Action Man is an action figure launched in Britain in 1966 by Palitoy as a licensed copy of Hasbro's American "movable fighting man": G.I. Joe.
Action Man was originally produced and sold in the United Kingdom and Australia by Palitoy Ltd of Coalville, Leicestershire from 1966 until 1984 (Palitoy also offered sub-licences to various toy manufacturers in various markets).
The figure and accessories were originally based on the Hasbro (US) 1964 G.I. Joe figure (for 1966–1969 production). Hasbro's G.I. Joe figure was patented in 1966. Even the specific method of attaching the appendages was patented as a "Connection for Use in Toy Figures". The first Action Man figures were Action Soldier, Action Sailor and Action Pilot. All were available in the four original hair colors: Blonde, Auburn, Brown and Black. They were accompanied by outfits depicting United States Forces of WWII and the Korean War. From 1970-1984, the basic boxed figures and accompanying uniforms and accessories would reflect the forces of the United Kingdom rather than the USA. Action Man was subsequently reintroduced in 1993, based on the G.I. Joe Hall of Fame figure of that time.
In 1964 Sales Director Hal Belton brought back from the States a new toy called G I Joe to give, as a present, to his grandson. When he realised that it was well received by his grandson he "borrowed" the toy and presented it to the General Manager Miles Fletcher. Miles and his Production Director Brian Wybrow made contact with Hasbro at the New York toy fair the next year. Samples were acquired from Hasbro and marketing research was carried out – Palitoy employees were given samples to take home for their children to test.
In the early years Action Man competed with the entirely British Tommy Gunn by Pedigree Toys who were the producers of the Sindy doll. The Tommy Gunn figure copied aspects of Hasbro's G.I. Joe, released two years earlier in the United States. Regardless, Tommy Gunn was generally regarded as a higher quality in terms of equipment and accuracy of accessories, especially since the Action Man of the 1960s was little more than a re-packaged G.I. Joe. However, he was ultimately unable to compete with Action Man and was discontinued in 1968. In the late 1960s and early 1970s many other companies produced competition for Action Man, but all were of the cheap blow-moulded variety, which produces thin-walled components lacking the articulation and sturdiness of the Palitoy components, which utilised more costly Injection and Rotational moulding processes.
Action Man was then developed with primarily British themes from 1970 onwards: military, adventurers, and sportsman, as Palitoy wanted to distinguish their product line from the U.S. counterpart. (Bill) William A.G. Pugh was the head of Action Man's product development at Palitoy, and can be credited with the development of innovations to the product line which included the flocked hair and gripping hands, which crossed over to the G.I. Joe line. Hasbro realising that adding a new feature to the manikin helped to maintain sales developed the Eagle Eyes which was adopted by Palitoy for Action Man, and by extension to that of other Hasbro licensees.
One series that truly set Palitoy's line apart from Hasbro's was the "Ceremonials". Although Hasbro had a set of Cadet ceremonial outfits, they did not match the scope and range of the British versions, which also included a horse of the Life Guards with full ceremonial regalia as an optional set. The non-military was also covered with adventurous elements such as mountain rescue, Arctic exploration, scuba and deep sea diving. One outfit was only available through the Action Man stars scheme; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (and accompanying mastiff dog). In the G.I. Joe lineup, this outfit was sold with figure in a variety of configurations through Hasbro Canada.