In the 1960s and most of the 1970s I took a pause from toy soldiers for some reason. Oh yea, it was girls. Just before I noticed that they had come along I did participate in the early days of the Swoppet movement initiated by Britains in 1958, but that was about it. After my flush of hormones was somewhat under control, I came to my senses and made my way back to the hobby but I had missed the heyday of the swoppets without ever knowing it. As in all things, this had both good and bad aspects. Bad was the delay in my plastic gratification. Good, in fact very good, has been my discovery of what I had missed. Maybe some of you missed it too. Or maybe you didn’t but a trip down memory lane will still give you some pleasure. Let’s go together.
Swoppets, with a capital “S”, began as Britains’ way of producing toy soldiers in plastic, a material less expense and lighter than metal, that would not lose all their color/paint if hit by a dirt bomb. Or even a mild breeze. Polythene plastic hates paint. Despite their small, 54 mm scale, injection molding techniques were allowing ever smaller and more intricate pieces, like gun belts and revolvers for cowboys, to be made in whatever colors were needed and then pop-fit together into a full colored guy. Britain’s transition away from paint was not instantaneous and painting and paint loss continued to be an issue as the legs of the bowman and headdress of the Indian in the first two photos amply demonstrate.
|Paint loss on legs|
|Paint loss on headress|
|Britains Wars of the Roses series|
|MPC Ring-hand Pirate|
In fairness, as the Timpo range advanced it was transformed by a new production technique referred to as over-molding in which many of the individually colored pieces were fused together and therefore not able to be swopped. Today the transition within Timpo is delineated by “series” numbers with some ranges, like the cowboys, having four iterations. While most series 3 and 4 figures still separated at the waists, I do exclude these later models from the category because that, and, like MPC, some weapons were the only individual pieces. Where that line gets drawn is subjective.
Another distinguishing feature of at least the first and second series was what can be described as very mechanical animation. Many of these early poses, such as the WWII figures shown, are unnatural looking. I have always guessed that the sculptor somehow thought this made the torsos and legs somehow more universally swoppable but I never decided how. Whatever the reason, this early animation detracts from the realism the molding technique was supposed to be creating. This was largely corrected in the later series.
|Timpo WWII Swoppets|
|Timpo Series 1 Indian Swoppets|
Tom Stark June 2017
Tom contributes regular articles to Plastic Warrior and Playset magazines.