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.


MSFoy said...

Thanks for writing this - nicely done, and a more complete story than I've seen before.

It also gives me yet another chance to bang on about the vanishing 20mm artillery equipment, one of the classic mysteries of wargaming legend. To me and many others, these delightful little pieces were absolutely the business - I understand that FH himself did the masters. Attempts to track them down after changes of ownership have defeated far greater men than I - Skytrex, for example, denied that they had ever existed, and would tell enquirers that what they really wanted was the new 25mm range. If you persisted, they actually got quite stroppy.

Ron Marshall did a bit more follow up, including contacting Frank's family, and it does seem most likely that the moulds were scrapped at some time. Original masters would be worth finding, though...

Sigh - gone forever, but definitely not forgotten. Enough of this - thanks again - excellent post.


Conrad Kinch said...

Completely new to me - but interesting reading none the less. Much obliged.

Mike Siggins said...

At the risk of appearing as a Philestine, where might I see some pictures of X Range AWI?

Matt said...

Excellent post. Great to read the fascinating background history to this iconic company!

Benjamin of Wight said...

Excellent post and ties up a few things I wondered about. Where are those larger figures?

Anonymous said...

With regard to Bicorne I can add the following; In 1985 Frank
started Bicorne with Robert Fort. In late 1987 Robert left & Doug Mason sculpted some extra figures. By April 1988 Doug's involvement fizzled out & Geoff Taylor was asked to continue the range. This partnership lasted for around 12 months until the pressure of Geoff's day job became too great. The business was sold to Brian Holland in 1990. Hope that helps.

DC said...

Thank you 'Anonymous' - i shall amend the article as appropriate. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

who owns everythink now and where can you buy the work he did. dose anyone know the website, where i can buy his work

Peter Hinchliffe said...

Really fascinating to read and I feel I need to leave a comment just to say thank you for publishing this, as I am Frank's son Peter. I suppose I grew up with all this and can remember all the personalities mentioned (going to the studios with Peter Gilder when they were filming Callan is just one of the many many memories). What many may not know is that my Father was also very keen on Model Aircraft and the family legacy lives on in this department as I now run an R/C model aircraft business (
These were great days that will never come back but it is really nice to see that people still view them fondly.

doug mason said...

I remember rattleing around the Melthem factory learning how to make figures with Frank. The British riflemen were the first figures that idesigned for the Bicorne range. Great days. I still own an officers sword that Frank gave me from his collection.

DC said...

Peter - thanks for the comments, i'm glad you approve. I was unaware of Frank's interest in model aircraft...i'll have to pop into your shop the next time i'm in your neck of the woods.

Doug - Mike Ingham pointed the riflemen out to me as your creations but wasn't sure about what else you'd done for Bicorne. The Bicorne range is....'mixed' so it would be handy to know what else you did for them.

Cheers all.

Foss1066 said...

What a wonderful look into a part of history that I have touched but not known enough about. As a Californian, The only stories of the Gods of lead we get come from old timers who were stationed in the U.K. in the 70's. Thanks very much for this.

Unknown said...

Glad to read the story. Here in south America we enjoy the Hinchliffe figures since the 70s. I actually visited the Dallas factory in 1977!

Unknown said...

Glad to read the story. Here in south America we enjoy the Hinchliffe figures since the 70s. I actually visited the Dallas factory in 1977!

Chris107 said...

I remember going to the shop on Station Road and been served by Frank in around 1978. I’d sold my push bike to buy an English Civil War Army. He was so helpful and charming. A true gent.

Unknown said...

Also remember the shop. My Dad would drop me off while he went to David Brown tractors. What an Aladdin cave. Just loved the smell of the boxes and blue paper the figures used to come in

Julian said...

What a lovely piece and more of an insight of a man I knew many years ago and who I looked up too. He was a very carasmatic man who always had a good story, and when I was in his presence he was always very generous. He introduced me to many interesting people and experiences.
I knew Frank through my dad who was the Works Manager at the Meltham factory for many years. He’s 90 now living I a home, we often talk about his time with HM. Over the time he worked their he made a number of the larger models, taking a number of them to America in 1977. I recall fondly the annual visit with my dad to London on the last day of the Model Engineering Exhibition, either at Seamoor Hall and laterally Wembley Exhbition Centre to knock down the sales stand HM. As was Frank’s style he gave me many models and also gave me the run of the factory and stores to help myself to what took my fancy. There were hundreds upon hundreds of green metal bins filled with more figures than you can imagine, sadly over the years I gave away or lost most of the figures I acquired. However as this was a big part of my formative years and as I’ve said a time I fondly recall. I’ve recently been acquiring many of what I had and I am always looking for more. I personally prefer the larger figures 54 to 120mm.
I’ve many more memories if there’s an interest.

David Wood said...

Great reading. I've just been trying to get details to add the old fantasy Adventure Packs to the Lost Minis WIKI and now realise I have been look in the wrong years' Mil Mods! Thanks.

John Heaton said...

Frank was my late mother's cousin. I knew the family well when I was a child, espeially his eldest son John. Looked this up when doing genealogy during Coronavirus lockdown so it was interesting to read of the set-up period which I remember being discussed at the time.
John Heaton

Peter Hinchliffe said...

Hoping this may be of interest. Long since thought lost this was a promotional film made for Hinchliffe Models in either 1974 or 1974. It has been digitised from an 8mm copy made from the original 16mm film so quality isn't great, but still a nice bit of history. You tube link here: