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  • Writer's pictureDan Synge

Real Smokin' Gun

I had grown up wanting to be Doug McLure in The Virginian or Pete Duel (above, right) in Alias Smith and Jones, gashing my leg horribly on an old wooden sawhorse in the back garden which had rusty nails sticking out of it.

Strange as it may seem, you just couldn’t get away from cowboys and great myths of the wild west. On the black and white television screen, reruns of The Lone Ranger and Champion The Wonder Horse were Saturday morning staples and the names Wyatt Earp, Daniel Boone and George Custer meant more to me than The Monkees or Davy, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.

Stick 'em up! Cowboys meant more to me than The Monkees

When I swung my unfortunate leg over that lethal workbench I was wearing my mum’s suede waistcoat with a tin sheriff’s badge pinned to its top button hole. On my head was a homemade Davy Crockett raccoon hat while stuffed into the waistband of my Wrangler blue jeans was a replica Colt 45 revolver that would fire reel after reel of single shot caps.

I was a real smokin’ gun.

Like many households, we began to reap the benefits of scientific innovation and economic advancement; the ‘White Heat of Technology’ as Harold Wilson dubbed it in his 1963 speech to Labour delegates. First came the rectangular modern fridge freezer, then the automatic washing machine and finally the family colour television set which arrived just in time for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. My parents could hardly be accused of being early adopters.

A star is born; Olga Korbut in colour

Indeed, only a few years earlier we had struggled to spot man landing on the moon on a tiny black and white portable. Now, here was Mark Spitz in star spangled Speedos and little Olga

Korbut pirouetting on a disturbingly iridescent gymnasium floor.

From cowboys I gravitated to a more contemporary embodiment of masculinity, Action Man. Yet another find from the well-stocked shelves of Raggedy Anne’s, my first action figure (definitely not a doll, as some might have cleverly surmised) was a blond-haired square jawed squaddie I named Peter Loggs. I wrote his name down carefully on the accompanying plastic dog tag.

Initially his wardrobe was a little threadbare; the basic action figure came with a standard facial scar and plain olive-green garb. But as I began to acquire more outfits for him, he showed a remarkable and quite treacherous ability to change sides masquerading as both a ruddy mariner and polo-necked French Resistance fighter then defecting to the Germans and back again as a World War Two Russian infantryman.

Action Man had a treacherous ability to change sides

Action Man’s manufacturers were wise to Peter Loggs’s ever shifting allegiances and created a system in which he might feasibly enjoy a supply of new uniforms for life. A trio of bright red stars appeared on the packaging of each new product which I enthusiastically cut out and glued onto my personal Action Man Star Card. Once I had accumulated 21 of these cardboard stars, I would then send by post my completed Star Card to the manufacturers Palitoy of Coalville, Leicestershire. As if by magic, a new buck-naked action figure would arrive in a plain cardboard box in a matter of weeks.

With such an inspired consumer cycle in place, was it any wonder that Peter was soon joined by a suave brown-haired trooper I named Rodney Wade, and then Alex, a blonde infantryman distinguished by his missing-in-action surname and fuzzy ‘realistic hair’, an innovation that Palitoy launched in 1970?

 Of course, while my men were busily re-enacting Stalingrad or the so-called Breakout at The Bulge, I was coming to terms with the fact that my own place in the family hierarchy was under repeated attack.

I had been wildly enthusiastic about the arrival of my baby brother, who I immediately fancied as a new playmate; someone I could hand my holster down to, a deputy who could mind the fort as I roamed the plains around SE3 on my Raleigh Rodeo...

Extract from You Really Got A Hold On Me, a memoir out soon.

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