This volume we talk about the last of the first 12, Death Squad Commander but first let find out where it all happened in the UK, Palitoy.
The growth of the SW phenomenon from the original film to the present day shows no signs of relenting and one of the most prolific ways for fans to show their appreciation for the films is to collect; especially the figures and vehicles.
When Star Wars was released in 1977 the toy company Kenner, who had the licence to produce the toys were not geared-up or ready for the popularity of the movie and the demand that followed.
Here in the UK the manufacturing licence went to a company called Palitoy; based in Leicestershire.
This is their story.
Alfred E Pallett founded his Company ‘Cascelloid Ltd. in Britannia Street, Leicester in 1919; and Palitoy was originally the toy division of Cascelloid Ltd.
In the early days the company struggled to survive, making plastic windmills in the summer and babies’ rattles in the winter.
Its expansion to an old billiard hall in Coalville in 1937 and the heady days of Palitoy’s success after the war came with toys like ‘Action Man’, ‘Tiny Tears’ and Pippa.
At first this allowed Palitoy to produce large numbers of toys very cheaply.
New ownership and expansion (1968-79)
In 1965, the toy division at Coalville was separated from the rest of the Cascelloid, and renamed the Palitoy Division. Three years later, in 1968, British Xylonite Ltd. sold the Division to General Mills Incorporated, where it was renamed Palitoy Incorporated. A North American giant in food products, General Mills had diversified into other consumer products and had recently acquired a number of other toy manufacturers, including Parker Bros. and Kenner. Palitoy became the centre of the General Mills UK Toy Group.
Over the next few years the Palitoy range of toys increased with the Bradgate range, exclusive to wholesalers, launched in 1971 and Pippa dolls first being produced by Palitoy in 1972. The Discovery Time range of pre-school educational toys was launched in 1974, and Mainline Railways, a range of authentic OO-gauge trains, was introduced in 1976, although produced for Palitoy in the Far East by Kader, who retained ownership of the original moulding tools. Other products were added as General Mills acquired new companies, for example Deny Fisher in 1970, which itself had acquired Wendy Boston Playsafe Toys, manufacturers of the Spirograph, two years earlier. To cope with this growing volume of products, 5 million cubic feet of warehouse space was opened in Ashby de la Zouche, Leicestershire in 1975, to be followed in 1977 by expansion of the Coalville factory and a new site in Baker Street, Coalville, to despatch Mainline Railways and also to house the Customer Service, Sample and Display Department, as well as the employees’ shop. Also, on the 2nd May, 1977 the new company Palitoy (Far East) Ltd. was set up to manage the increasing amount of production which was being undertaken overseas in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan.
The success of ‘Action Man’ meant expansion for Palitoy. In 1977 the Coalville factory was greatly extended. A factory shop opened in Baker Street, Coalville.
The production of Star Wars figures, sub-licensed by Palitoy from its sister company Kenner, also began, the launch coinciding with the British opening of the film of the same name in January 1978. By this time, Palitoy had approximately 1000 employees and, in November of 1978, its sales topped £20 million for the first time in the Company’s history. The factory, which was originally 28,000 sq.ft. now measured 87,000 sq. ft., with the value of the production passing through it increasing from £1.2 million in 1969 to £11.6 million in 1978. Export sales, as well, were on the increase, standing at £2 million in 1979, with Action Man contributing nearly 60% of export turnover. General Mills continued to acquire new assets, buying Chad Valley in 1978.
The End (1980 – )
From the 1st January 1980, the three manufacturers (Palitoy, Denys Fisher and Chad Valley) stopped trading under the umbrella of the General Mills UK Toy Group and became the Palitoy Company (although still owned by GM). Late in the following year, it was joined by Airfix, which had been bought by General Mills, with the design team moving to Coalville whilst the plastic kit production was sent to Palitoy factories in France. The first two years of the decade, however, saw redundancies within the Company, and by 1982 nearly 450 jobs had been cut. This was despite the fact that, aided in particular by the Star Wars range, Palitoy had become an extremely successful company, holding between 10-15% of the entire British toy market in 1983, (the same year that its founder, Alfred Pallet, died aged 82).
Then suddenly in 1984, Palitoy’s design and development departments were shut down by General Mills, when they decided to abandon all European product development. Production of the major Palitoy products ceased, including Star Wars (which continued to be produced by Kenner), Action Man and Play Doh, although Airfix plastic kits and Care Bears, which Palitoy had started producing earlier in the year, continued to be manufactured. In effect, though, Palitoy became a marketing company, repackaging products designed in the United States for sale in European markets.
The remaining stock of Mainline Railways, and other track and track-side products from Airfix, were sold to Dapol, a company based in South Wales, in 1985, and in 1986 Palitoy ceased trading. The Coalville factory was sold to Kenner Parker Toys, a sister company of Palitoy formed from Kenner and Parker Bros. What remained of Airfix was sold to Humbrol, owned by the Borden Group, another North American corporation.
Following this sudden end, Kenner Parker was acquired by Tonka, and became Kenner Parker Tonka in 1987. This, in turn, was acquired by Hasbro in 1991, and resulted in the re-launch of Action Man by Hasbro in 1993. The Coalville site, also acquired by Hasbro, was eventually closed in June 1994, although there had been no production there for some years.
Now let's finish the first 12 off with;
DEATH SQUAD COMMANDER
Even though this figure became better known as the Star Destroyer Commander, it was introduced to the Star Wars Generation as Death Squad Commander when it debuted in 1978. It didn't take long for Kenner to reevaluate its macabre name selection and in a truly Orwellian manner 'New Speaked' it to the name 'it always was called'. And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for this pesky introduction!
As the 'Death Squad Commander', this figure first appeared on the Star Wars 12 back card and was renamed to the more PC 'Star Destroyer Commander' on The Empire Strikes Back 31 back card and has stayed as such on every card printed afterwards. Due to (then) upcoming the name change, The Empire Strikes Back 21 back -with the figure's original name- is considered one of the rarest figure packaging variations and is highly sought after.
The figure was packed a blue/black Imperial Blaster.
All loose vintage figures have minor variations, the Death Squad Commander has no major variations.
I believe this figure started life as a rebel soldier but Kenner felt they didn't have enough bad guys so made him in into the figure of the most background of background characters. This is why I'm giving him a 6/10.
Average price carded: £252. Highest: £570
Average price loose: £20. Highest: £227