Friday 3 February 2012


During the 1980s, US covert anti-terror force G.I. JOE operated in the UK as ACTION FORCE!  

When Hasbro took over the line from the winding-down Palitoy (who launched Action Force in the UK in 1982 as a miniaturised version of their declining perennial ACTION MAN) in 1987, they aligned it as closely as possible with their US G.I. Joe line (Palitoy had been issuing the toys, under license and under the Action Force banner since 1985).  The changes included streamlining the range (some toys were dropped, others added), new packaging, puncher print and TV advertising, a new licensing deal with Marvel UK (replacing the Action Force strips that IPC had published in BATTLE ACTION FORCE since 1983) and the release of the G.I. Joe animated series (produced by Sunbow and Marvel Productions) in the UK for the first time.

Hasbro presumably retained the Action Force brand because it was a known quantity to retailers and consumers and, possibly, because the name G.I. Joe was meaningless to Brits.  Certainly the "Real American Hero" subtitle couldn't cross the Atlantic and Action Force became "International Heroes".

Hasbro never found a UK broadcaster to show the full G.I Joe/ Action Force TV show (TV-am had been a willing buyer of THE TRANSFORMERS, JEM and rival GOBOTS and M.A.S.K), possibly because the market was saturated, possibly because of the controversy around "extended commercials" masquerading as programmes or, maybe, because its overt military themes (albeit wrapped in improbable fantasy) was too much for British broadcasters.

As an alternative, Hasbro capitalised on the booming market of sell-through VHS tapes to release selected episodes.  To fit the UK toy range, the episodes had a new title sequence and theme added and the dialogue was replaced (fairly well in most instances) so that all references to Joe were replaced by Action Force and the chant "Yo Joe" became "Full Force!"

However, the animation in the episodes themselves remained unchanged so any time the G.I. Joe logo or text appeared on screen, it remained in the UK version.  Confusing!

The selection of episodes released on VHS seemed random and its not clear whether the entire series was reformatted as Action Force in the hopes of a UK sale or whether only selected episodes were revamped.

The bonkers G.I. JOE THE MOVIE was similarly revamped and released on tape in the UK as ACTION FORCE THE MOVIE.  It's subsequently been re-released on DVD in its original form.

From December 1989, Hasbro rebranded the UK toys as G.I. JOE: THE ACTION FORCE.  The changeover happened on the cover of TRANSFORMERS 249 (where US G.I. Joe reprints were running as the back-up strip), cover dated 23 December 1989.  The ongoing VHS releases reflected this change.  

The Action Force subtitle was eventually dropped entirely and the toys (now past their sales peak) sold as G.I. Joe on both sides of the Atlantic.  Which must have made life much easier for Hasbro, but still didn't secure them a broadcast slot for the TV series.

The fate of the Action Force versions of the episodes is currently unknown.  Were the master tapes retained?  By whom?  Where?  Presumably they would never be needed again.

The UK Action Force title sequence.

The first-season US title sequence.

The beginning of G.I. JOE THE MOVIE, UK style.

The opening sequence from G.I. JOE THE MOVIE US-style.


Below is a selection of UK VHS sleeves for the Action Force cartoons.  This is not a comprehensive selection.  Running times varied from just shy of 100 minutes (for the mini-series edited into movie compilations) to as little as (roughly) 22 minutes for single episode per-tape (rip-off!) releases.  Some tapes were retailer exclusives, for example Marks and Spencer released tapes under their St. Michael Video brand.

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