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David Smith commemorates some genuine giants in the world of one his favourite childhood playthings: toy soldiers.

Moulders of men

I’ve written about toy soldiers many times, both on ToyTalk and in ToyNews, and I’ve never made any secret of the fact that they were among my favourite childhood toys.

With that in mind, it was quite a shock to find out that some of the key figures in the world of toy soldiers had recently passed away (thanks to Peter Evans and Paul Morehead at Plastic Warrior magazine for alerting me to this, and for providing the information that follows).

Despite my enthusiasm for toy soldiers, I’m not an expert and I’m a little ashamed to say that these names were new to me but, without my knowing it, these people had provided some of the most pleasurable hours of play in my childhood and are now doing the same for my two boys.

George Musgrave was a sculptor for Herald, Crescent and other companies, before setting up Gemodels himself.

Charlie Biggs was the genius who came up with the idea of placing a plastic figure on a metal stand for the Britains Deetail range (you could get them for 10p each when I was a boy and I spent many hours staring at the ranks of these soldiers in toy shops, trying to decide which to buy).

Ronald Cameron earned a reputation as one of the best anatomical sculptors around when he crafted many of the iconic Airfix soldiers (he also worked for Britains). It’s not surprising that he knew his way around the human body, he also produced erotic and nude figures (I didn’t play with any of those when I was a boy).

Norman Tooth designed almost all of the Timpo/Model Toys ranges and invented the overmoulding technique, which allowed different coloured plastic pieces to be moulded together so they didn’t have to be painted.

All of these important industry figures passed away between November 2012 and September of last year – that’s less than a year to say goodbye to four genuine giants who happened to specialise in miniatures.

And I can’t finish without also paying tribute to the man known as the Godfather (in a good way, not the Marlon Brando way) of plastic soldiers. Roy Selwyn-Smith died in 2006 after a brilliant career with Herald and Britains.

Toy soldiers may not be quite so prominent in the lives of children in our modern world but these men will undoubtedly be missed.

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