Britains is a world-famous toy manufacturer known through the first half of the twentieth century for their extensive range of often stiffly-posed lead soldiers. Following the Second World War, plastic became a viable alternative material to work with. In order to take advantage of this development, Britains merged with the up-and-coming plastic soldier manufacturer Herald in 1955. Several ranges of plastic soldiers were subsequently produced.
It was in 1971 that the innovative, colourful and animated ‘Deetail’ range of 1:32 figures and accessories were introduced. Deetail figures certainly were, as the name suggests, nicely detailed, but their distinctive characteristics were that they were pre-painted and well-animated. Uniquely, the plastic figure was also mounted on a metal base, thus giving the figure stability and heft.
Focussing mainly on martial subjects, the Deetail range was actively developed into the 1980s, and covered a wide range of traditional subjects including medieval knights, the Wild West, World War 2, and futuristic Space. The figures were attractive and a commercial success, and some are still available today.
To get familiar with the Deetail range, let’s take a look at one of the initial sets produced and a fine exemplar of their large World War 2 range, the US Infantry.
Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, manpower and material from the United States began flooding into the United Kingdom and became a familiar sight in contemporary newsreels. In November 1942, US troops invaded Tunisia, and from this point on US infantry were heavily involved in all of the campaigns of western European liberation, fighting in Italy, France and the Low Countries, and on into Germany. Following the war, the US forces remained in Europe as part of the NATO alliance.
Britains Deetail 7340 US Infantry
Year first produced: 1971
L60 x W30 x H60 (max), Plastic + Metal 13g (av), Scale 1:32, Features: 0
The US Infantry established some precedents for future Deetail releases. New items were usually launched as a set of 6 different poses, and were available for sale in boxed sets or individually. Releases were also made as pairs of historical adversaries, in this case the US Infantry being paired with German infantry.
The figures are made from PVC plastic. Unlike the polythene adopted by competitors such as Airfix, PVC has a solvent, which allows components to be glued together. Thanks to this, the right arms of the figures could be made separately and then glued in place, which enabled the poses to be more three-dimensional than comparable single-piece moulds.
The figures are in typical combat poses: firing, advancing or engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Five figures carry the M1 Garand rifle, and the remaining figure is firing an M3 sub machine gun (colloquially known as a ‘grease gun’ due to its similarity to the mechanics tool) which was issued in mid-1944, so technically these figures cannot predate that time. Equipment carried is light – only ammunition pouches, a bayonet and water bottle – and I have to say that like many toy soldier sets, the figures look suspiciously smart in their neat uniforms. Perhaps unusually for figure sets, there is no obvious officer or leader.
The plastic used is a bright green colour over which details have been picked out by hand in 3 colours of paint – flesh for the faces and hands; brown for the boots, water bottles, bayonet scabbards, and weapons; and a sandy colour for the belt, pouches and gaiters*. The surface of the figures has a slight texture (imparted by engraving in the mould), which creates a feeling of the clothing being worn. The effect is quite pleasing. When first released, the figures also carried small stickers on the sides of their helmets, but as these were difficult to position and easily came adrift, this embellishment was soon dropped.
* at least that’s as far as I can tell, being slightly colour-blind myself…
Deetail figures are made to stand on a one-size-fits-all mazak (zinc alloy) base, usually painted a bright green. The figure is attached via lugs under the feet, which are twisted to fit into slots in the base and then spring back to secure it. The base gives stability, which avoids the irritation of figures that won’t stand up, or fall over too easily. Deetail soldiers are not easily knocked over! Also, the additional weight of the base (7 grams out of a typical 12 for a whole figure) confers a subtle indefinable impression of quality…
On the underside of the base are the following:
“BRITAINS LTD 1971”, “deetail” & MADE IN ENGLAND”.
The US Infantry was a popular set of figures, but in 1980 the moulds had worn out and a replacement set of poses was created, including a man firing a bazooka and a grenade thrower. These figures are still sold today. For the collector, this is good news as overall there are 12 poses to be had which makes for a good variety.
In the 1990s, the US figures were repurposed as part of a new ‘Task Force’ range, the same figures doing duty either as UN forces or their unidentified opponents, depending on the paint scheme applied.