by Richard Davies
Biggles has been fighting off bandits at 2 o’clock since 1932. He’s legend of children’s literature and one of the great adventure heroes. James Bigglesworth, created by W.E. Johns, starred in almost 100 novels beginning with The Camels are Coming. Johns died while writing Biggles Does Some Homework in 1968 but his hero continues to fascinate readers and collectors more than 40 years after his creator’s death.
The fearless flyer began his literary life as a World War I fighter pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to the Royal Air Force. Johns wrote from firsthand experience as he flew fighter planes in the Great War and was shot down in 1918. After the conflict ended, he remained in the RAF until 1927.
Much like another British hero James Bond, Biggles was a survivor and time never dimmed his ability to fly to the rescue. Johns wrote about the young Biggles, his adventures in WWI, his career as a charter pilot, his WWII heroics, and then his post-war work in the special air police. Villains could shoot him down every now and again, but Biggles was impossible to kill.
Biggles has been translated into many languages and the series is adored by collectors with a love of adventure. It’s common for a rare Biggles book to sell for a four-figure price.
Biggles Flies East
Biggles and the Black Peril
Biggles & Co.
Biggles Flies West (1937)
Biggles Flies South
Rather than have Biggles winning World War I aerial dogfights forever, Johns allowed his hero to move through the decades and turned him into an all-round adventurer. His best known companions were the upper class Algernon Lacey, aka his cousin Algy, and the working class Ginger Hebblethwaite. Biggles’ sternest opponent was Germany’s Erich von Stalhein. They clash in various scenarios over the years but eventually become friends after Biggles helps him escape from a communist prison in Biggles Buries a Hatchet.
Biggles Defies the Swastika
Biggles in the Orient (1944)
Biggles Delivers the Goods
Biggles' Second Case (1948)
Biggles Breaks the Silence
Biggles’ popularity has waxed and waned over the years. The books have been criticized for clumsy racial stereotyping, old-fashioned attitudes and war-mongering, and been mercilessly parodied by comedians, including Monty Python. The criticism cannot be shrugged off, but Johns began the series in a world completely different to today and that should be considered when revisiting his books. His writing reflects a bygone age, using bygone language and featuring bygone technology - they are old school adventure stories. The World Wars – the two defining events of the 20th century – were the defining events in Biggles’ life and adventure had been the major theme in fiction for boys long before Johns, who was born in 1893, started writing. Today, Biggles’ first editions are highly collectible, particularly the early stories complete with dust jackets.
Biggles and the Black Raider
Biggles in the Blue (1953)
Biggles Cuts it Fine
Biggles Foreign Legionnaire
Biggles Presses On
Johns was a prolific writer. He also created the Worrals series of novels about Joan Worralson, a female aviator, the Gimlet books about Captain Lorrington ‘Gimlet’ King, a soldier-adventurer, and a set of astronaut books about Timothy ‘Tiger’ Clinton. Nicknames were clearly a major part of the Johns’ creative process. By Jove, Biggles: The Life of Captain W.E. Johns by Peter Berresford Ellis & Piers Williams is a recommended biography of this author.
Biggles Sets a Trap
1. Biggles Flies Again (1934)
2. Biggles of the Camel Squadron
3. Biggles Learns to Fly (1935)
4. Biggles Flies North (1939)
5. Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter (1954)
6. Biggles Hits the Trail (1941)
7. Biggles Goes to War (1938)
8. Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor (1933)
9. Biggles in the South Seas (1940)
10. Biggles Works it Out (1951)