Saturday, 24 October 2015

I'M MYSTERONISED BY TARHEEL'S PROJECT SWORD SPECTRUM PATROL CAR



A fortnight ago today we had the revelation of a new Project SWORD toy, the boxed Tarheel Project SWORD Spectrum Patrol Car shown in the centre of the above picture.

The toy, in its classic Tarheel SWORD photo-box, was found in the Captain Scarlet toy display of the Hamilton Toy Museum in Callander, Scotland. It is still there in the cabinet.

Since its discovery I have been pondering one question; why did Tarheel do this?

Tarheel was an American toy company. It did have links to Japan and Hong Kong but ostensibly it released toys in its home patch of North America. This included its Project SWORD range borrowed from Century 21 Toys.

Its SWORD offer comprised of 10 vehicles: Task Force 1,2 and 3, Probe Force 1,2 and 3, Moon Bus, Moon Ranger, Moon Prospector and the Space Glider. Unlike the UK, there was no TV21 comic to back it up in North America so the toys were sold without any back story.

None of Tarheel's American SWORD toys had any connection to Captain Scarlet either as far as I know. In fact the only Century 21 Project SWORD toy vehicle with any connection was the Zero X, although no mention of this was made on the toy's UK box.

According to Wikipedia Captain Scarlet was broadcast in both Canada and the US in 1968. So North American kids will have had some idea about the show and its fleet of vehicles. How popular or widespread it was I've no idea but maybe an American reader may do.

So, theoretically at least, the Spectrum Patrol Car [SPC] itself will have been known to some North American kids. 

According to Deniis Nicholson's Anderson Memorabilia Guide the Century 21 Toys version of the SPC was sold world wide. It's likely that the Tarheel version is simply a repackaged SPC from Century 21 Toys [it certainly looks like one] but this has yet to be confirmed by the Museum, which they will hopefully do in November [did it come with the C21 accessories I wonder?]

Canadian fans will have been able to pick up plastic model kits of the SPC through Canada-based company Paramount and Imai stock in general may have been sold world-wide.

I don't think the Dinky version was available in the US [correct me if I'm wrong readers] but may well have been in Canada. 

Dinky's SPC in particular was a common site during the Sixties in UK kids' toy collections so any presence it had in North America will have raised its profile as a cool vehicle with some kids there too.

All in all it must have been a brave move by Tarheel to release an SPC even if it was only repackaging a C21 Toys model. 

Project SWORD can't have been well known to North American kids and eventually Tarheel dropped the branding altogether from its other 'SWORD' toys. 

My guess is that Tarheel were relying on some North American kids knowing about the SPC from the TV and jumped onto the Spectrum bandwagon however small it may have been. 

As far as I know it didn't release any other Captain Scarlet toys or any Anderson toys beyond its SWORD range, so their photo-boxed SPC remains a unique and quite wonderful crossover toy.

What do you think readers?

16 comments:

  1. The Northeastern U.S.saw some syndication of Captain Scarlet in the early 70's.I was introduced to the show in 1973 via a local morning variety show called Captain Noah and his Magical Ark.The Captain was a live actor in a yellow rain slicker and captain's hat and the set was made up to look like the deck of a sailing ship. The good captain would talk to us kids about science, reading,manners,and crafts while occasionally showing cartoons on his "Magic Screen".Popeye was the most common cartoon shown, But through this show I discovered Captain Scarlet,Danger Island and Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot.I never saw the Captain Scarlet toy for sale anywhere,But I'm only representing a tiny portion of the U.S., New Jersey being one of the smallest states.Had I seen toys related to Captain Scarlet I would have immediately recognized what they were. I hope this has been helpful.

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    1. That's a different Captain Scarlet Brian and one I don't know. The Gerry Anderson show had an indestructible agent called Captain Scarlet, as part of an organisation called SPECTRUM, battling against invisible aliens called the Mysterons. It was stuffed with cool vehicles like the Spectrum Patrol Car and the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. my favourite.

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    2. No, Brian is talking about the same Captain Scarlet; he's also describing in the same paragraph a television host who went by the name "Captain Noah" on a show which aired episodes of Captain Scarlet as part of their lineup. Apart from both being named "Captain" there's no connection between the two.

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    3. My bad Brian! Too many Captains! Thanks for pointing it out Richard.

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    4. Just to clarify,Captain Scarlet episodes were shown on Captain Noah's " magic screen".Believe me, it was the same Captain Scarlet you know.In fact I used to use a flashlight on my bedroom wall to simulate Mysterons and in my teen years had a rock band that used the Captain Scarlet theme as a warm up tune.Despite the brief airing,the show and characters(and theme song)stayed in my head to this day.

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    5. Cheers Brian! Captain Scarlet was alive and well in America! and That's one cool opening tune to have for a rock band! The original was sung by the Spectrum! One of the best rock songs I ever heard was a punk rock version of the old Adam West Batman TV series theme. It was at an outdoor gig in Summer and sounded superb!

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  2. Interesting insights there Woodsy. I believe that Tarheel were not seeking for Captain Scarlet connection as their sales pitch, as in that case they would have used the name of the show on the box - with or even without a license to do so. Perhaps the SPC was so cool and sellable a toy in its own right that it was thrown into the generic range of SWORD by a HK sales agent looking for an U.S. distrib for a pool of toys that already was there.

    Which begs an interesting question that to my knowledge has not been addressed yet, simply due to lack of documentation: As the sources of the toys in SWORD range vary, it follows that several H.K. factories contributed to their production. So what kind of middlemen (agents) either by - or for - C21 brought the range together in the HK end, and were those middlemen prone to seek new markets for the toys, bundling them as they saw fit or as their clients desired. Perhaps suggesting using SWORD brand as well.

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    1. Yes Arto, the Hong Kong melting pot! An endless smorgasbord of plastic toys that could be mixed and mashed! Maybe the Century 21 SPC was running out of sales in Europe and the rest of the world so as you say, the HK outfit offered it to Tarheel's HK crew. They may have been one in the same! Maybe one of our erudite readers knows about Hong Kong middlemen, factories and Century 21 Toys?

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  3. Captain Scarlet was indeed broadcast in the States shortly after it ended its run in the UK. I can't recall or find any reference to its American broadcast dates. This would be hard to pinpoint because it was distributed under a system called "first-run syndication" which means that a local tv channel in each city or town in America got the rights to air episodes of Captain Scarlet and could schedule them whenever they wanted. In some places, that would have been Saturday morning, in other places Sunday afternoon, in still others weekday afternoons when kids got home from school. Fireball XL-5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds were much more popular here than Captain Scarlet, and I wonder if the randomness of when the show was aired contributed to that. It wasn't "Saturday morning means Captain Scarlet is on" but "it's on...whenever it's on."

    (This also meant local stations might rebroadcast it several years later, as Brian mentions above.)

    All the Dinky toys were available here the Christmas before the show aired. I had my SPV before I knew what Captain Scarlet was. I just knew it was the new Gerry Anderson show and that was enough. I know the C21 large SPV was available here too via Tarheel, but I never saw the large plastic version of the Patrol Car. In fact, I never knew it existed until reading about it here!

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    1. Wow, so many news items here Richard! the Scarlet show should have been called Captain Random by the sounds of it. I never realised that all the Anderson shows were seen in the States and neither had I realised that you had all the Dinky Anderson vehicles like the SPC. However THE biggest newsflash is where you say that USA kids had the C21 SPV via Tarheel! Now I'm on the floor! Really?

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    2. I vividly remember the warning on the box the plastic SPV came in: "Captain Scarlet is indestructible -- you are not. Do not try to imitate him."

      Every Anderson show from Supercar through Terrahawks aired in the States, with the exception of The Secret Service. The random scheduling was a real problem -- for instance, Joe 90 never aired in my area and I didn't see an episode of it until decades later, even though I owned the Dinky Joe's Car and eagerly searched the tv listings every week for any sign of it.

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    3. Wow Richard! I'm so excited that there's a Tarheel SPV out there somewhere! Its obviously been mysteronised so remains cloaked from view! I'm hoping a North American collector is reading this and will send me a picture! In the meantime, could an owner of the UK Century 21 Toys SPV send me pictures of the box sides so we can blog them? Ta.

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    4. On further reflection -- prepare for your feelings to be treated like a yo-yo -- I think I might be mistaken about the SPV being released under the Tarheel brand. The box didn't have the Project SWORD logo (I would have remembered that) and the box art I recall was the same one seen for the SPV box in the above photo. Could a consignment of them have been imported to the U.S. in the U.K. packaging and distributed here?

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  4. Hey no sweat Richard, at least I was excited for about an hour! I don't know the availability of the C21 SPV in North America but it certainly sounds like its that you saw in the States. It would be fascinating to know how widespread they were. Who could we ask?

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  5. It would seem only logical that the SPV was included in the Tarheel range along with the SPC as well, so why not keep that option a possibility for awhile. The SPV would have had a specially photographed box top characteristic to Tarheel SWORDs, very different in design from the colourful C21 picture box.

    What intrigues me the most about the Tarheel SPC is whether the toy has the Tarheel emblem on it, the difference between simple repackaging and more intrusive retooling.

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    1. Hopefully we'll find out Arto!

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