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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Well, I'll Bee Damned



At one of the first wargame conventions held in the mid-1960s in Southampton, a wargamer from Stockton-on-Tees in the north-east of England turned up with a box full of figures he'd made. Charles Wesencraft was amazed "We all had our armies of Airfix plastic Romans and there was this chap with these beautiful little metal Greeks and Persians". Another man who was impressed was Neville Dickinson. Dickinson had just bought a figure company, Alberken that made Hinton Hunt sized 20mm Napoleonics. He'd moved Alberken from Nottinghamshire to Hampshire and changed the company name to Miniature Figurines The wargamer from Teesside was John Braithwaite and Dickinson hired him to design Ancient figures for Minifigs. The result was the 20mm JonBee range.
The range was short lived - probably in production from c.1967 until c.1969 when Brathwaite started his own figure company, Garrison and Miniature Figurines launched S Range. They don't feature in any of the 1960s Minifigs catalogues and the listing I have for them was laboriously compiled from adverts and figure reviews in Slingshot and Scale Models.

The JonBee range is, I think, the most obscure of all the ancient ranges that features on this site, yet they were created by a famous designer and produced by a company that was soon to be the biggest manufacturer of wargames figures on the planet. Why then were they so cloaked in mystery, missing from catalogues and rarely advertised? A glance at the slinger above may offer a clue. He is plainly converted from one of the peasant figures out of the Airfix Robin Hood set. I wonder if the British toy giant noticed?

More on this in the coming weeks....

4 comments:

  1. Compared to the Far Eastern knock-offs, would they have been all that bothered?

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  2. Nice conversions but yes the parentage of slinger and hoplite is not exactly disguised. We have to start somewhere I suppose.

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  3. Strangely, this figure, and its Airfix ancestor, are very reminiscent of the German (Roman auxiliary) slinger in Funcken. Yet the Airfix figure was armed rather differently. Odd.

    Regards,
    Nick

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  4. I seem to remember (but can't find any evidence for it) that John Braithwaite sculpted some of the Airfix figures - WW1 Germans and British come to mind - in which case maybe it wasn't an issue? Or I might be getting mixed up with John Niblett, who definitely did some of the first Airfix figures.

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