Saturday, 20 November 2010

Invasive Technology

 Ive looked at the work of the Britains company before on the blog, but never examined one of their more relevant products until now. Back in 1981, with Star Wars fever riding high, sci-fi and space toys were having a quiet renaissance. Transformer toys and a lot of japanese import toys were on the shelves and tv series such as Battle of the Planets and Ulysses 31 were prime time for kids.

Naturally toy companies wanted a piece of the action and lots of products were introduced with a space theme. Britains had been making toy soldiers and die cast vehicles for decades and were prominantly placed to establish a great new toy into the market. So began a subtle invasion of new, good quality space toys. Something which had been sadly lacking in the waves of Palitoy and Kenner Star Wars toys which tended to be big, flimsy and oddly disfigured in order to accomodate the 3 " action figures. Britains capitalised on their quality of construction and experience, sticking to a tried and tested formula, they brought in a range of spacemen at the standard 1/72 scale that had been used for soldiers, cowboys, knights and farm labourers for years.


Stargards and Aliens took the familiar and simple idea of opposing forces - goodies and baddies - simply and strikingly colour coded in bright yellow and lurid green. The majority of the toys were tough plastic, but some main elements were even stronger die-cast metal. The beauty of the line was that each part was interchangeable and almost all the parts could connect in one way or another thanks to a series of cylindrical connectors, one at about 10 mm diameter and a second sub connector of 3 mm or so.
 The first wave consisted of a Space Craft, looking more like a submersible, with a self righting cockpit that doubled as a wheel, a laser cannon and a space platform. This was quickly followed by a rather neat space buggy and the seriously impressive Alien Saucer, plasma cannons and grab arms.
 The series ran for a good four years or so, adding new elements to the series in later years, re-using parts in a new white/red and blue/white colour scheme. New vehicles included the enterprise like Winged Raider and the Orbital  Raider with large blue wheels. The series also gained a pair of large vac-formed space bases that the parts could attach to.
 With the addition of the new white livery, the series became 'Star System' rather than just plain old 'Space' and the figures gained flashy new orange suits. Oddly enough, although the astronauts in the line did include visibly female characters, they were only ever seen inside the protective confines of the cockpits, their shapely tapered legs always moulded in seated positions.
One of the final additions to the line in 1985 were two toys which were completly mismatched with the rest of the line apart from the sci-fi theme. The Muteron and Cybertron were both scaled smaller than the standard figures and although each toy was interchangeable, it was only with its own parts. The Muteron set featured a large carnosaur which looked like a mutated dinosaur crossed with Britains Zoo. Sat on its back was a huge green fly with Muteron riding its neck. Also included was a small caterpillar with spring loaded head. Cybertron rode a space platform with jointed legs and scorpion tail. Various accessories could be swapped about on the vehicle, but again none of the parts fitted properly with the rest of the system and the seated robot rider looked significantly childlike next to the standard Stargard figure. Perhaps these were intended as a secondary breakaway line or were retooled parts of a separate toy, but they petered out after a short release and were never expanded upon.

Star system in all its various colours is always available on ebay and is worth investing in as the build quality of the toys and the basic design is very impressive. Plus the fact that the small soldier like figures are always great for a quick session of carpet wars with a handy Dinky Ufo Interceptor!

16 comments:

  1. Sadly this set all but killed Britain's, a massive amount of money went into it,designs, tooling, special catalogues/fliers, PR, ad's in comics etc...

    Although the build-quality was as you say superb, it wasn't what kids wanted, they wanted Star Wars and Battle-star Galactica...cowboys in space, not NASA looking 'space-men'. There was the secondary problem of the sticky paint on all the vinyl parts which has made the aliens very collectable now! And the weapons were a bit 'off the wall' weird, I suppose the last two were an attempt at a fight-back, or range 'rescue' but it didn't work.

    The whole range was about to get a huge face-lift with Anderson'esque land-vehicles and the like, a mate bought the resin prototype when it came up at auction a few years ago and the inter-connective element was very different, more like some of the Hong Kong made systems coming from Tomy, Mattel, Hasbro and the like around the same time - big round disc connectors on hexagonal pod/units which built-up into larger masses you could add cabs, wheels, tools and such-like to.

    A pity, as it is a nice little series...and as you suggest there's tons on eBay, but selling tons and selling 'enough tons' are two different things! And with thier size and the amount Britains sunk in it, it wasn't enough.

    'Chtio'...An I.O.U. from the kids of the 80's to Britains!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hm, OK, not sure here, and I am probably going to look silly ... but aren't those Britains more like 1/35 or 1/32 than 1/72?

    1/72 is more the size of the little Arifix figures.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Toad = its me that looks silly - maths was never a strong point! Youre right - the figures are 1/35, about 2 inches high, standard toy soldier size.

    ReplyDelete
  4. mav = any chance of a pic of that prototype ?

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  5. I'm going to risk being pedantic here-

    the standard size for (Britains, etc.) toy soldiers was 1:32, until the Japanese introduced 1:35 military kits, notably the firm of Tamiya.

    There was a similar mix of scales over smaller figures and models. Plane models were usually 1:72,an inch to 6 feet, then Airfix started making tanks in 1:76, and later sets of model soldiers. These were described as "HO/OO scale", possibly an attempt to make them more acceptable to the European model market (RoCo Minitanks etc), which were to 1:87 scale -I thnik this was "HO" scale.

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  6. Where oh where do you keep finding all this stuff Wote!

    ReplyDelete
  7. ha, ha - The Archives of Ragnrok...

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  8. Right, my turn to add a definite degree of pedantry here. :)

    Other than using decimal, the easiest way of calculating scale is by halving down. This is what most model manufacturers did and do, which provides a range of scales from 1/2, 1/4 to 1/32. A variation on this is to divide by 3 once and then start halving again, which gets us the common scales of 1/6 (GI Joe etc), 1/12 (Major Matt Mason) as well as 1/24 and 1/48 as common scale model sizes, or by dividing by 3 twice and halving down to end up at 1/18 and 1/72.

    1/35 scale is reputed to have come about by mistake when Tamiya wanted to join companies like Revell and Bandai in the then-emerging 1/32 AFV kit market back in the 70s. Rather than retooling to 1/32 scale, they decided to bring their undersized kits to market and the rest is history. Still tricky to calculate though. :) And what prompted 1/76 scale I haven't a clue.

    Another system is to convert (multiple) feet to inches which works along similar lines as the above and produces some of the same scale fractions. Which btw are rather elaborate to use in other scale calculations which is why British mapmakers saw the sense in adopting the decimal system for map scales.

    (what first typed up is too long for one comment apparently, so part two following)

    ReplyDelete
  9. The final main scaling origin derives from toy and model railroads. Toy trains were initially made in any scale that an individual manufacturer saw fit to use, which resulted in a multitude of incompatible gauges when track became available to run these trains on (the gauge of railroad track is the distance between the rails, eg the width of the wheel base of anything running on it. Originally measured from the centre of the opposing rails, which is why common gauges have slightly smaller measurements today than in the past). Around the turn of the previous century, it was Maerklin that brought order to this chaos by introducing a coherent system of gauges. Starting at Gauge 1 (48 mm between rails measured centre-to-centre) via Gauges 2, 3 all the way up to 6 for the really humongous expensive trains that European royal offspring enjoyed. Other manufacturers saw the value in adopting this system, making everybody's products compatible with everybody else's (except for some of the couplings, but that's another story). When new opportunities were sought to move downmarket to a wider public, the next gauge down was 0 Gauge (35 mm centre-to-centre), which became the most popular gauge around for decades. Until similar motives produced yet smaller-sized models, this time by halving 0 gauge to end up at H0. Which in German stands for Halbnull (half-zero or half-nil if you like) but was designated 00 in the UK (double zero, pronounced as double-Oh and turned into Meccano's Hornby Dublo trademark). Since then smaller gauges like N and Z or in-between Gauges like TT by Trix Twin have also emerged, but all these should bear some relation to the standards originally intoduced by Maerklin way back when.

    What all this has to do with scale is simple, though not always. A model railway gauge can be turned into a model scale by dividing the model gauge by the real gauge of lifesize railways. This didn't always happen for commercial reasons: many manufacturers produced cheap smaller-scale models to run on standard 0 gauge track (Hornby's M0 range of tinplate trains is for example but a fourth or fifth the size of their top-of-the-line models that were pretty close to being true to scale). But during 0-gauge days, scale became much more important as well as feasible to produce, and the idea of a model railway complete with scenery also gained hold. Which is why Meccano introduced its first range of model vehicles as part of the Hornby Series of trains before marketing them separately as Dinky Toys. Which (usually) were in 1/43 scale, to fit in with 0-gauge trains, and which is why diecast model cars to this day tend to have that scale. Same thing happened with H0, where correct scale became a matter of course. And which produced the now common 1/87 scale for model vehicles and other lineside accessories.

    And there you have it - thanks for reading this far! :)
    --
    Paul

    ReplyDelete
  10. The final main scaling origin derives from toy and model railroads. Toy trains were initially made in any scale that an individual manufacturer saw fit to use, which resulted in a multitude of incompatible gauges when track became available to run these trains on (the gauge of railroad track is the distance between the rails, eg the width of the wheel base of anything running on it. Originally measured from the centre of the opposing rails, which is why common gauges have slightly smaller measurements today than in the past). Around the turn of the previous century, it was Maerklin that brought order to this chaos by introducing a coherent system of gauges. Starting at Gauge 1 (48 mm between rails measured centre-to-centre) via Gauges 2, 3 all the way up to 6 for the really humongous expensive trains that European royal offspring enjoyed. Other manufacturers saw the value in adopting this system, making everybody's products compatible with everybody else's (except for some of the couplings, but that's another story). When new opportunities were sought to move downmarket to a wider public, the next gauge down was 0 Gauge (35 mm centre-to-centre), which became the most popular gauge around for decades. Until similar motives produced yet smaller-sized models, this time by halving 0 gauge to end up at H0. Which in German stands for Halbnull (half-zero or half-nil if you like) but was designated 00 in the UK (double zero, pronounced as double-Oh and turned into Meccano's Hornby Dublo trademark). Since then smaller gauges like N and Z or in-between Gauges like TT by Trix Twin have also emerged, but all these should bear some relation to the standards originally intoduced by Maerklin way back when.

    What all this has to do with scale is simple, though not always. A model railway gauge can be turned into a model scale by dividing the model gauge by the real gauge of lifesize railways. This didn't always happen for commercial reasons: many manufacturers produced cheap smaller-scale models to run on standard 0 gauge track (Hornby's M0 range of tinplate trains is for example but a fourth or fifth the size of their top-of-the-line models that were pretty close to being true to scale). But during 0-gauge days, scale became much more important as well as feasible to produce, and the idea of a model railway complete with scenery also gained hold. Which is why Meccano introduced its first range of model vehicles as part of the Hornby Series of trains before marketing them separately as Dinky Toys. Which (usually) were in 1/43 scale, to fit in with 0-gauge trains, and which is why diecast model cars to this day tend to have that scale. Same thing happened with H0, where correct scale became a matter of course. And which produced the now common 1/87 scale for model vehicles and other lineside accessories.

    And there you have it - thanks for reading this far! :)
    --
    Paul

    ReplyDelete
  11. sorry for the double post - Google gave an error but posted it first time anyway...

    ReplyDelete
  12. I've had that double-post error a few times too :(

    Thanks for that potted history, Paul. I now see a pattern in scales which before were more of a random hodge-podge in my mind.

    So 1/35 might be more of a mistake than an intention? Are you saying they accidentally made the kits too small in the first place?

    But ... but, but, but ... I still need to know: what is the scale of the Starguards?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hmm... according to wikipedia the 1/35 scale was apparently the smallest they could have to still fit an electric motor and battery holder in their first ever tank kit (a Panther), but I'm sure I've read about the mistake somewhere fairly authoritative iirc. I'll have to have a more thorough google...

    And I'll measure up my single Britains Starguard figure for you when I get home. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Right...

    He's standing slightly crouched, but if he were standing straight up he'd measure 55mm from heel to crown of head (minus bubble helmet). Which would be 1/32.7 if he were 1m80 (5.9 foot) in reality. Bearing in mind this chap is Britains and thus in Imperial size, a true 6-foot adult would scale in at 1/33.25.
    In a round 1/32 he'd measure 1m76 in reality, which is a tad small for an adult male. But then astronauts are like jockeys, the smaller and lighter they are the better.
    And that's as pedantic as I can get about this. He's a toy figure, so let's just say he's 1/32 and leave it at that! :)

    Best
    --
    Paul

    ReplyDelete
  15. LOL ... let's go with 1/32 then. Thank you, Paul ^_^

    ReplyDelete

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