that happening.” —somekindajoe
“I have to say that I usually find May’s toy programmes both interesting and a link back to my youth. However, James May has always been disparaging towards AM, and in this programme, he ignores to a large extent the fact that this is a toy that was extremely successful and that was not only something to be played with, but also something that allowed us as children to be the character that we invented for AM.
Let me explain. When I got the Polar Explorer outfit and figure as a boy back in the 60s, I also got the book that was issued at the same time. From memory, in that book was instructions on how to build a polar base station from a cardboard box. My memories of that are still with me, I built the building which my explorer returned to after his adventures, I kitted it out with all manner of things which I made from all sorts of scrap, not only did AM allow me to be a Polar explorer in my imagination, but I also learnt a lot of creative skills in the process, (I went on to attend Art College, and those early creative skills came in very useful).
This was always the case with AM, not only did I play with him, but I also took on, to an extent the persona and the character of AM in the process and I built and made things to enhance my play. This is how children learn and develop and toys like AM allowed us to do that.
As a child of the 60s, I (thankfully) didn’t have to live through WW2, but I learnt a lot about it through AM, when Fuchs went to the South Pole, I didn’t know much about it, but through AM I got to know much more. Through the AM climber, I became much more knowledgeable about the world and history of climbing. It’s such a pity that May didn’t produce a much more positive programme that dealt a bit more with the success story and the educational ‘tool’ that was and is, AM.” —scaddycopper
“I have two young sons and they play with my Action Men; what they do is make up stories and adventures for AM, dress them up in costumes, stage fights, rescues, exploration missions—which is what AM was designed to do in the first place. With all due respect to James May, who does produce generally excellent programmes about toys, he comes at them from a different perspective.
Look at his previous shows; he demonstrates how good Meccano is by building a bridge. He shows what Scalextric can do by recreating Brooklands motor racing circuit. Airfix kits; he goes and makes a life-sized one for school children to build. Lego, he builds a functioning house out of the stuff.
For May, it’s all about the practicality and engineering potential of toys but Action Man is a storytelling and imagination toy. This isn’t James May’s mentality. He likes toys which have defined functions that scale down real life functions. Action Man has scaled down real uniforms and equipment, but once you dress him up it’s over to the person playing with him to come up with the adventure.” —NickH
Other Action Man fans were quick to point out that May has a right to his own opinion like anyone else and therefore urged the rest of us to simply “Keep Calm and Let it Go.” For example:
“I appreciate some peoples views, but they have to respect that this program was made for television and the masses, NOT Action Man fans exclusively (and certainly not self-appointed elitists).This had to be an entertaining program, not a factual Action Man hobbyists dream. He (May) was celebrating science and engineering with a nod to Action Man.
He said at the NEC that he was very fond of Action Man in his various uniforms but felt he was too old for him. Now seeing as he is just over 50 years of age, I would say this says more about James May than Action Man. He obviously doesn’t stimulate his mind in the way that Airfix and Meccano did.
Let the bloke have an opinion and just enjoy it for what it is, a quirky Christmas program that was NOT directly aimed at ‘quirky Action Man Collectors.’ All these letters of complaint (I feel) are just a bit sad and add weight to how James May sees Action Man Collectors.” —Danthecoat
“Please don’t waste time writing to the BBC. You will only just add credence to the myth that AM collectors are just a bunch of sad old tw@ts. You’ll be doing all of us a huge disservice. Let it go. I see where all the points are coming from, but the show was made for mass appeal, not specialist indulgence.
Personally, I didn’t like it myself (as much as I had hoped to), but life is too short to get worked up about it to the point of writing letters of complaint. Besides, by writing to the BBC, you stand a very good chance of your letter never being seen by the shows makers, an independent called Plumb Pictures. Bother them if you really feel that strongly.” —doublecee
Bottom Line: The Action Man community has spoken—at least for now. AM fans are clearly an outspoken and opinionated bunch, always ready and willing to defend the honor of their vintage action hero. And as we approach the figure’s 50th anniversary in 2016, it’ll be interesting to see how the venerated toy line is treated over in the UK and Europe. Will AM receive the same (lack of) attention afforded to GIjOE during his recent 50th? Stay tuned, for updates. Go, ACTION MAN!