Latest update - 27th January 2012




By the late nineteen-sixties Airfix was a well established Company producing excellent quality model kits, amongst many other products.  From 1960 they had been churning out good quality, inexpensive HO/00 toy soldiers.  These polythene figures represented excellent value for money and, in just a few years, covered lots of subjects.  However, at the end of that decade Airfix released a few sets of 1/32 scale polythene toy soldiers to accompany the ever growing HO/00 range which were (and still are) loved and cherished by children, adults and wargamers alike.  These new, bigger soldiers were, like their smaller predecessors, almost indestructible.  They became the staple toy diet of many a small boy and are now keenly sought after by people, like myself, who were brought up on these.  They would eventually cover 32 subjects, including 2 different versions of the British Paratroops, and span more than 40 years.  The first set, British Paratroops, was simply taken from the HO/00 moulds and "sized-up".  They were OK and in keeping with the quality of 1/32 scale plastic soldiers of the time but they weren't great.  However, the subsequent releases, including a brand new set of mouldings for the British Paratroops, would set a new standard in plastic toy soldiers that other manufacturers would find hard to follow.  The mouldings were crisp and clean and, above all, realistic looking.  Manufacturers such as Herald, Cherilea, Timpo etc, whilst being good at the time and being highly collectable nowadays, just seemed to fade into the distance when compared to the new Airfix figures.  The only one of Airfix's contemporaries to match the quality of these new figures would be Matchbox in the mid-seventies.

With the continued production of these figures and regular new releases came various "inconsistencies" and points of note for collectors.  The first Airfix sets contained twenty-nine soldiers and this included one officer.  When the British Eighth Army set was introduced, it came with two officers.  When various new releases appeared through the seventies, some would come with two officers and some with only one.  The introduction of the smaller boxes seemed to warrant the addition of an extra officer to sets for the obvious reason that if the set was split into two boxes one would have had an officer and one would not.  All but one of the sets would simply have a different shape of base for the extra officer - the American Infantry set would have a different moulding!  There are other, less obvious things to look for when collecting such as the Russian Infantry set having one of the "machine-gunning from the hip" figures with a different shaped base from the others.  All of these points are extreme and for the purist but I think if you are serious about collecting then they must be considered.  One must also consider the fact that some sets would have each figure with an individual number moulded in.  Possibly the most crucial fact to bear in mind is that, unless a box is factory sealed, then a full mint set of figures should theoretically contain all different base shapes, individually numbered figures, moulding lugs in the correct positions etc, etc.  I will try to illustrate all the points in question throughout the individual set pages here.

The range of sets came in many different guises, starting in the late 1960's in what is now commonly known as the "Brown Box".  They continued through the seventies and up to 1980/81 in the same size boxes but were joined in the late 1970's by the smaller boxes, this size being taken through to the mid-eighties.  1995 saw a small selection of the range (six sets) re-issued in small "crisp bag" type packaging.  Then in 2009/10 no less than thirteen sets were re-introduced in vibrant new packaging.

Some of the sets remained in their original colour of plastic, albeit sometimes in slightly different shades, and some changed completely at one point or other but the quality of the mouldings was always excellent and the figures well detailed.  The only problem as the moulds got older was "flash" on the figures - the annoying extra plastic on some sets around the area where the moulds met, but were a bit worn not shut tightly enough.  However, the 2009 range not only changed the colours of the plastic but the material used for the figures too.

Shortly after their introduction, the figures were joined by ready made polythene vehicles and then by the buildings kits.  The vehicles, including tanks, a half track and Abbott SPG, were almost indestructible and are equally as collectable as the figures and the buildings were excellent if you wanted to make a small diorama (or a large one!).  Then in the mid-seventies, Airfix produced two Combat Packs, one depicting a European battleground and the other a Desert one.  These two packs came in their own individual (large) boxes and each contained two sets of figures, two vehicles, a building and two pillboxes which were unavailable elsewhere.  Also, there was cardboard cut-out scenery to use as a base for your battle scene.  These sets, and in particular the Desert Combat Pack, are very rare and command a very high price whether it be at collectors fares or on eBay (which, incidentally, is where most of my own collection came from).

Other than that,  there are numerous copies which have been produced throughout the years, mostly rather dodgy looking things from Hong Kong and China but American firm Bachmann, which some might recognise as being the company whose Mini-Planes were marketed by Airfix, did an interesting ready-painted range of copies in a kind of rubber medium and they are actually a nice addition to the collection.