Comprehensive WEJ Biography

About the forum, Captain W.E. Johns and Biggles. Including samples of WEJ writing

Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 10 Feb 2014, 08:45

A comprehensive, objective & unbiased WEJ bio [attributed to Mavis Priestley, 2008] I discovered on the internet last year through the "History Group:

Best known as the author of the ‘Biggles’ books William Earle Johns was a prolific
editor and writer with a wide range of interests but is a difficult personality to assess.
There are many contradictions which leave only a feeling of ambiguity.
His first marriage deteriorated quickly, but perhaps understandably. His wife would
not divorce him so he lived with Doris Leigh unmarried but wanted the fact hidden as
he felt it would prejudice his position as a children’s writer. Nevertheless, they lived
a very happy, devoted life together for many years. It did mean that he never
acknowledged his son publicly, but there seems to have been a good relationship
between them and he always financially supported his wife, with her continual health
problems, and his son. He could be cruel towards people, held trenchant views which
would brook no opposition, but at the same time formed friendships and partnerships
with people of those opposing views. He exaggerated his own experiences and
invented others, which are shown by official papers, and make it difficult to know
when to accept comments attributed to him. On the other hand he had friends who
seem to have regarded this as part of his personality and would refer to the habit
jokingly. He awarded himself the rank of Captain.
He was born on the 5th February 1893 at Mole Wood Road, Bengeo, a suburb of
Hertford, to Richard Eastman Johns, a tailor, and Elizabeth Johns, nee Elizabeth Earl,
whose father was a master butcher. Johns, having been given his mother’s maiden
name as his second, added the “e” later in life. The family had originated in Devonshire
and may have had connections with a William Johns who was an adjutant in the
Cornish Militia and died in 1834. He had a son, Richard, a major in the Royal
Marines, who died at Stoneham, Devonshire in 1851 and wrote some books on naval
and military battles and some volumes of poetry. This may mean that W E Johns was
correct when he told the editor of the ‘Boys’ Own Paper’ that he had traced his family
back to soldiers who had served in the Peninsular War.
He had a younger brother, Russell Ernest, born on the 24th October 1895. His childhood
was a happy one and he remained close to his family.
He and his brother attended the local school, then went to Hertford Grammar School
in 1905 and 1907 respectively.
The present day Grammar School is a different building – that which the Johns boys
attended was the Richard Hale School, an all-boys school founded on the 16th April
1617. Richard Hale was an affluent merchant, eldest son of Thomas Hale of Codicote,
who founded the school ‘for the instruction of children in the Latin tongue and other
literature in the town of Hertford’. The school was in use until 1930 and still stands
near All Saints Church.
There is a haunting sadness about schoolboy antics of the time. In many cases the
schools had a cadet corps. Some of the boys may have taken it seriously but probably
Johns’ view that it was merely a ‘silly game’ was more general. What was also sadly
true was his comment later in life that ‘None could guess that within a few years most
of them would be doing these things in grim earnest on the war-stricken fields of
Flanders; or that before the First World War was over nearly a third of them were to
die on that same battlefield...’
It is suggested, in the absence of an autobiography that ‘Biggles at School’ is based on
Johns’ own experiences.
Johns wanted to go into the army, but when he left school in 1907 his father arranged
for him to become articled for four years to a county municipal surveyor.
At school he had proved to be a crack shot. Now two other skills developed – he had
music and art lessons and proved to be proficient at both, to the point, regarding the
piano, of improving his pocket money by playing for the silent films at the local
cinema.
When he had completed his apprenticeship he was appointed sanitary inspector in
Swaffam and it was there he met his future wife. He was in a concert and three girls
were in the audience and he was introduced to them later after a church service. They
were the vicar’s daughters and Johns and the eldest, Maude Penelope, began ‘walking
out together’. She was eleven years older than him.
Johns was still studying to become a qualified surveyor but was dissatisfied and on
the 4th October 1913 he joined the Territorial Army and became Private No. 74451 in
the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry), a regiment raised in 1901 at
the express wish of Edward VII. Then war was declared and as with so many others
Johns’ life changed completely.
The regiment was mobilised on the 4th August 1914 as a cavalry regiment and Johns
was to spend three years fighting in Turkey with the Yeomanry and then Greece with
the Machine Gun Corps. His experiences in the trenches had the same appalling
traumatic effect it had on so many others, best expressed, perhaps, in his strident
outspokenness about rearmament in the 1930s, when he felt that our vulnerability
would increase not lessen the likelihood of another war.
Johns and Maude decided to get married on 6th October 1914, the Regiment meanwhile
remaining on home defences, but then in September 1915 it embarked on the
SS Olympic for Gallipoli, just as Maude found she was pregnant.
The horror of the Gallipoli Campaign is well known and it was followed, inevitably,
by an Enquiry. Reading the reports of the Dardanelles Campaign Commission can still
cause anger to rise until it threatens blood pressure. In one sense it is like reading the
script of a ‘Yes Minister’ episode. Pure Sir Humphrey. The amount of words used by
witnesses to hide that they are saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, whichever may be the truth,
demonstrates the inventive range of the English vocabulary. You could become lost in
the wonder of it all. The anger comes from the realisation that it is bruised egos that
are being protected, but the lack of planning, the mistakes, the stupidity, medical
facilities that it was thought Florence Nightingale had eradicated forever, wounded
men left on the beaches and so on had cost 250,000 Allied lives, and the maiming,
physically or mentally, of many more.
Johns’ Regiment formed part of the 54th East Anglian Division which suffered
considerably from disease. It was finally evacuated from the Suvla Bay beachhead on
the 20th December, among the last to leave, and arrived in Alexandria on Christmas
Day to become part of the Suez Defences. It was here that Johns learned that Maude
had given birth to a son, William Earl Carmichael Johns, on the 18th March 1916.
In July 1916 Johns left the Yeomanry, having become a machine gunner, and in
September received his formal attachment to the Machine Gun Corps as a lance
corporal.
At the start of the War the military had not realised the significance of the machine
gun and the Machine Gun Corps was not formed until October 1915. Johns returned
to England for further training before being sent to Salonika, a campaign that was
always considered a ‘side show’, except by those who fought in it. It was here that
Johns contracted malaria, one of the 63,396 men to do so, out of a strength of
100,000, and it was while he was in hospital that he decided to transfer to the Royal
Flying Corps. ‘It seemed to me’ he said, ‘that there was no point in dying standing in
squalor if one could do so sitting down in clean air’. On 25th September 19l7 he was
discharged on appointment to a commission as 2nd Lieutenant on the General List of
the Royal Flying Corps, as gazetted on 23rd October.
The Royal Flying Corps was the military air arm, initially responsible for artillery cooperation
and photographic reconnaissance, later expanding to strafing and bombing.
In 1918 it amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service and became the RAF.
On 26th October 1917 Johns arrived at No. l School of Aeronautics at Reading,
eventually going to the school’s aerodrome at Coley Park, where he trained in
a Maurice Farman Shorthorn to become a bomber pilot, receiving his ‘wings’ at the
end of the year. In January 19l8 he received his first posting to No. 25 Flying Training
School at Thetford which meant he could spend time with his family. He became
a flying instructor based at Narborough.
When the RAF was formed Johns was confirmed as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to
No. 2 School of Air Fighting at Marske-on-Sea in Yorkshire. Both this site and that at
Coley are no more – Coley is now a housing estate and Marske became an RAF
administrative base, then an ICI Depot and then a housing estate.
In July 1918 he was posted to France and joined No. 55 (Day) Bombing Squadron
which had originally been formed at Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire in April 1916.
It was at first a training unit but then mobilised for active service and was the first
squadron to be equipped with De Havilland DH4 heavy Bombers. During the time
Johns spent with the squadron he only had an operational total of 6 hours flying
before he was shot down – and during that time continued unabated the rise of the
number of aircraft he crashed, for various reasons and not all his own fault.
On 15th September 1918 after a party in a hotel in Nancy Johns found himself
stranded when a fellow officer who had offered him a lift back to base failed to turn
up and he was due to fly in the morning. He managed to cadge a lift in an American
ambulance but they got lost and found themselves at a remote country house. Writing
of this later Johns refers to the old lady who answers the door as an ‘old crone’,
looking like a Notre Dame gargoyle. It is an example of the more unpleasant side of
him. She tells him her husband was killed in 1870 – ‘If she had said he was killed at
the Battle of Hastings I would have believed her’ he wrote. He was being offered
hospitality. One would expect common politeness and sympathy. However, there was
also a young girl present with the ‘face of an angel’. He intended to go back but the
following day he crashed and became a POW. The girl became the basis of
a character in ‘The Camels are Coming’.
Johns convinced himself he had been shot down by a pilot named Ernst Udet,
a German air ace who was part of the Jagdstaffel commanded by von Richthofen, the
‘Red Baron’. This even formed part of Johns’ obituary in the Times, but Udet was on
a month’s leave at the time so there is a mystery about what happened – he may even
have crashed once more. Tragically though, his observer was killed. Johns also stated
that after interrogation he was subjected to a ‘court martial’ and threatened with being
shot as a spy but German records show nothing of this, although that may not mean
anything. It is just an example of the difficulty of being certain of some statements.
Having been sent to a POW camp Johns made several escape attempts finally
succeeding at the end of October, only to be recaptured again. But here also he gives
contradictory accounts. It was soon the end of the war and on the 30th November the
prisoners were driven to Strasbourg for debriefing and he embarked at Calais for
Dover on 23rd December, causing a sensation when he arrived home because he had
been reported as ‘missing, presumed killed’. There was a family celebration and then
the problem of adjusting to civilian life once more. He stayed in the RAF, becoming
a flying instructor at Cranwell which was then the 59 Wing’s headquarters. This
lasted until 11th April 1919 when the Wing was disbanded and he was transferred to
the Unemployment List. This increased the tensions which were developing in the
marriage due to illness and age differences, plus the changes the War had brought
about in Johns himself.
In November 1920 he was reinstated for a three year Short Service Commission and
promoted to the new RAF rank of Flying Officer. He joined the Inspectorate of
Recruiting in Covent Garden and the family moved to a flat at Lancaster Gate, a mid-
19th century development in the Bayswater district of west central London.
Not only did the work give him an insight into economic realities it was also,
subconsciously, giving him material for the books he would write in the future. One
of the saddest things was finding how many men who only a short time ago were
risking their lives could now not find employment and were living like tramps. Men in
these circumstances were to be the heroes of his early adult books.
Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was one of the recruits Johns turned
away. The papers were false. Pressure from above resulted in Lawrence being
accepted and there is one version of what happened in his book ‘The Mint’, and
another version which Johns gives. In view of the degree of Lawrence’s involvement
with the Secret Service it is difficult to assess just what was going on behind the
scenes.
Johns makes two comments about his own activities during this period – one, that he
flew in a Hendon Air Display, which would have been unusual according to the RAF
Records Department. Although there is evidence to show he was on the organising
committee in 1927 there is none that he actually took part. In the same way he stated
that in 1924 he was posted to operational duties in Iraq and India. Again, RAF records
do not confirm this although Johns’ recollections seem to be detailed and clear.
In 1923 his three-year commission was extended for a further four years and he was
sent to open an RAF Recruiting Depot in Birmingham. He spent over a year there and
met and fell in love with Doris Leigh. His marriage had ended when he had rejoined
the RAF and his wife and son had moved back to the Vicarage at Little Dunham.
Johns had moved into a hotel in Edgbaston, next door to the Leigh home. In 1924 he
was posted to Newcastle and set up home with Doris in Whitley Bay. His next posting
was to Ruislip, where Doris ran a guest house at Gerrards Cross, then he was moved
to Headquarters Air Defence (Great Britain) and it was then that he started on the
paintings, and, in particular, the articles, which would eventually lead to a staggering
output and bring him fame. His time in the RAF was coming to an end, but he had
discovered another way of earning a living – the 1927 Air Display for which he was
invited to serve on the committee was a fitting end. He relinquished his commission
on the 15th October, retiring as a Flying Officer, and he and Doris moved to Lingfield,
first to a house by the pond, although it is uncertain which one, and then moving into
the Thatched Cottage.
Luck was with him. There was great public awareness of and excitement in aviation.
It was the year Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, Britain won the Schneider Trophy and
airships were being developed. Johns set up his studio and also encouraged Doris’
18 year old brother Howard, who had had no formal teaching but showed great
promise as an artist. He was to become a well-known aviation artist and illustrated
many of Johns’ books and magazines.
Johns had also developed an interest in gardening and a little of the Alpine garden he
created still exists. This time in Lingfield seems to have been a particularly happy one
with Doris, and with her family living in the smaller cottage, with the garden, pets and
Johns’ developing new career as artist and writer. He was established with the
Illustrated London News and wrote articles on aviation for The Graphic. New markets
were opening up and he submitted articles for the Modern Boy, a weekly magazine
launched by the Amalgamated Press in February 1928, costing 2p.
After a holiday in Africa with Doris he came back with so many ideas for illustrating
front covers of magazines, submitting aviation articles and editing The Modern Boys’
Book of Aircraft. Among the contributors to this book was a young writer,
Christopher St John Sprigg, whose thrillers, written under the pseudonym of
Christopher Caudwell, were becoming increasingly popular, and here we see another
of Johns’ contradictions because he was staunchly anti-Communism, but Caudwell
was a confirmed communist. Perhaps Johns recognised it for the philosophical form
it was rather than political. Caudwell joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in
Poplar. He was born into a Catholic family in Putney and educated at the Benedictine
Ealing Priory School. When he was 15 he had to leave school when his father lost his
job as literary editor of the Daily Express. This may well have been Caudwell’s road
to communism and from that time his poetry and philosophy all sprung from his new
outlook. It also led to his early death. He went to fight in the Spanish Civil War and
was killed in December, at the age of 30, whilst driving an ambulance on the first day
of the battle of the Jarama Valley. Johns was very upset when hearing of his death.
Johns was still increasing his output. He contributed two articles to Wings: a Book of
Flying Adventures which was published by John Hamilton, a company established in
1925. He also illustrated many of their titles.
He then tried his luck as an author and wrote his first book Mossyface, its hero being
based on the RAF officers who had presented themselves at the Recruiting Office.
The book was published in 1932.
Now he seemed overwhelmed by ideas. He contributed articles weekly to Modern
Boy, and wrote a book with Harry Schofield, a member of the winning 1927 British
Schneider Trophy team, The Pictorial Flying Course. All the illustrations were done
by Johns. He designed book covers for John Hamilton, although he found that
Howard Leigh was now overtaking him as an illustrator, so increasingly Johns turned
his attention to writing. In 1932 John Hamilton launched a new magazine Popular
Flying, with Johns as editor and from the first issue the demand was heavy and the
magazine remained highly successful. He may have had little journalistic experience
but he had a natural flair, in his editorial he was not only informative but prepared to
be outspoken and controversial, particularly politically, and engendered criticism and
even government pressure. The magazine, however, established itself within two
months as the most popular aviation publication, both here and in America. From the
first issue Johns used Howard Leigh, now 22, as illustrator for the front cover.
The quality of the literary standards, controversial content and so on marked Johns’
editorship. He even commissioned an article from Hermann Goring, a member of
Baron von Richthofen’s ‘Flying Circus’, an ace, having shot down 22 aircraft. This
article carried the rider ‘The publication of this article does not necessarily mean that
we agree with Captain Goring’s present political activities; we are concerned only
with his career as an airman’.
Significantly, Johns contributed a series of his own stories – about a teenage Royal
Flying Corps pilot named James Bigglesworth. The first story, The White Fokker by
William Earle appeared in Popular Flying (Vol 1, No. 1) in April 1932. This and
further short stories were published by John Hamilton, as a book The Camels are
Coming, in August 1932.
This was the beginning of a series that would make W E Johns famous and there has
always been speculation about who was the basis for the character. One nominee is
Air Commodore C G Wigglesworth CB, AFC (1893-1961), who served in the RNAS
and the RAF. A painting done by Johns depicting Biggles looks a little like Doris’
brother Howard. Another suggestion is Cyril Nelson ‘Kit’ Lowe, MC, DFC (1891-
1983), English Rugby Union player. Johns also said in an interview ‘He is a little of
me.’ In the foreword of The Camels are Coming, written in Lingfield, Johns writes
Biggles is ‘a fictitious character yet he could have been found in any mess during
those great days of 1917 and 1918 when air combat had become the order of the day
and air duelling was a fine art’. In a later book he writes that Biggles is ‘Not entirely
a fictitious character. True he did not exist but the exploits with which he has been
credited have nearly all been built on a foundation of truth, although, needless to say,
they were not all the efforts of a single individual.’ However, Sir Peter Masefield,
a great-nephew of the Poet Laureate John Masefield, speaking at the W E Johns
Centenary Luncheon at the Royal Air Force Club on 6th February, 1993 said that he
had discussed the question with Johns on several occasions and although Johns said
the character was a ‘compendium’ the ‘first ingredient’ was Arthur Wellesley
Bigsworth who had gone to sea with the Royal Navy in 1901 at the age of 16. In 1912
he was one of the first ten officers to train in what would become the Royal Naval Air
Service. In 1915 he became the first pilot to damage a Zeppelin and to sink
a submarine from the air, for which he received DSO and bar. Johns used both the
Zeppelin and submarine incident in two of his Biggles books.
Johns had met Bigsworth in 1922 when he was in the Air Ministry Recruiting Office.
Bigsworth was a Wing Commander at the time, subsequently becoming a Group
Captain and then in 1935 a Director of Equipment at the Air Ministry.
Johns’ and Masefield’s friendship lasted 40 years. Masefield became one of the
leading figures in Britain’s post-war aviation industry, playing an important role in
British European Airways and the development of the Britannia aircraft. From 1965
to 1971 he was Chairman of the British Ports Authority. He was knighted in 1972.
Despite a very full life, editing, writing, broadcasting, travelling and gardening, Johns
was also politically active. The international situation was a cause of great concern
despite which the Government not only wanted to reduce money to the RAF but was
even talking of disbanding it. In May 1931 Johns wrote a trenchant article about the
Government’s air policy entitled ‘Disarmament Dementia and Economy’. He was not
the only one concerned. A speech was given in the House Commons by Lieutenant
Colonel Moore-Brabazon, whom Johns quoted, in which he said ‘The enemy of the
air force is not across the Channel, it is in Whitehall’. To comments that it was
ardently felt that the aeroplane should never have been invented Brabazon replied that
those who had made flying possible did not dream they were creating a weapon of
destruction but something that would be of great value.
John Moore-Brabazon, GBE, MC (1884-1964) was a London- born aviation pioneer
and Conservative MP for Chatham, later being elevated to the House of Lords as
Baron Brabazon of Tara. In 1943 he chaired the Brabazon Committee planning the
postwar development of the British air industry and was involved in the production of
the Bristol Brabazon which first flew on 4th September 1949, the largest aeroplane
built in Britain.
By 1935 facts and figures were appearing in the Press regarding the growth of the
Luftwaffe and Johns was publishing more critical articles. Despite these sales of
Popular Flying still increased.
In 1935 the magazine was sold to C. Arthur Pearson, associate company of George
Newnes Ltd.
Johns’ son, Jack, now 19, submitted articles, first as W Carmichael Earle and
J Carmichael Earle. When writing for Modern Boy he referred to Johns as his ‘uncle’.
Under the new owners Johns still continued to urge for rearmament. He also
introduced a new magazine My Garden, branching off into an entirely new venture.
By 1937 the Lingfield cottage had become too small to accommodate all the visitors
and they moved to Colley Chase, Reigate Hill. The new house was built throughout
the year, with Johns taking part in the construction.
On the 2nd April George Newnes Ltd. launched a sister paper to Popular Flying – just
called Flying, 3d, published on Fridays, and Johns was asked to be editor, but
eventually his controversial stance resulted in him being called to the House of
Commons, and being dismissed as editor of the magazines, which were taken over by
Oliver Stewart.
The start of the 2nd World War proved the dire prophecies of so many people,
including Johns, were correct and he found himself back in favour politically. He
hoped to get back to flying but he was now 46 and the Air Ministry appointed him
lecturer to the Air Defence Corps which became the Air Training Corps in 1941. He
also wrote a column in The Boys’ Own Paper entitled ‘Skyways, Jottings from My
Log-Book’, devoted to ATC activities and then did the same regarding the WAAF in
the ‘Girls’ Own Paper’. He also joined the ARP at Reigate Heath. Then the Air
Ministry realised that Biggles had become an established boys’ hero and a valuable
recruiting aid for the RAF and asked Johns to do something similar for the WAAF.
This resulted in the creation of Worralls. The Army then made a request and the
Gimlet series resulted. There seems to be a little irony here, in view of the attitude
towards Johns prior to the War.
On 3rd October 1939 Johns’ son married Sabena Hammond, a nurse who had been
looking after his mother. The wedding was in Norwich. Neither Johns nor his wife
attended. Their first grandchild, Perdita, was born on the 19th September, 1940 and
a second, Faith, on the 15th June 1943. But in 1942 Howard Leigh died, aged 32. He
had been suffering from a malignant cancer. He is buried in Lingfield churchyard.
In September 1944 Johns and Doris moved to Pitchroy Lodge, Grantown-on-Spey,
which he rented from the local laird. They spent nine happy years there, moving back
down to a Queen Anne mansion – Park House, Hampton Court. A year later Johns’
son died. He had been a diabetic for many years and after the war had developed
tuberculosis. He had spent two years in a sanatorium in Davos in Switzerland and
after returning home had worked on the East Grinstead Courier. Then it was found he
also had multiple sclerosis. He died on March 1954, aged 38, and is buried in
Dormansland churchyard. Johns’ wife also died on the 1st April 1961 but he and
Doris decided they could not marry without a scandal.
The post war years brought new prosperity for other countries were now free to
publish his books. Norway and Italy sought translation rights and copies were also
published in Spain, Chile and Portugal. This was followed by Holland, then the Far
East – only in America were the books not popular being considered ‘too British’.
Against this they became, amazingly, very popular in Germany. Biggles stories were
also broadcast on the BBC Home Service Children’s Hour, but it was in Australia that
Biggles on radio became an institution. In the 1960s Granada Television started
a series featuring Biggles. Johns then tried branching out into science fiction and
westerns but these were not successful.
In the 1960s Johns found himself, like Enid Blyton and other writers, accused of
racism, what was to become termed as ‘not politically correct’, elitism and all the
other ‘isms’, with his books being removed from library shelves etc. Thankfully this
nonsense is abating but the rather nasty aspect of this is that it was only after his death
that the attacks on Johns increased. Anyone can find anything they want to find in
another’s work, just to prove their point, if they are determined to find it.
One interesting local sidelight is that Johns, Doris and a friend, John Templar, ran
a company in Constitutional Buildings, East Grinstead, called the Aviation and
General Fine Art Company. This is shown in Kelly’s Directory of 1927 and the East
Grinstead Directory of 1932, both at the East Grinstead Museum. The company
appears to have sold aviation Christmas cards, postcards and calendars to RAF
Stations.
John Templar was the name under which John B Townend wrote his ‘Air Police’
novels of the 1930s, and also contributed to Johns’ Popular Flying. He left the RAF
in 1927.
Coming back to the doubts surrounding whether Johns’ served in India, Peter
Masefield stated categorically that he did not, saying quite cheerfully that it was
another case of Johns ‘gilding the lily’. On the other hand Templar certainly did from
1923 to 1926 taking part in operations on the North West Frontier with the Bristol
Fighter Squadron No. 5, Perhaps Johns’ got all his detailed knowledge from him.
The last years of Johns’ life were spent writing about four books a year, appearing on
television and speaking on radio. He died suddenly on the 21st June 1968. Doris died
of cancer on the 26th September 1969.

© Mavis Priestley
May 2008

Sources
National Archives, Kew
Pamela Erskine, Thatched Cottage, Lingfield
By Jove, Biggles – The Life of Captain W E Johns
by Peter Berresford Ellis and Jennifer Schofield
Michael Leppard
East Grinstead Museum
Twickenham Museum
RAF Museum, Hendon
Reading Tourist Office
They've been working together for so long that each seems to know by a sort of telepathy when another is in trouble. One never seems to get them together. Get one & the others come after him. To give the devil his due they make a formidable team.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 10 Feb 2014, 10:48

This is certainly a long article but I wonder what made them write it when it is little more than a condensation of By Jove. Saves buying the book I suppose!
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 10 Feb 2014, 11:03

SaintedAunt wrote:This is certainly a long article but I wonder what made them write it when it is little more than a condensation of By Jove. Saves buying the book I suppose!


True, I can't remember who Mavis Priestley is [or whether this info is 100% in keeping with that in By Jove], but it is easier to read in one sitting I guess, for those who may not know the earlier career & motivations etc of WEJ. I remember reading By Jove years ago & was quite stunned to learn that he had been an aviation artist before the success of Biggles, & was equally surprised [after seeing the signature 'Howard Leigh' many times on his early books], to find out that he was his step-son.
They've been working together for so long that each seems to know by a sort of telepathy when another is in trouble. One never seems to get them together. Get one & the others come after him. To give the devil his due they make a formidable team.
User avatar
OzBiggles1963
Wing commander
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Posts: 4715
Images: 292
Joined: 12 Jun 2013, 10:15
Location: Brisbane. Australia.
Reading last: Ginger Lacey: Fighter Pilot
Reading now: Danger UXB; The Little Prince
Reading next: History Of The Luftwaffe [1936-1945]
My top chap: J.C. Bigglesworth MC, DFC, DSO
Starsign: Scorpio
Aircraft: Supermarine Spitfire
Random: "Live long and prosper."

Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Spitfire666 » 10 Feb 2014, 12:19

OzBiggles1963 wrote:I remember reading By Jove years ago & was quite stunned to learn that he had been an aviation artist before the success of Biggles, & was equally surprised [after seeing the signature 'Howard Leigh' many times on his early books], to find out that he was his step-son.

I think Howard Leigh was his brother-in-law, wasn't he Doris's young brother?
If there's one thing certain in this uncertain world it is that Algy won't go home without us.

http://wejas.org.uk
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 10 Feb 2014, 12:33

Spitfire666 wrote:
OzBiggles1963 wrote:I remember reading By Jove years ago & was quite stunned to learn that he had been an aviation artist before the success of Biggles, & was equally surprised [after seeing the signature 'Howard Leigh' many times on his early books], to find out that he was his step-son.

I think Howard Leigh was his brother-in-law, wasn't he Doris's young brother?

Yes S666, you are right, he was.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 11 Feb 2014, 08:08

Spitfire666 wrote:
OzBiggles1963 wrote:I remember reading By Jove years ago & was quite stunned to learn that he had been an aviation artist before the success of Biggles, & was equally surprised [after seeing the signature 'Howard Leigh' many times on his early books], to find out that he was his step-son.

I think Howard Leigh was his brother-in-law, wasn't he Doris's young brother?


Yes, absolutely right of course [twice I've made that incorrect assumption, lol]....note to self: always proof read posts, especially after 2 glasses of red wine. :oops:
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Tommy Smith » 11 Feb 2014, 19:57

Thank you for posting this, it was nice to find out about the man, I'll never buy By Jove but would like to read Mossyface!

Anyone know where this can be seen?

'A painting done by Johns depicting Biggles looks a little like Doris’ brother Howard.'

I would be interested to see what Johns himself made of him, although people are harder to capture that aircraft and vehicles.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 11 Feb 2014, 21:39

Wasn't it the one in Modern Boy? I can see it my mind's eye - Biggles is standing on the left and looking to the right and holding his gauntlets I think.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 11 Feb 2014, 21:43

Just checked my Norman Wright editions and the one I am thinking of was in Modern Boy, no. 324, 21 April 1934, and Biggles is holding a cigarette in a gauntleted hand.

But there is another that was in Modern Boy, just a head and shoulders and that is rather nice. It appeared quite often so maybe that was the one by WEJ. Some expert will have a definitive reply I am sure :D
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 07:36

Tommy Smith wrote:Thank you for posting this, it was nice to find out about the man, I'll never buy By Jove but would like to read Mossyface! Anyone know where this can be seen? 'A painting done by Johns depicting Biggles looks a little like Doris’ brother Howard.' I would be interested to see what Johns himself made of him, although people are harder to capture that aircraft and vehicles.


I'm pretty sure this is the 21/4/1934 Modern Boy edition to which this "painting" or portrait refers:

203

May I ask why you would not buy By Jove....is it a price thing?
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 07:41

SaintedAunt wrote:Just checked my Norman Wright editions and the one I am thinking of was in Modern Boy, no. 324, 21 April 1934, and Biggles is holding a cigarette in a gauntleted hand. But there is another that was in Modern Boy, just a head and shoulders and that is rather nice. It appeared quite often so maybe that was the one by WEJ. Some expert will have a definitive reply I am sure :D


While I am not sure, & certainly not an expert, :crazy: , is it possible the 'head & shoulders' one you refer to is my avatar? I chose this one [found it on my hard drive, but I forget where I originally downloaded it from now], as it is one of the earliest known pics of Biggles [?1932], but I am relying on my memory here...which is very fallible. :D
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Spitfire666 » 12 Feb 2014, 08:22

These two pictures - The Modern Boy one and OzB's avatar - are my favourite pictures of young Biggles. I think the Johns picture is iconic, and has to head my list. They both capture the strength and vulnerability of the teenage Biggles.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 08:29

Spitfire666 wrote:These two pictures - The Modern Boy one and OzB's avatar - are my favourite pictures of young Biggles. I think the Johns picture is iconic, and has to head my list. They both capture the strength and vulnerability of the teenage Biggles.


Yes, yes & yes! Exactly why I love them....your Oxford Biggles avatar & the Hodder one are tops in my book too, but they present Biggles the confident, experienced, world-wise adult, these other 2 have that 'vulnerability' as you so insightfully point out about them [before he became an inspirational role model, leader & warrior?].
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Spitfire666 » 12 Feb 2014, 08:44

OzBiggles1963 wrote:Yes, yes & yes! Exactly why I love them....your Oxford Biggles avatar & the Hodder one are tops in my book too, but they present Biggles the confident, experienced, world-wise adult, these other 2 have that 'vulnerability' as you so insightfully point out about them [before he became an inspirational role model, leader & warrior?].

Absolutely. When I was a child, the Oxford cover was in the shops and I fell in love with that picture. It was a while before I discovered the WW1 stories and fell in love with Biggles all over again. :lol:
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 12 Feb 2014, 09:52

OzBiggles1963 wrote:I'm pretty sure this is the 21/4/1934 Modern Boy edition to which this "painting" or portrait refers:

203

Yes that's the one, I agree. And your avatar is the other one I was thinking of. Both are reproduced from Modern Boy in the Norman Wright editions, and in several places online. Both nice - I agree with what you and S666 say. BUT my favourite is still the Oxford flying jacket, S666's avatar - I think that's lovely :D
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Tommy Smith » 12 Feb 2014, 10:42

OzBiggles1963 wrote:
Tommy Smith wrote:Thank you for posting this, it was nice to find out about the man, I'll never buy By Jove but would like to read Mossyface! Anyone know where this can be seen? 'A painting done by Johns depicting Biggles looks a little like Doris’ brother Howard.' I would be interested to see what Johns himself made of him, although people are harder to capture that aircraft and vehicles.


I'm pretty sure this is the 21/4/1934 Modern Boy edition to which this "painting" or portrait refers:

203

May I ask why you would not buy By Jove....is it a price thing?

Thanks for the image, quite stark, and the excellent articles.
For me the Wej article answers all the points but yes now I'm back on my feet again increased earnings is right up there on the top of the list...
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 11:34

SaintedAunt wrote:
OzBiggles1963 wrote:I'm pretty sure this is the 21/4/1934 Modern Boy edition to which this "painting" or portrait refers: 203

Yes that's the one, I agree. And your avatar is the other one I was thinking of. Both are reproduced from Modern Boy in the Norman Wright editions, and in several places online. Both nice - I agree with what you and S666 say. BUT my favourite is still the Oxford flying jacket, S666's avatar - I think that's lovely :D


The pic I have on my hard drive [as per my avatar] is only a tiny little thumbnail pic. I wonder if you or anyone else has a link to which I could view a larger pic online, or even clarify if it is the 1st pic done of Biggles [i.e. 1932], rather than the "Howard Leigh" likeness pic from Modern Boy 21/4/1934?
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 12:42

Tommy Smith wrote:Thank you for posting this, it was nice to find out about the man, I'll never buy By Jove but would like to read Mossyface!....


P.S. A cool A$9,391.32 & it's all yours! ;) A bit steep for me [absolutely vertical really!]. :shock:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDet ... Dmossyface
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Spitfire666 » 12 Feb 2014, 14:16

There is a paperback Buy it Now By Jove from 1985 on ebay.co.uk for £20 including postage: 121269467765
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 12 Feb 2014, 14:32

Spitfire666 wrote:There is a paperback Buy it Now By Jove from 1985 on ebay.co.uk for £20 including postage: 121269467765


Same ed. as mine...great price too!
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Inactive User 149 » 13 Feb 2014, 12:05

Yes it is well worthwhile reading By Jove it gives a great insight into WEJ's character and you can see where some of his ideas came from.

As we have said before it would have been great if he had found an illustrator who could give a definitive image of all four characters and then use the same images in most of the books - at least then they would be fairly slim and fair haired and not hulking great dark haired people or indeed schoolboys in tank tops. They might even have taken their flying helmets off occasionally :)
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Fairblue » 13 Feb 2014, 13:37

OzBiggles1963 wrote:
Spitfire666 wrote:There is a paperback Buy it Now By Jove from 1985 on ebay.co.uk for £20 including postage: 121269467765


Same ed. as mine...great price too!

I was lucky enough to get a so called water damaged one for £3.89 including postage. At that price I thought I could afford to buy sight unseen. When it did arrive the water damage was a little wrinkle along one edge. Everything else was fine. THAT was a bargain. :lol:
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 13 Feb 2014, 14:52

Fairblue wrote:
OzBiggles1963 wrote:There is a paperback Buy it Now By Jove from 1985 on ebay.co.uk for £20 including postage: 121269467765. Same ed. as mine...great price too!
I was lucky enough to get a so called water damaged one for £3.89 including postage. At that price I thought I could afford to buy sight unseen. When it did arrive the water damage was a little wrinkle along one edge. Everything else was fine. THAT was a bargain. :lol:


Wow, bargain of the century!! :banana:
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Tommy Smith » 13 Feb 2014, 20:05

OzBiggles1963 wrote:
Tommy Smith wrote:Thank you for posting this, it was nice to find out about the man, I'll never buy By Jove but would like to read Mossyface!....


P.S. A cool A$9,391.32 & it's all yours! ;) A bit steep for me [absolutely vertical really!]. :shock:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDet ... Dmossyface


That's 5000 quid! I'd sooner spend it on a trip to New Zealand, it's high time I saw some of the sights. Warm water, sunshine, sandy beaches and a few palm tree's wouldn't go amiss either. I'll save the expensive books for later...
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 16 Feb 2014, 08:09

OzBiggles1963 wrote:
Tommy Smith wrote: .....P.S. A cool A$9,391.32 & it's all yours! ;) A bit steep for me [absolutely vertical really!]. :shock: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDet ... Dmossyface
That's 5000 quid! I'd sooner spend it on a trip to New Zealand, it's high time I saw some of the sights. Warm water, sunshine, sandy beaches and a few palm tree's wouldn't go amiss either. I'll save the expensive books for later...


Most I've ever paid is about A$100 to A$150 on eBay a few yrs ago [prices seem to be cheaper now?], but this was for a couple of non-Biggles WEJ titles such as The Air VC's, The Spyflyers, Short Sorties, Thrilling Flights etc. I don't own any Biggles Hamilton's [way out of my price league, :shock: ]
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 14 Sep 2014, 09:47

Adding further to this topic about WEJ's biography & war experiences, I found this little snippet about his bomber squadron days in 1918 via Google [while looking for something else, lol], which as the article says gives an "insight into life with 55 Squadron during the summer of 1918".

http://members.optuszoo.com.au/aheyes40 ... h/wej.html

Most of this I am guessing is in the By Jove bio, but it's been a while since I've read this I guess, & interesting perhaps for some of the newer forum members.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby kylie_koyote » 14 Sep 2014, 11:45

Wow what a fantastic tale!
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby SaintedAunt » 14 Sep 2014, 12:00

Especially when you think that he was flying with them for less than a month. Those events made big impressions - not surprisingly.
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby Tommy Smith » 14 Sep 2014, 14:09

Excellent article, very much enjoyed reading it.
Still amazed at the power of these old aircraft - 12 cylinder 275hp?
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Re: Comprehensive WEJ Biography

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 15 Sep 2014, 14:05

Tommy Smith wrote:Excellent article, very much enjoyed reading it.
Still amazed at the power of these old aircraft - 12 cylinder 275hp?


Here's an interesting site listing the fastest fighter aircraft of WW1...it seems the S.E.5a was a lot faster than the later Sopwith Snipe [based on the Camel]. I am Googling to see if I can find what is the the biggest engine/horsepower generated in WW1. Surely it must be a bomber, e.g. the Gotha G.V.? [I am not sure]

P.S. Didn't Igor Sikorsky build some huge 4 engined bombers [up to 220hp per engine] during WW1?

http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft ... -speed.asp
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