Monday 18 March 2024

Les Higgins, Forgotten wargamers Four.

Having very kindly been given a couple of beautiful 30mm Les Higgins figures by Iain Macmillan I thought I should put something together about the man who sadly died before he reached his full potential. 

The story of Les Higgins is provided by and with the permisson of, VINTAGE20MIL  a site for all wargamers who enjoy knowing where we came from.

Designer Les Higgins and architect and builder Brian Marlow founded Les Higgins Miniatures in 1967. "I’d been modelling since I was about ten," Marlow recalls, "and in the early sixties I formed a model soldier club in Wellingborough with a few other enthusiasts. That was how I met Les". Higgins, a trained sculptor and patent-maker, was at that time working for the toy company Mettoy.

"I went to Mettoy from Northampton School of Art in 1957 or 58," Tim Richards, who would later design for Les Higgins Miniatures and the company that succeeded it Phoenix Model developments recalls, "I worked in the design studio as Les’s apprentice. We were mainly doing vinyl, squeaky toys. Les was a keen military modeller and he saw the figures that had started to come on the market around that time and thought, "I can do better than that".

Higgins had begun making 20mm figures in the late 1950s. His first efforts were a range of English Civil War soldiers. The figures — which are smaller than the later 20mm ECW range and slightly differently posed and accoutred (the cavalry have no hats, for example) - were drop cast and it was possible for enthusiasts to order armies of them and pay via subscription. A friend of Higgins, George Hanger, helped with administration of the fledgling business.

When Higgins teamed up with Marlow and went full-time he redesigned the 20mm ECW figures for centrifugal casting and they became the nascent company’s opening releases. Critical reaction to them seems to bear out the designer’s opinion that he could do a better job than most. Charles Grant noted "They are splendid types and in the 20mm scale at the moment there is nothing better on the market". John Garratt calls them "exquisite" and even the not so easily impressed John Cross of Scale Models concludes, "The finest 20mm figures it has been my privilege to handle".

The figures justify the plaudits. Beautifully detailed, flattish and noticeably smaller than Hinton Hunt they have a rare dash and charm to them.

The new company was initially based in Higgins’ home village of Hardingstone, Northamptonshire and later moved to Wellingborough. Shortly afterwards they took up residence in Earls Barton in a tiny building nicknamed "the stone caravan".

A 20mm Marlburian range including grenadiers, musketeers, cavalry and artillery was added in 1970. Reviewing these Armchair General magazine noted that they were "definitely not to be excelled in this scale". And Grant waxes enthusiastically, "The [Marlburian] cavalry especially are absolutely exquisite. " Not to be left behind Airfix Magazine waded in with "The standard of all these [Les Higgins figures] is exemplary, better than most we’ve seen".

I only have a few Les Higgins figures, all from his JASON range, all beautiful figures in 30mm and a joy to paint..


A 25mm Napoleonic range by Higgins was a 1971 addition. These are "true" 25mm, compatible with early Garrison and Minifigs and just a couple of millimetres taller than Hinton Hunt. Around the same time Marlow, with some help from Higgins, produced a 25mm Sudan War range of five British infantry, five highlanders and a 21st lancer, 2 "fuzzy-wuzzies", 2 dervish infantry and a dervish cavalryman. The figures are up to the usual high standard though, "For some reason all my officers are left-handed," he says.

The 25mm figures have rectangular bases (most of the 20mm are on round ones). The underside of the earlier figures carries the words "Les Higgins. England" in copperplate script. Later figures have PMD and the serial number stamped on them. Originally sold individually, the company soon switched to a packs system.

Les Higgins Miniatures also made the "Jason" range of 30mm English Civil War and Marlburian figures. "The smaller figures were good, but I think the 30mm English Civil War figures were really Les’s finest work," Marlow comments.

Garratt says that Higgins also designed figures for Norman Newton Ltd, including in 56mm a figure of Henry VIII and Lady Jane Grey. Marlow does not believe that is the case, however, "Les did some jewellery and some sculptures for other people but he only did figures for us," he says.

Higgins, who had suffered from long-term health problems, died in 1972, aged 49. "Les’s death came at a time when the company was really starting to take off," Richards says, "They’d struggled with production problems and all sorts at the start, then just when things were beginning to go well…."

In Wargamer’s Newsletter Don Featherstone wrote, "[Les Higgins] was a most likeable person of the greatest integrity whose figures were even admired by his rivals. The wargames world and indeed the world of model soldier collecting has lost a great artist".

Marlow changed the company name to Phoenix Model Developments and Tim Richards who had been moonlighting for the company for some while left Mettoy to become chief designer.

A number of additions, designed by Richards, were made to the 25mm Napoleonic range during this time including British and French heavy cavalry and horse artillery. "I was basically finishing off ranges Les had begun," Richards says, "I think I might have done some of the 20mm English Civil War range as well".

A new Ancient range of Persians and Greeks was also produced, designed by Steve Farmer another Mettoy denizen ("They didn’t pay much at Mettoy," Marlow recalls, "and designing the figures to go with the James Bond Aston Martin wasn’t exactly a challenge. I think everyone was desperate to get out"). This latter range was released in January 1973 and made up of Greeks and Persians. A range of military vehicles in 4mm scale was also issued under the name Renown. The latter were designed by John Hanscomb.

In 1977 Phoenix moved to large new premises in a former shoe factory in Earls Barton. By now the company was becoming well known for its 54mm figures, particularly those of scantily clad women from the Phantasy and Atlantis ranges which delighted teenage readers of Military Modelling (well, this one anyway) and along with dolls house furniture would come to dominate the company’s output.

It was shortly after the move that production of wargames figures ceased. "The problem was that ours were true 25mm and true 20mm. They didn’t fit in with the other ranges that had become popular like Hinchliffe" Marlow says.

For some considerable time the firm of Les Higgins Miniatures has been very well known - and deservedly so - for its series of model figures in the 20mm., 30mm., and 54mm sizes - and frequently one would hear regrets being expressed that there was no extension into periods other than the English Civil War and the wars of Marlborough - I'm speaking of the wargaming size of figure, the first mentioned, of course. My own view was that the Marlborough figures particularly were of an extremely high standard, mounted and foot types as well, and to be honest, on not a few occasions 'Corporal John's' long-coated grenadiers and musketeers found themselves transported half a century or so through time to the later era of the Seven Years War, wherein they fought most doughtily and at the same time performed quite another function, that of showing up the relatively mediocre quality of the other troops with whom they marched. Of course, the Les Higgins figures of the other sizes and periods - with which we are not concerned at the moment - were equally excellent, and in the 54mm range I have an especially high regard for the portrait model of Charles I and for the 16th century French arquebusier. However, as I say, it is not these with which we are at the moment concerned, but rather with the new enterprise undertaken by the firm - a most welcome excursion into a size and periods both quiet new to it - the former being 25mm and the latter not only the ever popular Napoleonic but British Colonial as well. For some reason I cannot quite explain, this size - the 25mm - seems to have been pretty well accepted as a standard size for wargames, or at least as nearly standard as one can expect to get in this: most individualistic of hobbies.

It was to be expected, I suppose, that the new 25mm figures would follow the traditional path into the armies of the Napoleonic Wars, but let us mention first the other line, the types for British Colonial warfare, to be specific, the Sudan in 1898 and the expedition of that year. This period does not seem to be among the most popular among British wargamers, but surprisingly enough - to me, at any rate - it has a very considerable number of devotees in the U.S.A. (where, if I'm not mistaken, Jack Scruby Miniatures first produced figures for colonial warfare some years ago). And this despite what one might imagine are American views of British colonialism in the 'bad old days'.

At the moment, the Les Higgins colonial figures are less numerous than their Napoleonic fellows, and, naturally enough, consist of British troops - horse and foot - and 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' and Dervishes, likewise foot and mounted. The British representatives are line infantry and Highland infantry - both with the typical pith helmet - in what are the firm's standard four attitudes - 'at the ready', 'advancing', standing firing' and 'kneeling firing'. The last two are not of great interest to me personally - it is a simple idiosyncrasy that I don't like figures in violent postures or firing attitudes, but there, that's just me. Officers, again, all seem to be left handed, or at least they are firing pistols with this hand. But these are quite definitely all my 'gripes' - the finish, moulding and general overall appearance of the figures are quite beyond criticism. Quite simply, I have seen nothing better the detail would do credit to very much larger figures and that's a fact. The British cavalryman - a lancer, naturally, with Omdurman in mind - is an admirable action piece. He comes without lance, but one made from piano or florist's wire can easily be fixed in place - no trouble there. The Fuzzy-Wuzzies - running or advancing - with spear and shield, are most aggressive looking characters (and, dare I whisper it, could well figure in certain 'ancient' armies, say the Carthaginian!), while the Dervish' horseman, with huge leaf-bladed sword, looks most impressive.

My latest Les Higgins figures donated by Iain Macmillan, my go to provider of Les Higgins figures.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

John Braithwaite, Forgotten Wargamers Three

When I was a young wargamer in the 1970's, ie. eons ago John Braithwaite was a well known figure in the North East of England producing a lovely range of 20mm and 25mm wargames figures under the Garrison banner based out of Thornaby in Cleveland. Although originally a cockney he soon realised the error of his ways and headed North.
My first ancient Persian army was made up of the Garrison Persian range. Anyway, after completing a few more Garrison knights for Lion Rampant I thought it appropriate that I provide the readers with some information about their sculptor.                                                                                                   

John Braithwaite taking a sledging from Peter Gilder during their refight of Waterloo, from the now legendary Battleground television series. Gilder could be a bugger and really gave John a hard time. 
John Braithwaite was a sales representative who lived in Eaglescliffe near Middlesbrough. In 1966 he attended the first ever wargames convention hosted by Donald Featherstone in Southampton. During the convention John produced some of his first wargames sculpts, 20mm ancient greeks which were apparantly admired by all the wargamers present.                                                                                   
 John soon joined Neville Dickenson and Peter Gilder in their early joint venture at Miniature Figurenes. John provided a small range of 20mm ancient figures, his first love. If anyone is lucky enough to possess any of this range, it is obvious where John obtained his 'inspiration' from, as it was pretty clear it was based upon Arfix conversions of the Robin Hood range. The association with Mini Figs was short lived and John began sculpting 20mm wargames figures for a shop titled the Garrison based in Harrow from 1968.                                                                                                                                                            

I own a small number of this range, 4 units of Persian immortals, and although I like them, they suffer from a degree of flatness, caused by the early production methods. I still wouldnt part with them although they are truly 20mm figures. John was an early member of the Society of Ancients founded by the late Tony Bath and he offered his services as the offical artist of the group as they producded the first Slingshot magazines.                                                                                                                                    

My newly completed Garrison Knights in all their splendour.

The 20mm range was redesigned in 1973, and became a proper 25mm range although there would be the odd larger figure amongst the range, ah the vagaries of the 1970's. The figures were now producded under the Greenwood and Ball name and eventually were based in Thornaby. It was at this time that Peter Gilder, a longtime friend of Braithwaite, convinced him of his televisual abilities, and the infamous Waterloo sledging then occured.                                                                                           


As an aside, Greenwood and Ball had originally been a model soldier company formed by John Ambler Greenwood and Kathleen Ball, based in Scarborough producing a quality range of 54mm figures.                                                                

 John Braithwaite died in 1992 of a heart attack and the Garrison ranges passed through various hands before being obtained by Rob Young. Garrison producded some lovely figures and amongst my favourites are the Ancient Greeks and Persians, their English Civl War and their Hyboria range, all classic figures. During the time that John worked he also producded a number of lovely 54mm medieval figures and nights.                         

In the mid 1980's Garrison producded a small range of quality French Napoleonics, with seperate heads, these figures were in my opinion the best they made and were a joy to paint, sadly this range doesnt seem to exist anymore. I must have liked them because I entered a painted unit in a couple of painting competitions where they won, so they must have been pretty good figures.                                                                                                                                


Monday 5 February 2024

Samuel MacGregor Mathers Comte de Glenstrae, Forgotten wargamers 2.

In an effort to lighten the mood after the loss of poor Graham I thought I would do a little piece on this gent, who was certainly different from most wargamers and he never carried a rucksack.                 

                                      Samuel Macregor Mathers Comte de Glenstrae

 In Achtung Schweinhund Harry Pearson mentions Samuel Macregor Mathers who apparantly had twenty five thousand figures which he used to fight battles, using rules of his own devising. He had two passions throughout his life, magic [ not Dynamo type of magic] and the theory of war.   While one couldnt really describe him as a unsung hero of Wargaming, it is clear he created his own wargames, using flats, lots of them and his own rules.
 Wargaming has actually had a few members who could be described as possessing either dubious morals or simply were a little untrustworthy. Mathers I think can be best described as a very, very bright man with some strange ideas attached.
  Mathers was born in January 1854 in Hackney London but although his father died a year later his family had sufficient money to allow him to attend  Bedford School. He later came back to London after the death of his mother in 1885. He published his first book, a translation of a French military manual after he returned.
 Always interested in alchemy he was introduced into Freemasonary in 1877 by a fellow alchemist and joined the appropriately named Hengist Lodge in 1877. He worked hard and subsequently became a Master Mason in 1878, but he took more interest in the fringe Masonic degrees and in 1882 he was admitted to the Societas Rosicruciana, lecturing on the Kaabbalah to the Theosophical Society, an early forerunner of the Society of Ancients. 
  Mathers spoke an impressive number of languages,English, French, Latin. Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic,Coptic and amazingly Research Group English, a most difficult language to master.
  Due to his abilities he was able to translate The Book of Abramelin, The Kabbalah Unveiled, the Grimoire of Armadel and Research Groups 7th edition ancient rules.
   Mathers was an exponant of Dr John Dee's Enochian magic system. Dee was Elizabeth the First's alchemist, a must for all rulers apparantly. 
In 1891 he became the leader of the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn and moved to France with is wife in 1892. He was expelled from the Golden Dawn in 1900 [apparantly for using loaded dice] and formed his own group called Alpha et Omega. He took the title Archon Basilieus and based his new club, sorry group at a place called the Ahathoor Temple.
He was forced from the orders in 1903 after failing to repay funds he had 'borrowed' from the Societas. [apparantly there had been a sale in Nuremberg of flats ]   

                                      Mathers as his alter ego, Archon Basilieus.

The Comte married the sister of the philosopher Henri Bergson and in an attempt to sound more Scottish Mina became Moina [ as opposed to major to minor] For his sins he was also a prectising vegetarian and anti vivisectionist. These foibles made him very unpopular with the other members of his group, and Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast always referred to him as Johnny Fart Pants, behind his back. Some say this was the cause of their great falling out, when Crowley and Mathers would regularly send conjured demons to each other to inhabit their dreams. 
   Crowley described how Mathers would often play chess matches against various pagan gods. He would set up his chess board, sit behind the white pieces facing an empty chair and after making a move, would carefully shade his eyes and peer towards the empty chair waiting for the pagan god to signal their move.He would then move the black piece accordingly.
 It is not certain whether he did the same with his wargame armies although Mathers apparantly had to expell one pagan God after they were caught nudging their units forward using their celestial elbow when Mathers wasnt looking.

  Mathers showing off his wand, which he won in the first national solo wargames competition beating the God Baal with a pseudo Babylonian army. 
 The Comte died in 1918 in Paris. The manner of his death was a mystery and his death certificate lists no cause of death. 
The question I kept asking is what happened to his 25,000 figures and his wargame rule set? Did Dave Ryan buy them? Can we expect the set to be published in the near future?

Saturday 3 February 2024

Graham Cummings.

 It was quite a shock when I received the news that Graham Cummings had died suddenly. I have known Graham for many years. I first came across him when we met at Hartlepool Police office where he was a detective sergeant. But it was only after I bumped into him at a wargames show that it became very apparent we shred the same interests.
 After tha we invariably crossed paths whether through the job or through our hobby. At that time Graham would and shows with his best friend Lee, who was a very talented wargamer. Sadly Lee passed away many years ago now.
GRaham was a 'good lad' and clearly far brighter than yours truly as he climbed the police promotion ladder. It seemed that every time I travelled to Cleveland he was wearing a new uniform until eventually he joined the ranks of the shiny arses and became a Police Superintendent. We both found that sudden rise very funny [police joke]

When the concept [is there one?] of Old School Wargames took off Graham and I embraced it, except in typical style Graham decided to start commisioning SYW figures which blossomed into Crann Tara Miniatures, based initially around the Jacobite risings. He was very proud of his little company but as he began to struggle with ill health I think it became too much for him and he sold up to concentrate on gaming and his family. 
 The last time I sat down with him was at the Gentlemen Wargamers weekend last year where various Lace War enthusiasts wargame and generally have a good time.
 Graham seemed okay although he was clearly not himself and struggling with walking, but he didnt complain and just concentrated on the weekend. When I saw his blog a couple of weeks ago he was typically down playing his health issues which were not as good as he claimed.That was typical of the man.
  All I can say is Graham was a good man and weargaming is less of a hobby due to this tragic loss.

          Graham hosting his Jacobite game at the Military Gentleman weekend several years ago.

Sunday 28 January 2024

John Niblett, original designer of Airfix soldiers.

As promised a post regarding unsung heroes of Wargaming and collecting toy soldiers in general.

John Niblett is the man who started the whole wargaming thing for me. In 1956 he joined Airfix. He was the original designer of the HO/OO range of plastic soldiers that began with the release of the British Guardsmen in 1958. Figures from is initial box had originally been released by Hummel before being re released as the first of the Airfix soldiers range. 

Niblett worked for Airfix until 1974 and produced many of the company's ranges including their beautiful Napoleonic and historical character range in 54mm, my favourite being the wonderful French Imperial Guard Grenadier. He also producded their 1/32nd range of figures.

Niblett also was commisioned to produce models for the wonderfully named government department, The Ministry of Public Buildings, but it was while working for Mettoy that he met and became friends with Les Higgins. An another amazing talent.

Niblett originally started sculpting model soldiers shortly after the war, making 54mm and 65mm figures. However after 1956 he concentrated on sculpting beautiful 20mm figures which were painted and sold by Hummels House of Miniatures, a figure shop based at the Burlington Arcade in London. Niblett covered a number of military subjects including the English Civil War, Romans,Normans, and for me his best, his beautiful range of knights. These were originally by Hummels for the princley sum of 9/6d for foot figures and 17/6d for the mounted figures.Quite pricey in the early 1960's.

Niblett continued producing large 150mm and 175mm military figures in white metal. 

In 1975 John Niblett set up producing figures in an independant studio producing figures for Britains, Lesney and the tourist shop at the Tower of London. In 1977 he re-released his lovely 12th and 14th century knights and his final range, the English Civil War in 20mm.

I remember carefully studying images of Niblett's knights but was put off by their small size, 20mm. It appears only Greenwood of Greenwood and Ball fame and John Niblett persisted in producing 20mm figures in the UK. while the accepted scale was fast becoming 25mm as producded by Les Higgins, Hinton Hunt and Jack Alexander. The only comprable 20mm figures were being producded by Jack Scruby in the USA and there was no way I could have ever afforded those.

John Garrett, the acknowledged expert on model soldiers believed that John Niblett's 20mm ranges were the finest of the small figures ranges produced and who am I to argue with that.


                         The last range Niblett produced, the English Civil War in 20mm.  


A review of the new English Civil War range was printed in the March 1979 Military Modelling magazine

"John Niblett of 50 The Broadway, Herne Bay, Kent has added some attractive
English Civil War subjects to his 20mm scale wargames figure series this
month. The new figure comprise an assortment of six foot figures and three
cavalry types, and on all of them the degree of detail is remarkable and the
casting superb.
The mounted figures include an Ironside trooper and his Royalist counterpart
and there's a beautiful little mounted cuirassier in three-quarter armour on
a rearing horse discharging his pistol. The horses are moulded in two halves
for epoxy assembly and on all the figures the diminutive weapons (and in
some cases, an arm) 
are moulded separately for the purchaser to stick together, thus making possible a fair degree of personal animation. Among the foot types are pike and musket men from both sides,one of the latter firing his musket on its rest, and there's a choice of positions for the pikemen as well; an attractive little drummer rounds off the collection. Niblett tells us that, depending on popularity, they'll be expanding the range, so if wargamers want more of these nice little 20mm's then its up to them to give these new ones the reception they deserve.

Sadly John Niblett died in 1980 a relatively young man and his ranges were purchased by a small company called Rosedale Figurines who also bought the Les Higgins range of 20mm figures and sold them under the Tribute Figures range. After a couple of years the owner moved from England to the West of Scotland and somehow the majority of the masters were lost in the move!

Sadly the beautiful ranges of 20mm figures produced by a master sculptor ceased to exist and are lost forever. 

With thanks to Vintage Wargaming Blob and various snippetts from the internet.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Blogging? Its an imperative.

This is a first and its something Im not proud of its the first time I didnt 'do' a Christmas Annual to welcome in the New Year. Basically I felt it wasnt something I needed to do. Who wants to know what a wargamer plans to do and then realise twelve months later that they havent achieved anything they said they would do.  
But then I felt guilty about the lack of effort and the fact that all bloggers need to put more effort into their journals. Im not going to berate anyone who religiously collates what they are doing as wargamers and Im always envious of the bloggers who post very regularly. 

  I know some think that hosting a blog is a dying art and that everyone has moved on to podcasts etc. But I think there is definately a place for blogs and sometimes they serve a purpose, such as my tribute to Peter Gilder. Unless I continue to put information on there the next generation of wargamers wont have a scoobies who the great man was and what he contributed to the hobby.  

In early January I attended ARDHAMMER, a one day event staged in Gateshead where people turn up to sell wargaming and Games Workshop stuff. As the years have progressed it has grown expotentially and this year was the busiest. Of the 80+ tables about 40% were selling wargame related stuff which is down on last year, but one can always find something to buy cheaply. This year it was paint. I came away with 20 bottles of Vallejo paint for £20, oh and a couple of books.One thing I noticed as I people watched was the age of the attendees. The majority were aged between 12 and 50 years old. Obviously a lot were there to buy Games Workshop but it was encouraging to know, well at least I thought it was, although the general fitness of the majority left a lot to be desired. 

Returning to blogging in general, because Ive been suffering from the Winter lurgy and a very painful back I sought reassurance by re-reading Harry Pearson's brilliant Achtung Schweinhund. This book is a perfect description of my wargaming life except Im not a smoggy. Thank God. But as an account of  a typical wargamer it is perfect, and the mix of humour, pathos and basically patheticness it describes me to a tee. I was lucky enough to have sat with Harry Pearson in an effort to get some information about Gilder and I found we had a lot in common. We both supported shite football teams who dreamt of a glory that would never happen but still hoped but knew we would always end up disappointed. 
  But I digress. In the book Harry described various early pioneers and toy soldier collectors who are very, very rarely spoken about and having given some thought to this I think it would be nice if someone ie me did produce a series of pieces about these people. 
Okay one could probably go onto Wikipedia aand potentially find out about some of them, but I think they deserve to be collated in one place. It will give me something to do between feeling sorry for myself. Its not a New Years resolution, more a small project I will  do something about.

I picked up a number of figures at Middlesbrough late last year from Tiger Miniatures, from their Tudor Irish wars range which I had to have for my Billhooks Irish army. I didnt need them, I have far too many anyway, but they were too nice not to buy. So I painted up some light cavalry, some gallowglass and some fighting dogs. 

I bought a small number of figures off E Bay months ago, when I reaalised they were Irish kern. I havent a clue who made them, they are big buggers but were very enjoyable to paint.

So a nice addition to my burgeoning Irish army.

And now to my second project.
Inspired by Rick Priestly and his love of old ancient Mini Figs Im steadily replacing my ancient Persian army made up of Foundry,Victrix and other more modern manufacturers with good old pre 1980 ancient Persians, and in particular using Hinchliffe and Garrison figures. 

Garrison Immortals, pretty big figures and certainly bigger than I remember but great sculpts.

And then, the well known Hinchliffe Immortal figure. Still one of my favourites. I think I maay have overdone their numbers, but I did enjoy painting them up. 
Next week its York and hopefully I will be making my trip down to the racecourse. I do enjoy the day although it can get a bit frenetic. Its only a shame that there wont be a couple of dealers off loading realistically priced old figures. Oh and a Happy New Year to all and sundry.


My 6mm Napoleonic set up.

My 6mm Napoleonic set up.
Austria 1809.

Austrian Hussars

Austrian Hussars
Hinchliffe figures

Austrian Grenzer

Austrian Grenzer
Austrian Grenzer

Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2013
Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2012

Smoggycon 2012
Smoggycon 2012

Smoogycon 2009

Smoogycon 2009
My French getting another beating