GI Joe was the first in a long list of things that I was deprived of in my childhood. The country that I grew up in was ideologically opposed to the all-American hero, so we had to come up with our own inspirational figure to fight the ludicrous notion that it was America who was saving the world, when it was quite clearly us doing it. In Britain freedom had a name, and he was called (cue impressive title music and explosions) Action Man.
He may have looked disconcertingly similar to his American counterpart, as if all that was different was the name on the box, but if you looked closely, Action Man’s bottom lip was a little stiffer, his back a touch straighter. Plus he had eagle eyes AND hands that really gripped. And before you start accusing the English of being as petty-minded as usual, we weren’t the only ones. We had allies all over the world. In France you had Group Action Joe, our South American comrades were Combat Team and Falcon (God bless Wikipedia). Together they formed the redoubtable League of Not Very Imaginatively Named Toys.
Their mission was to propagate the myth that their nation was still relevant on the international scene and to make it acceptable for boys to play with dolls. It’s generally accepted they were more successful with the latter goal. At least in my family.
It’s probably too much to say Cyril, as I liked to call him, was my best friend, but he was there (in his best camouflage onesie) when I woke up in hospital after cracking my head open attempting to pull a sick trick on (or simply trying to stay on) my chopper, he was there whenever I had injections and he was there to help whenever I wanted to shoot my family. Though his plastic rifle was more than a bit of a disappointment.
Together we cheated death on a daily basis, explored space, discovered new continents, escaped from prisons and conquered armies single handed, yet our greatest achievement was probably always being home in time for tea.
Amazingly my Dad approved of all this - since he’d been in the Army and there was no more national service, the next best thing was playing with military toys and pretending to vanquish the Hun or the Reds. Just as long as it was Action Man that was doing it, not the perfidious GI Joe. And if Cyril was busy, we could call on James Bond, Doctor Who, DangerMouse, or any of the innumerable cast of plucky British heroes to save the world from imminent disaster and apple pie.
Sadly the day arrived when Cyril had to be retired from active service. Although he’s gone (hopefully to a good home) I like to think that the values he helped instill in me still remain. I have a healthy distrust of foreigners, can’t really hold anything for too long before it falls out of my hands and most of my accessories are made in Taiwan. Plus ca change.