About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 56-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

1959; [Ceremonial] Guards Band, S1 / 01701 / 01701-9 - HO/OO

There is nothing quite like a military band on the move, and the popularity of the larger figures by Britians - in metal and plastic, Crescent/Kellogg's, Lone*Star et al...was bound to be mirrored in plastic and Airfix proved that when the first 'proper' set in the small-scale boxed figure range was a set of generic British guards regiment's bandsmen.

A full set of poses in the later cream-coloured plastic (circa mid-1970's), this set suffered from flash in the later stages and was a nightmare to paint, yet another pointer to why Airfix went bust, it was no longer about the customer, or; common sense, it became about cost/profit, and somewhere in the depths of Airfix's account department, some bean-counter thought a reduction in the colour palate would save a few beans!

Eric William's otherwise excellent site had a few issues with colours, not least because he was archiving one country's products in another - mostly before the internet, so while I have in the past corrected the blue ACW Artillery question, and have a problem with his view on the position of the grey issue of French Waterloo cavalry, with the guards it's not so clear-cut. Eric does his careful positioning of a figure of each colour with each box type as he believes them to have been issued, and I don't disagree with his distribution, except that the earlier vertion of the type I box should have a red option as well as the pink, the reason being...

...there was no such thing as pink guards issued by Airfix.

This is not to say that you won't find them, it's not to say that I don't remember them being pink in the boxes - they were! But it is to say that I believe they left the factory gates as nice red figures, ready for a bit of matt black on the bearskin and trousers.

The early plastics - as an industrial product/by-product of the oil industry - particularly the cheaper ones, were supplied to end-users as small beads (or sheets - Bellona) of a pale, cream, clay, dirty-white or putty shade (these days some 'raw' plastics come a semi-clear or milky-glue colour), totally pigment free, the pigment was then added to the beads prior to moulding as a faintly greasy powder. I say 'cheaper' as people like Merit and Tudor Rose were producing colour-fast plastics before these figures hit the shops.

Some pigments were more colour-fast then others, and in the case of the guards (both sets - see also Guards Colour Party; next post below) the case seems to have been that the pigment was so weak that the figures went pink after a few weeks or months on the dealers shelves. This was the 1950's remember; these figures were sold in bicycle repair shops, village stores and ancient branches of Woolworth's with no air conditioning, they got very hot in the summer and quite cold in the winter (especially overnight)...indeed they might even be placed too close to a bar-heater mounted on the wall near-by! These environmental actions seems to have caused the pigment of various batches to either fade or migrate to the surface - or both.

The above (upper) shot shows from the left; a - headless - figure which has faded to the base colour (coincidently the same colour as some early Station Accessory sets), next to him is a figure that has faded to a pale pink but shows the darker residue of red in the deeper recesses of the moulding and then the figure that causes the confusion...an apparently pure, even pink-coloured figure. However the shot below to the left shows what happens if you scratch the base of one on these 'pure-pink' figures, you get the same base colour right under the surface.

I would imagine that as the plastics industry developed, the nature of the pigments changed, the 'faded' figures having a pigment that fades-out to nothing (left figure) or leaves traces of red (second left) while the 'pure-pink' figures have a pigment which while fading from red also migrated to the surface as a relatively stable pink layer (the late ethylenes from Began-Beton and some of the Matchbox figures from the mid-1970's would suffer the same problem). But they were almost certainly all red when they were made.

Further advances in the technology led to the darker vermilion-based red (the forth figure from the left) then a shiny, glossy scarlet-based red and finally the awful cream colour of the civil, Napoleonic, late Wild West and ground-crew sets.

How we painted our guards back in the day. It is one of my long term goals to make a proper band with these figures; scratch-building the missing instruments.

Also shown here is a common problem with flash between the legs of the later issues.

Here they are in all their glory, this was an odd set, as it's hard to make a decent display other than a long thin band of three or four files with the bass drum and cymbals taking-up double spaces to make a 'block', otherwise you end up with the odd extra figure; I've hidden a fifer/piper at the back!

As hinted above; it was also a bit odd for the type and mix of instruments - how many fifer/pipers? But they were toys and in the late 1950's must have been a colourful addition to the dining table on a rainy day. One also suspects they were - in part - intended for model railway layouts, where they would make a fine addition to a low relief high-street or parading outside the station for an expected dignitary on the 9.15 from Waterloo!

The least common copies of the Guards Band - and the best quality wise - are these jelly-bean coloured versions, I think I've identified five different copy-ranges (including Montaplex) and these are about as good as they come.

The commonest piracies of these figures are shown in this shot, the 100-piece (actually 98 'pieces') sets included copies of early Airfix Combat Group, German WWII Infantry and 8th Army, along with the post-Giant quality astronauts in silver and this set. There are marching figures hidden in there, but they are not really derivative of the Airfix Guards Colour Party, but the musicians certainly are with the little separate drums spruelette. The best bit is the production of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II from Airfix's Maid Marion! There were probably 50 piece sets as well, they would have had around 47-49 'pieces'

The musicians, they don't seem to have suffered the loss of detail (and dignity) the marching figures did, although there is no fifer and I've not seen one, and I have 3 carded sets so if there was one he should be there? A quick perusal of one of the sets reveals 10 drummers, so the drums and drummers weren't matched up - as the drums are poor sculpts with the bass not staying in its hole and the side's not going in theirs; it's a moot point!

Also covered on the main blog Here

Thanks to Kostas again for the 1975 catalogue image, we see them here with the five-button arrangement of the Welsh Guards, they should have a white-green-white plume on the left of the Bearskin (which is never a 'Busby' or a hat!), and while the artist has left the plumes off, the beauty of the simple nature of the sculpting of these early figures is you can paint anything on you want!


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