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Black Action Man is left on the shelf: Author blames race prejudice as macho doll fails to find buyers

THE BLACK version of Action Man, the super-macho doll, is being withdrawn by its makers, Hasbro, because of disappointing sales.

The failure could be due to racial prejudice, but the move could make the doll an expensive collector's item. Tom Stone, Hasbro's only other black Action Man, produced from 1976 and 1979, can fetch up to pounds 500 in mint condition.

Hasbro introduced the black doll last year when relaunching its range with two 'goodies' - Duke and Stalker, one white and one black - and two white 'baddies', Cobra Commander and Snake Eyes.

But Sally ffitch, the product manager, said Stalker - still available at around pounds 19.99 - was being discontinued: 'He has been taken off the market this year because he didn't sell as well as the others.'

Frances Baird, author of Action Man: 1966-1984, said she believed the poor sales reflected racism in Britain. 'I've collected dolls for 40 years and in my experience black children don't want to buy black dolls.'

Action Man, launched as the Moveable Fighting Man in 1966, had a nine-year break when he was taken off the market in 1984. Now his face, - originally based on an amalgam of 20 United States Second World War heroes - is softer, his limp wrists are stronger and his chest has become more beefy.

For a short period he had a girlfriend, but she soon disappeared. So did Talking Commander, who barked out snappy orders: 'Mortar attack] Dig in]' and 'Enemy Aircraft] Action stations]'

The introduction of a black Action Man followed rivals' attempts to reflect racial and sexual diversity. Barbie, the shop-till-you-drop doll, had a black friend, Christie, in 1969 at the height of the US civil rights movement.

Ken, Barbie's boyfriend, apparently came out of the closet last year sporting an ear-ring, diaphanous lilac shirt and leather trousers. But a spokesman for his makers, Mattel, denied that Ken was gay. His camp clothes were, he insisted, simply meant to be trendy.

(Photograph omitted)