Monday, 30 May 2011

Even More Robinson Napoleonics

More beautiful figures by Phil Robinson. Originally owned by Bill Gaskin and now in the collection of Mike Siggins (who supplied the photos).

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Frank Hinchliffe Story

FH in 1976: 'Twelve more Napoleonic codes by midnight Gilder or the pooch gets it!'

The title of this post somewhat over-eggs the content i'm afraid. Some time ago it struck me that whilst articles and anecdotes from and about the likes of Gilder, Stadden, and Hezzlewood are not hard to find there is almost nothing out there regarding the man who employed them. So, purely to satisfy my own over active curiosity, i set out to do a little research on Frank Hinchliffe. What follows is just a rough overview, it's very much a work in progress (i have yet to follow up a number of leads), and is no doubt riddled with schoolboy errors, but it might be of some interest.....

As with most of us Frank Hinchliffe's interest in model making began during childhood - building model aircraft with his father during the pre-war years. After National Service in the Royal Engineers FH became interested in ship modelling, and rapidly became an acknowledged expert in the field - building models for himself, private clients and museums. His reputation grew such that he was entrusted with the restoration of precious Napoleonic PoW scrimshaw models.

Hinchliffe's expansion into military modelling came about via a visit to a client in the mid 1960s - an old interest in model soldiers was re ignited and FH realised the demand for high quality equipment models to accompany them. In 1967 Hinchliffe Models launched offering a catalogue of 54mm equipment pieces in addition to bespoke modelling services. Initially Frank's brother Bob handled the commercial aspects of the business from his Cheshire home whilst Frank handled design and production in Meltham (FH had put his engineering background to good use by designing and building his own molding and casting equipment). In 1969 Norman Newton Ltd became sole agents for Hinchliffe Models and Bob Hinchliffe appears to have moved on soon thereafter. The range expanded rapidly to cover artillery and wagons in 54mm, 30mm and 20mm, and these were sold via stockists such as Rose Miniatures and Tradition. Sales were such that FH quit his job with ICI and committed himself completely to the model soldier business.

The introduction to the 1967 catalogue.

FH teamed up with Peter Gilder (recently departed from Alberken/Minifigs) to produce 25mm wargame figures (some say the original intention was for 20mm but PG got a bit carried away and went 'one louder'), and the rapidly expanding Hinchliffe Models moved into the familiar HQ (a converted Victorian era pub) on Station Street in Meltham, Huddersfield in 1971.

Hinchliffe continued to pursue his interest in larger scale models by commissioning pieces from Charles Stadden, Cliff Sanderson, Dave Jarvis, Ray Lamb (creator of the iconic Taisho model), Julian Bennassi, D(?) Roberts and Dave Sparrow to create a healthy inventory of 30, 54, 75, 90 and 150mm figures.

Other well known names that passed through Hincliffe during the 1970s include Trevor Dixon and Norman Swales.

The company grew apace through the 1970s, and was genuinely innovative:

  • In 1976 HM published The Hinchliffe Handbook - an illustrated catalogue of all their ranges, backed up by painting and modelling guides and historical articles (shades of later GW and WF publications perhaps?).

  • In 1976 HM introduced System 12 - a short-lived range of integrated 12mm figures, terrain and other playing aids (an idea ahead of its time perhaps and possibly HM's only real commercial failure during the boom years).

  • In 1978 HM began the importation of Heritage 15mm figures from the US (probably the most detailed/modern styled 15mm figures then available in the UK). A reciprocal arrangement allowed Heritage to cast and re brand Hinchliffe figures in the US.

  • In 1979 HM launched a range of blister packed models and game aids (such as the notorious plastic casualty caps) under the Calder Craft banner. The wargame figures and equipment were usually one piece versions of the standard range, and the larger scale kits included everything (apart from paints) required to finish the kit (groundwork, mahogany base, etc.). For the first time in the UK metal wargame figures could be found professionally displayed in racks in non-specialist (e.g. toy)shops. Again this idea was probably ahead of its time - i suspect the marketing elves at GW took note though.

The company also had commercial arrangements with both Humbrol and Osprey, organised and sponsored Northern Militaire, and was involved with the Callan movie and Battleground TV series during this period.

By 1976 the administration side of the business had got the better of Frank Hinchliffe as it consumed much of the time he had previously devoted to producing equipment masters (did Norman Swales take over equipment mastering?).

Exciting developments didn't end with the new decade as Steve Hezzlewood came on board albeit briefly before going it alone with Pax Britannica (incidentally - Hezzlewood's X Range AWI: the best wargame figures ever sculpted? Discuss...) but FH apparently yearned to return to commercial ship modelling. The departure of Peter Gilder (to run his Wargames Holiday Centre full time, and ultimately launch Connoisseur) and the relative failure and associated costs of the Caldercraft brand may also have been factors in the decision to sell Hinchliffe Models to Skytrex in 1984.

FH retained the old premises and the Caldercraft brand, and (with a small team that now included his son Peter) began to design and market high end ship model kits - as you might expect these were well received and commercially successful.

FH working on a new master for Calder Craft in 1987.

Not so well publicised was FH's continued involvement in the model soldier game - after selling HM Frank teamed up with ex Hinchliffe Models designer Robert Fort to launch Bicorne Miniatures in 1985. Fort left (citing a conflict with newly found religious convictions) before the range was ready for market so, after a chance conversation in his local model shop, Doug Mason found himself in the sculpting chair. With the range bulked out with new codes by Mason (such as the British Rifles and Hussars - excellent 'Gilderesque' miniatures), Bicorne officially launched at Northern Militaire in 1987. Initial sales were excellent but Frank Hinchliffe ended the partnership suddenly, and Geoff Taylor was handed the Bicorne sculpting baton.

Ultimately FH sold Bicorne (in 1990), then Caldercraft. He continued in the model boat trade under the Mountfleet banner until passing away in 2006.

Thanks to Johns Ray and Preece, Clive, Harry Pearson and Doug Mason for their input.

Feel free to comment - particularly if you can correct any errors or expand on anything above.