Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Review - "The Other Side Of Airfix" - Arthur Ward

[Free review copy supplied by Pen and Sword Books under their "Remember When" imprint.]

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but Airfix was a constant thread through my childhood. When I was about eight or thereabouts, my grandfather (a retired Civil Service Engineer/Inspector, who I gather spent a goodly part of the last war dealing with projects he wasn't allowed to talk about!) bought and helped me built their 1/72 Lancaster, not long after I'd devoured Paul Brickhill's book on the Dambusters

Not long after that, I negotiated my pocket money up to 'more than an Airfix Series 1 kit', and I spent a lot of time assembling and painting aircraft kits on Gran's kitchen table. And then there was the annual pilgrimage to the model shop in Hull (Sid will remember it? Not that far from Paragon station) for the new catalogue, to be pored over, and its contents wished for (and hinted about to doting grandparents!).

By the time I got to secondary school, I discovered wargames, and moved to building tanks - and I suspect, like everyone else, got massively frustrated at those blasted rubber tracks. My pride and joy, though, was the 1/24 Spitfire - now that was a kit!

But we're not here to talk about that. The book, Mike, the book!

In a way, the book isn't talking about that, either. Sure, it touches on the kit range, with which the name is pretty synonymous to most of my readers. It's much more about three things - the history of the company, the other ranges - the toys, games and crafts - and the people. And I have to admit I found it fascinating, not least because I spent a lot of time going 'crumbs, I didn't know Airfix made that", in many cases ("Super Flight Deck" springs to mind) even though I used to own it! 

Ward obviously knows and loves his stuff - this is his fourth book on Airfix, after all! - and with the help of folks from the Airfix Collectors club there's a huge range of photos of things in the company's range, from babies' dummies/pacifiers to Weebles. (Airfix made Weebles? I never knew!). On top of that, the text covers the story of the company from its first flounderings in wartime to the initial demise in 1981, and its subsequent reviving by several companies including the three H's of Heller, Humbrol and Hornby. One of my favourite bits is the brief look at Airfix artist Bill Stallion's work on the box covers for a lot of the plastic figures, including some photos taken by his wife of him with wooden mock weapons to get a pose right for a cover. 

It's a tough book to position, I guess. If you're a serious toy collector (which I'm not), it probably doesn't tell you much you didn't know. It's not a wargamers book per se, either, and as such it skates the edge of what I'd review here. But - if you simply grew up in the 70s, though (like, I suspect, a worryingly large number of the folks reading this!), it's a delightfully nostalgic read. Sure, it's not a book you're going to keep around for reference - it's pretty much a coffee table book. 

Would I have bought it for myself? Mmm. Good question: probably not, but at least in part because it's not a book I'd have been looking for, so wouldn't have realised it existed! It's £19.99, which for 177 pages of colour picture-heavy, largish hardback is fair enough. (It's not as big as the concussion-inducing Wargames Compendium, mind you!) Being Pen and Sword, of course, it's also available in Kindle and ePub format, and I certainly would recommend it at that price (under a fiver) if you want to revisit your childhood. 

3 comments:

  1. The late 60's and into the 70's were great times for me and Airfix!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had an Airfix bucket. At the risk of sounding insane, it was an extremely well designed bucket.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved the Airfix kits - although I suspect many others shared my frustration at having to search for the tiny parts that pinged off the table onto the floor!

    ReplyDelete

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