Action Man is the name used for several lines of toys released in the United Kingdom and Australia by Palitoy. The original version was a licensed copy of Hasbro's G.I. Joe: America's Movable Fighting Man and the line would develop several features that would in turn be used in the US.
Palitoy launched Action Man in 1966 with three figures Action Soldier, Action Sailor and Action Pilot. All were available in the four original hair colors: Blonde, Auburn, Brown and Black. The line saw off several competitors, most notably the British originated Tommy Gunn in 1968. Palitoy made use of Injection and Rotational moulding processes which although more expensive than competitors also gave the toys higher quality and sturdiness..
From 1970 onwards the line pursued predominantly British themes, expanding beyond the military to adventurers and sportsmen. Several key developments such as flocked hair, gripping hands and Eagle Eyes all originated with the Action Man toys and would subsequently be adopted for use by the G.I. Joe Adventure Team figures released in the US. Numerous additional uniforms and other accessories were released, with many showing an especial high regard for detail.
Several figures from the US line were released, although with some changes. For example the release of Mike Power, Atomic Man had flocked hair, unlike the US version. The first non-white figure to be released was "Tom Stone", a repackaged African-ethnic Hasbro Muscle Body Action Adventurer.
In 1980 the line imported Rom The Space Knight from Parker Brothers, releasing the robot in the Action Man line. Several spacemen were released as "Space Rangers", with a foe created in the form of Captain Zargon the Space Pirate.
In 1982 Palitoy responded to declining sales by creating the additional Action Force toyline of 3.75 inch figures. For the first few years these toys bore an "Action Man" subtitle but subsequently evolved into a renamed import of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline.
In 1984 the line came to an end when Palitoy began to wind down operations after the death of Alfred Pallett, one of the owners. The company was taken over by Hasbro and the Action Man toys ended.
In 1993 Hasbro relaunched Action Man, using the original title rather than "G.I. Joe" which was now sported by the Action Force line. The first four figures were Duke, Stalker, Snake-Eyes and Cobra Commander, all direct imports from the 12 inch G.I. Joe: Hall of Fame line in similar packaging.
Subsequently Hasbro started developing new packaging for the line. Moving away from the traditional military themes towards "extreme sports" the Action Man line was now supported by a cartoon in which Action Man was an adventurer battling Dr. X. The Action Man featured in this series was also featured as a 3 3/4 inch figure as part of a Toys R Us exclusive Night Force 6-pack, along with Beach Head, Flint, Roadblock, Short-Fuze and Tunnel Rat.
In addition several special editions were produced including both three thirtieth anniversary nostalgic sets and a special English footballer in 1996 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of England winning the World Cup and also hosting an international football tournament for the first time since then.
In 2006 Hasbro celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the line with the release of a nostalgic line of reproductions of the original figures and accessories.