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They say we're over-protective now when it comes to our kids - let me tell you, if you grew up in the late 80s in the UK, we were protected from certain words, images and ideas - in particular, some words, images and ideas relating to one of the decade's biggest toy and cartoon franchises. Not sure what I mean? Let me ask you this, then:
When is a Ninja not a Ninja? ... When he's a hero, apparently.
Yup, that's right. In a mad fit of censorship, the word ninja was deemed too violent for kids in the UK and so we had to settle for Hero turtles. We got the altered logo, we got the re-recorded theme tune and in another censorship attack, we saw no sign of Michaelangelo's signature weapons, his nunchaku.
I think I'll come back to the censorship thing in a separate post at a later date, but for now, let's dig a little deeper into the action figures.
A friend of mine back in school had an airline pilot for a dad. He would jet across to the USA for his summer holidays each year and come back with tales of the toys he'd seen and the movies and cartoons he's watched while away. He came back telling us all about these Ninja Turtles, he'd seen and the action figures he'd picked up out in the states. Now, the rest of us class mates, we had UK holidays only back then, and we all sat around drooling at the descriptions of these figures, each with probably wildly differing visions in our heads of what the Turtles, Splinter and Shredder looked like.
It was 1988 (if I'm remembering correctly), that we finally got to watch the Hero Turtles in action. And again if memory serves, it was the Saturday morning magazine style show Going Live, hosted by Philip Schofield and Sarah Greene, on BBC1, that presented the show over here. I think they even split each episode into 2 ten-minute segments to force us to sit through the rest of the crap they broke out each week, instead of letting us get our fix and disappear.
Immediately, Raphael was a big hit with me. I don't know why the loud-mouthed, sarcastic one struck a chord with me ... I'm sure my family might be able to give you at least a hint about that though. To me, Raphael was the Peter Venkman of the Turtles. I liked his wit, I liked his red bandana (I think for a spell back then I supported Liverpool FC- not that I was ever much of a football fan mind you), and I loved those twin sai blades he sported.
So, when the time came for us to take a trip to Newcastle, Mam and Dad took my brother Kevin and I to Fenwick's. Fenwick's was always a real treat to visit. Up on the third or fourth floor was the toy department and it was like nothing we'd seen before back then. The toy department dwarfed our local Woolworth's effort by about 6:1. To my childish mind back then, it was like being in FAO Schwartz in the movie Big, without the floor piano.
We got up there and Dad had told us we were only going for a look at the Turtles toys, just to get some ideas for Christmas. We got there and saw all these racks of action figures and vehicles and you know what? I can't even remember specifically which figures I marked out. The Turtles, of course, Splinter and Shredder stand out in my mind and that's about it, because the next thing, Dad told us both to pick out our favourite character and he said he would buy them for us. I took my Raphael, Kevin took Michaelangelo, and that was it. Two happy boys.
What struck me about the Turtles figures was that they were each a different shade of green, unlike their cartoon counterparts. I never really understood it, but I suppose it was to compound the bandana colouring, to mark them out as different from each other. That seemed pointless to me though as each of the four brothers had his initial in yellow on his black belt buckle, and of course, each carried his signature weapon set. The sculpt, for their time, were really good, with tight musculature and bulging veins more in line with their Mirage Comics appearance than the animation.
Having previously been (as you'll know if you've followed this series so far), a huge Ghostbusters and He-Man figure fan, I liked that the Turtles had a different type of articulation. The legs were not on standard, straight up and down joints like the Ghostbusters (and Star Wars figures), nor did they feature the rubber band sockets of the Masters of the Universe toys. These guys didn't have the spring-twisting waists like the MOTU either, but their ball-joint legs and rotating forearms gave a different range of stances and allowed them to deliver top-drawer side-kicks on Shredder and his Foot Soldiers. Those rotating forearms allowed the weapons to be tilted towards each other in defensive postures. It all served to look very ninja-ey.
Another great thing about my Raphael figure (it was the same with Splinter, Shredder and each of the Turtles), was the abundance of weapons that came in the pack on a brown plastic sprue. There was some sort of weird frame thing in there too that I never really did understand the purpose of. Anyway, we got punch-daggers (Raphael's belt made him unique amongst the figures of his brothers, in that at the rear, you had a holster for his punch-dagger, with his sai tucked into sheaths at the front - his brothers could only carry their feature weapons on their belts), shuriken and all manner of weird hooks and blades. Even if some of them seemed pretty pointless, it was good to have a whole bunch of accessories thrown at you when the Ghostbusters lacked accessories such as traps, ecto-goggles and PKE meters.
It would be my baby brother Christopher (who you know as my fellow director Chris) who would time it perfectly with his birth when it came to the Turtles toys. As I disengaged from action figures, he grew into them and the range of Turtles figures, vehicles and play-sets he collected and played with was phenomenal. Of course, his big brothers enjoyed joining him in his games, too. You know, purely to show him the finer points of plot and character development. We're talking Technodrome, Party Wagon, and the Ninja Turtles 3, movie-accurate samurai sets (yeah, by then, we were allowed to call them Ninjas, but the minute they relaxed the censorship I rushed around killing people left, right and centre, so it turns out the censors might have had a point ;) ... )
So there you have it, the third in my seven figures for life. Did you have any Ninja Turtles figures - or Hero Turtles as they were branded over here? Sound off in the comments and if you enjoyed this little nostalgia trip, please share it with your friends using the social media buttons below.