The 1961 Airfix Civilians set designed by John Niblett. Its box art of urban Britain is just about how I remember it as a late 1960s / early 70s child. These Civilian figures have not been available since 1973 to 1975.
I grew up with a few of these civilian oddities mixed in as ‘personalities’ mixed in with my motley mix of HO/OO toy soldiers.
I like the description of the characters on the box back –
Image from Airfix’s Little Soldiers, Jean-Christophe Carbonel – I like the silhouettes of the figures.
The struggling postman with mail sack has lots of character. It’s good to be able to name and identify poses – although some are not now quite PC? (2 Fat Men)
These Station Accessories and mix of railway figures and workers are often not listed with military figures in some Airfix reference books. They feel a little forgotten, less familiar or undiscovered.
Image source: the lovely Dapol website – pure Airfix purchasable nostalgia
Wonderfully Airfix Railway figures are all still available from Dapol in hard grey plastic including this old 1960s Platform Figures and Accessories set.
These are slight and slender (HO 1:87 maybe according to Plastic Soldier Review?) in comparison to the chunkier 1961 Airfix Civilians above and later 1970s Airfix. This is in the same way perhaps that first version 1960s Airfix figures such as Infantry Combat Group, German Infantry, 8th Army and Afrika Korps are small compared to their 1970s larger Airfix second versions.
Worth mentioning that those familiar Airfix building kits – the thatched cottage, Church, windmill, Tudorbethan house and others – are still available from the same Dapol website.
Other former Airfix figures still available from Dapol:
These plastic figures needed a bit of height to be adults alongside my strapping Boy Scouts, so I mounted the adults on 1p MDF and penny pieces.
A bit of research suggests that they are hard to find ex-Lionel Railway stock (USA). Now out of production and widely sold out (including from my original supplier below), they were sold or marked as O figures.
Tank Engine Tuesday? No that’s not engines for tanks. I once saw a Matilda tank engine for sale on EBay and thought for a moment, it’s a start. A Matilda Tank on the Front Lawn would certainly be a conversation piece …
One of the attractive sections of H.G. Wells’ Floor Games (1911) is the ‘lectric, or clockwork engines, the photographs of the cities and islands by his wife Amy Catherine (“Jane”) Wells and the charming drawings by illustrator J.R. (John Ramage) Sinclair.
Floor Games 1911
The most attractive parts of railway modelling has always been the scenics and especially the figures, often a useful (but sometimes expensiv e source) of civilians for my DMZ Demilitarised Games – snowballers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts / Guides …
Civilian figures in 1:32 or 54mm scale are usually a bit scarce but I remembered a trial pack of such figures that I ordered years ago. Still available online, these seem to show some odd sculpting and range of fashions or decades.
Somewhere / sometimes there is a weird spindly wraithlike child in this set. Sometimes not.
Size comparison with 54mm Prince August and original Hollowcast figures –
The Diana like figure could be a passable ‘dead spit’ of Jane the 1940s wartime comic ‘strip’ hero by Norman Pett. Is there a secret camera in that handbag?
Now just where do I get a 54mm / 1:32 dachshund?
O Gauge 40 – 42mm figures
I wasn’t sure how these measure up as O Guage figures (at about 40mm) with my other figures (40-42mm) but spotted these interesting mixed characters amongst the myriad scales and variations of painted and unpainted railway and architect figures …
I usually find railway layouts in magazines and exhibitions less of interest for the trains running up and down and more of interest for the scenery, the people and the tiny vignette details. Some model railway enthusiasts obviously have less interest or time for this aspect of their hobby.
In my 2006/7 scrapbook, on another long train journey for work (everything outside the West Country is a long journey) I scribbled and sketched down ideas about the people I saw in passing, how they were grouped or separate etc.
This was no doubt inspired by reading a railway modelling magazine with layouts and figure ranges pictured. If there are no interesting military modelling, wargames, toy soldier or history magazines that month on the station bookstall, I would sometimes choose a railway modelling one. They often had useful transferable tips on modelling, painting and weathering techniques, terrain and scenery design articles or some interesting history stories.
I do think that the shortened categories or stereotypes of human behaviour listed in the figure ranges is quite amusing – not quite all of human behaviour is yet here. I wonder what is missing? I will post on this another time.
Looking up at real life whizzing past the hurrying window, slicing through town, countryside, back gardens etc then looking back at the magazine’s railway layout pictures, gave an interesting switching perspective. Big, small, messy, neat, detailed, empty. Real, fake. It is the scale distortion joy or joke of the old fashioned model village or tiny people artists like Slinkachu.
Thoughts of what is going on in the heads of Peco Modelscene passenger set B is almost a Creative Writing stimulus exercise?
Still available the Peco Passenger Set B
On long journeys I would read both the adverts and the articles, taking a long, close, in-depth look at the photos, people, backdrops and details, trying to read between the lines at what is really going on when nobody is looking. If you could speech bubbles or thought bubbles above their heads, what would be in them? What preoccupies them in this frozen slice of imagined life or time as trains run past? Why no moving people?
I blame much of this Michael Bentine’s Potty Time, The Borrowers, The Twelves and other such stories of tiny people come to life but who freeze when there are “human beans” around.
Looking at the characters or Railway people types which appear with wearying regularity on layouts worldwide such as Passenger Set B, I wonder:
What is in the letter that the lady in yellow is about to post?
What is in the letter in his hand that the postman is about to deliver? What other things are in his bag?
What is in the bag or briefcase carried by the first man on the left?
Where is the sprightly cheerful lady in black and red heading off to? Who will she meet?
I notice a few Marple type figures amongst these Peco and Airfix figures. During Lockdown, I have been listening my way through the Agatha Christie BBC dramatisations of Poirot and Miss Marple (via my online local public library download).
What’s in the envelope?
What is in these envelopes in people’s hands, the postman’s bag, the postbox on these layouts?
It reminds me of some lines from Night Mail by W.H. Auden, the rhythmic poem set to music to accompany the Thirties GPO Film Unit documentary:
“This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order …”
“Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door…”
“Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers’ declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong …”
Navvies backed up by Victorian Civilians from the Airfix Waggon Train set.
Next post: I will add some alternative suggestions from my notebooks for railway modelling figures of some character stereotypes and modern civilian figures that I don’t think are yet made, but reading through some of the more bizarre figures on the Preiser lists, I’m not so sure …
Not a detective series or a firm of solicitors but one of my favourite Railway figures – fogman, hut and brazier.
I have bought several of these attractive PECO packs for my Railway civilians. lovely figure and great little fire effect using red and silver sweet wrapper type paper.
Reading through my stash of old railway magazine clippings in my scrapbook, I found this imaginative small tale or short story by B. Willcocks. Sadly I cannot remember which magazine it came from c. 1970s/80s.
I often wonder about the conversations, thoughts and back stories of the figures glimpsed on railway layouts.
What is a fogman?
A “fogman” was a person in charge of fog signals on a railway track or system. Uup to the 1950s, the fogman would stand offside the rail tracks with a lantern to signal “go slow” to the train driver.
A railway detonator (torpedo in North America) is a coin-sized device that is used to make a loud sound as a warning signal to train drivers. It is placed on the top of the rail, usually secured with two lead straps, one on each side. When the wheel of the train passes over, it explodes emitting a loud bang. It was invented in 1841 by English inventor Edward Alfred Cowper.