Jacklex
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An article in Meccano Magazine was the catalyst for the Jacklex range of 20mm figures. In 1962 military-hobby enthusiast Jack Alexander, a local government work-study officer, was travelling up to London when a piece about Donald Featherstone’s new book “Wargames” caught his eye. “I had a birthday coming up, “ he recalls, “And my wife and I were going to London to get me a present. So we got off the train and went straight up to Foyle’s and bought a copy of Don’s book”.

Alexander was soon hooked. “The trouble was the period that interested me was the Franco-Prussian War and there were no figures for that, so I started to convert my own from Hinton Hunt and Rose”.

Eventually Alexander’s efforts caught the eye of Bill Pearce, who ran The Garrison model soldier shop in Harrow, Middlesex. The director of a large north London building company, Pearce was an influential figure in the early years of the hobby having, like Jack, been inspired by Don Featherstone. Pearce owned the Lassett and Greenwood & Ball range of figures and also set up Northern Garrison in Knaresbrough with Alex Hardie.

Pearce put Alexander’s first models, the British Colonial Infantry into production in the summer of 1968.

“One day I went in to see Bill,” Alexander says, “and he said, “Have you got any more of those Jacklex figures?” I said, “Who are Jacklex?” He said, “It’s you, you idiot, you’re Jacklex!”

After half-a-dozen or so years The Garrison closed down partly because Pearce had become interested in the old toy soldier market having acquired a large number of unpainted castings from WM Britain when that company ceased production of metal figures in 1966. He continued to run a mail order business from his house “Martinhoe” in Pinner for some years. From then on Jacklex figures were sold through Arthur Cross’s Harrow Model Shop (Originally in St Anne’s Road, the shop moved to its current site in Station Road in the late-1970s) and its short-lived sister establishment The Model Centre in Hoxton. 

While the American Civil War figures – deliberately made to tie in with Airfix ACW - were always the best-selling of the various Jacklex ranges (which also included Foreign Legion, The Great War and – a prize for the most unusual choice, surely- The Russo-Japanese War), it was the Colonial selection that increased most rapidly. At a time when wargames figures for the Colonial Period were hard to come by (Miniature Figurines briefly discontinued its own range around 1974) Jacklex covered the era extensively with naval brigade and various opponents joining the original releases. The range of artillery was particularly good, offering everything from mule-mounted screw guns to ox-drawn naval 4.7” naval cannon via mule drawn Maxims, Gardeners and Gatlings. In fact, in scope and execution it has rarely been rivalled before or since.

A couple of Ancient subjects including a Carthaginian war elephant were produced, along with a small Napoleonic range during the early years at The Model Shop. Although these are sometimes described as Jacklex figures they were not designed by Jack Alexander, but by Arthur Graham, who also cast the figures, and were sold under the Silver Cross banner [See “Other Manufacturers” for more details, photograph and complete figure listing].

The Jacklex Sudan War range was arguably Jack Alexander’s finest hour. It was launched in 1976 and included some of his best figures in the excellent Egyptian Lancers and the camel-mounted Baggara tribesmen. The Ansar swordsmen and Beja tribesmen were also very nicely executed, though the Hadendowa “Fuzzies” were a little on the tall side. “Slightly leggy” was the verdict of a review in Soldiers of the Queen. The Jehadia riflemen and spearmen were also noticeably chunkier and bigger than earlier issues. This seemed to mark a trend. Around the same period the North West Frontier Pathans were re-modelled along similar, larger lines.

While working on these ranges Alexander was also turning out 1/72nd scale Second World War subjects for the modelling company, Miltra, whose main business was making 1/100th scale vehicles for army training programmes. The figures he made included some Polish Army subjects amongst which was an unusual horse drawn Browning machine gun (not such a surprising choice perhaps given that the company was owned by “Bish” Iwaszko, a former officer in the Free Polish Army and another wargame pioneer) as well as some British Paratroopers. “The paratroopers were made for a diorama of Suez for the Paratroop Regiment Museum” Alexander says, “I think it might still be there”.

After this sudden surge of activity Jacklex’s expansion started to slow down. The mighty Second Boer War 4.7” Naval gun (described by Terry Wise in the February 1979 issue of Military Modelling as “a truly beautiful set”) and a few of the new larger-style Boers were the last figures added to the Colonial range. Though it was rumoured at the time that Alexander was working on some Ghurkhas, he confirms that he never got around to producing them. Mooted additions to the ACW range, including Zouaves and Berdan Sharpshooters (the latter “announced” in an ad in Military Modelling in 1986) were never made either, while a couple of Great War vehicles, a lorry and a French tank, along with some French infantry for the same period that Alexander had done the masters for were never put into production “I think they thought the vehicles were a bit too complicated” Alexander recalls.

The problem was that by the mid-eighties Alexander’s eyesight was, sadly, beginning to be affected by glaucoma, making work on 20mm figures increasingly difficult. Instead he began designing “old toy soldiers” under the Military Pageant banner. They proved highly successful and the company was later sold to Little Legion, which continues to market Alexander’s figures.

In some ways this move, enforced though it was, was not such a surprising departure. In many ways the 20mm figures Alexander produced from 1972 until the mid-to-late-1980s are like miniaturised versions of the old Britain’s style, something reflected in the selection of poses and also to an extent in the choice of subjects. If the early figures are rudimentary by modern standards, it is perhaps the traditional “toy soldier” look of Alexander’s figures that gives them their undoubted charm.

In the late-1980s The Harrow Model Shop ran into difficulties finding anyone to cast the figures, which were made using hand-poured drop-moulds, a time consuming process. As the remaining miniatures were gradually sold Jacklex faded away.

In 1993-4 Jacklex’s ACW range briefly re-surfaced with an advert and mention in Practical Wargamer (It is believed they were being cast by PW’s editor Stuart Asquith, a friend of Alexander). There was a promise of the whole range being made available once more, but things soon went quiet again. A few of the 1993 ACW figures are around. They are distinguishable from earlier castings by the thick bases and poorer quality.

In July 2001 a prospective figure manufacturer named Peter Reynolds was said to be looking in to converting the Jacklex moulds so that they could be machine produced. However, it appears that he was deterred by the high cost of the operation and it now seems unlikely that Jacklex figures will ever be cast again.

Jack Alexander, meanwhile, is still fit, well and wargaming at age 72. He recently got his Jacklex British and Russian armies down from the attic and re-based them all. Along with a few friends he is currently fighting a “what if” campaign set on the North-West Frontier. Urged on by his companions he has just embarked on designing a Russian maxim gun.

 

Important news for Jacklex collectors

Peter Johnstone, of Spencer Smith Miniatures, is now producing the Jacklex range. To order figures please contact Peter on +44 (0)1379 650021 or email Peter at pjohnstonehr@hotmail.com. You can also write to him at Spencer Smith Miniatures, The Old rectory, Wortham, Nr. Diss, Norfolk, IP22 1SL.

 

Notes:

1) The complete Russian range was released in January 1975

2) Dismounted ACW cavalry, colonial field gun and limber and colonial gun crews were added in the Autumn of 1974

3) The Naval Landing Party was added in February 1975

 
 
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