Flying High with Biggles

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

Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 10 Feb 2014, 11:41

Another enthusiast writing, in 2005, about the popularity of Biggles - even though a few facts are incorrect, you get the message that Biggles was 'big' in Australia! A six-week waiting list at the local library once!

***********

Flying High With Biggles
by Kevin Patrick
November, 2005 Good Reading Magazine.

KEVIN PATRICK traces the still-soaring career of an intrepid fictional hero whose brown leather flying jacket and helmet and aviator's goggles are instantly recognisable symbols of Boy's Own Adventures to countless fans - both male and female.

Let's be honest - the name 'Biggles' doesn't sound like it would strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere. Yet that's exactly what Captain James Bigglesworth (known to everyone as 'Biggles') did in a career spanning nearly 40 years, in over 100 books. As a brave and daring fighter pilot, Biggles not only took to the skies against Germany in two world wars, he also fought spies, criminals and other riff-raff in globetrotting adventures.

It would be easy to dismiss Biggles as a relic of a bygone era, when much of the world map was still tinged by the rosy pink hues of the British Empire. But unlike other popular British heroes of his day, such as Nick Carter and Sexton Blake, Biggles continues to be rediscovered by new generations of readers. The Biggles books have remained continually in print for well over 70 years, and have been translated into dozens of languages. The tales of his adventures still find new life in comic books, radio, television and movies. Now, with a series of Biggles movies planned for filming, there can be no denying that Biggles is more than just an intrepid air-ace - he has become a literary phenomenon.

For years, I used to think that reading Biggles was up there with train spotting and stamp collecting as an obsession enjoyed by crusty old men - and no one else. So imagine my surprise, while recently working in a bookstore, when I started getting requests for Biggles books. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say - except that the people asking for them weren't senior citizens, but kids out of primary school! Now, I must admit that I'd never read Biggles, but I thought I knew what a typical Biggles book would be like: full of uptight, public school types who 'bashed the Jerries' with the same passion with which they played cricket. I was intrigued to see what this quintessentially British hero would have to offer Aussie kids raised on a steady diet of Paul Jennings and JK Rowling. So I bought a copy of Biggles in the Orient. And before you could say 'Chocks away!' I found myself utterly absorbed in Biggles' one-man war against the Imperial Japanese Army.

Far from it being a genteel, stiff-upper-lip fantasy, I was struck by the grim action, such as when Biggles ambushes two Japanese soldiers desecrating the body of a downed RAF pilot: 'Biggles took deliberate aim and fired. The Jap pitched forward in his face, but crying out loudly, started to get up. Biggles walked forward and with calculated precision fired two more shots at point-blank range. His lips were drawn back, showing the teeth. "You unspeakable thug," he rasped. The man lay still.' Strewth! This was a world away from the British children's books I read when I was a kid - but this was war and, as we all know, war is hell.

Even for Biggles. William Earle (WE) Johns was no armchair warrior. Like his famous fictional creation, Johns knew only too well the reality of aerial combat. Born in 1893, he joined the Norfolk Yeomanry as an infantryman. When World War I began in 1914, Johns was sent to the Middle East. He returned to England in 1916, joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and was posted to France as a fighter pilot. Johns was shot down over the Rhineland in September 1918. He was taken prisoner and initially sentenced to death for bombing civilian targets. Johns avoided the firing squad by escaping, but was recaptured and spent the rest of the war in a Bavarian prison. He remained with the Royal Air Force (RAF), rising to the rank of captain, until 1929, when he resigned to become an aviation journalist. He didn't find his creative niche until April 1932, when he launched Popular Flying magazine, featuring his first Biggles story, 'The White Fokker', by 'William Earle'. Johns may have been hedging his bets about his new creation, but he needn't have worried. When Biggles' debut adventure was reprinted in The Modern Boy in January 1933, it was retitled 'Biggles and the White Fokker' and credited to Flying Officer WE Johns (The author promoted himself to 'Captain' with the next serial, Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor.) Biggles was, in fact, created in the skies over France, long before Johns wrote his first adventure.

Introducing the first Biggles book, The Camels are Coming, Johns claimed 'many of the adventures that are ascribed to Biggles did actually occur & [and] in many cases, the officers themselves are still alive and serving in the Royal Air Force.' James Bigglesworth's comrades-in-arms included his cousin, Algernon Lacey, nicknamed 'Algy', who joined Biggles' RFC squadron in 1917. He remained Biggles' staunch friend throughout the war and joined his peacetime air charter operation, Biggles & Co. When war broke out again in 1939, Biggles and Algy were quickly pressed into service with the RAF. Together with their new wartime comrades, 'Ginger' Hebblethwaite and the monocle-wearing Bertie Lissie, they formed the RAF's special 'Z' Squadron. They were to clash repeatedly with their arch-enemy, Erich von Stahlheim, throughout the war.

With peacetime, Biggles and his team led Scotland Yard's Special Air Police, investigating airborne crimes across the globe. Once more, they found themselves pitted against von Stahlheim, who now worked behind the Iron Curtain! Biggles may not have visited Australia until late in his career, in Biggles Works it Out (1951) and Biggles in Australia (1955), but he was always hugely popular Down Under. Melbourne's Oxford University Press published several Australian editions of Biggles books between 1946 and 1950, while the much-loved children's magazine The Silver Jacket featured Biggles on the debut issue's cover in 1953.

John Dixon, one of Australia's most popular comic book artists of the 1950s, remembers just how big Biggles was. 'There was a six-week waiting list to get Biggles books out of the town library when I was a kid, they were that popular,' he says. 'I read every one of them, too!' Dixon was eventually invited to illustrate The Adventures of Biggles, a comic book produced by Sydney publisher Henry John Edwards. He was given a free hand when it came to creating new Biggles comic book stories. 'I do remember Captain Johns commenting in a letter to Edwards that Biggles did not fly jets!' he says. 'I don't recall whose idea it was to update the character.'

Australia was also the only country to produce a radio serial based on the character. The Air Adventures of Biggles ran for nearly 1100 episodes throughout the 1950s. When WE Johns died in 1968, it would have seemed a safe bet that the apparently old-fashioned Biggles would vanish along with his creator. In some respects, Biggles was outdated, with critics seizing on the stories' casual racism and absence of female characters. Johns' writing style could be clumsy and stilted, while some of the later book titles, such as Biggles Takes it Rough (1963), sound unintentionally funny to grown-ups' ears.

Yet perhaps it's these same old fashioned attitudes that make Biggles popular with modern audiences, who admire his cast-iron values. 'I built a love for the character,' recalls Kim, a local collector writing on the WE Johns and Biggles website: 'In many ways, [I] subconsciously used Biggles as a role model for my own moral stances in life.' With two feature films in development, Biggles Flies North and Biggles in Borneo (possibly to be filmed in Australia), it remains to be seen if Biggles can hold his own against modern movie heroes like Spider-Man. Biggles may be a fantasy figure to his fans, yet WE Johns always insisted that he was very much a real person. 'Biggles is a fictitious character, yet he could have been found in any RFC mess during those great days [of World War I],' wrote Johns. 'Biggles did not exist under that name, yet he represents the spirit of the RFC - daring and deadly when in the air, devil-may-care and debonair when on the ground.'
The corners of Biggles' mouth twitched. "It's a sad thing to grow old without learning a thing or two." [Biggles Hunts Big Game]
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby kylie_koyote » 10 Feb 2014, 16:36

SaintedAunt wrote: With two feature films in development, Biggles Flies North and Biggles in Borneo (possibly to be filmed in Australia), it remains to be seen if Biggles can hold his own against modern movie heroes like Spider-Man.


Did this ever develop further?
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 10 Feb 2014, 16:38

kylie_koyote wrote:
SaintedAunt wrote: With two feature films in development, Biggles Flies North and Biggles in Borneo (possibly to be filmed in Australia), it remains to be seen if Biggles can hold his own against modern movie heroes like Spider-Man.


Did this ever develop further?

Sadly, no :(
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 11 Feb 2014, 07:58

Excellent article SA! One I do not believe I have read before, thankyou.

I had to chuckle [more like a 'guffaw' really... :laughspit: ] when I read this part:

"For years, I used to think that reading Biggles was up there with train spotting and stamp collecting as an obsession enjoyed by crusty old men - and no one else."

Crusty old men!! Well I never!...we are not crusty on the forum surely? I suddenly have this strange vision of people [us!] sitting around in the Diogenes Club of Sherlock Holmes fame, reading Biggles, shuffling through The Times, & ordering fine scotches & water ["single malt old bean!"] in hushed whispers to immaculately dressed waiters with white gloves & silver trays. :booky: :booky: :booky: :shh: :shh: :shh:
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: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 11 Feb 2014, 10:21

Lovely picture OzB :D

I have another interesting one but I'd have to retype it and it is rather too long! Unless I posted it in the picture gallery… it's a scan in pdf format and that won't go into text format as far as I can see :(
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 11 Feb 2014, 10:34

SaintedAunt wrote:Lovely picture OzB :D I have another interesting one but I'd have to retype it and it is rather too long! Unless I posted it in the picture gallery… it's a scan in pdf format and that won't go into text format as far as I can see :(


Hmm, sounds interesting! And curiosity certainly killed the cat [at least in my case it did. :bounce: ]
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Tommy Smith » 11 Feb 2014, 11:47

SaintedAunt wrote:Lovely picture OzB :D

I have another interesting one but I'd have to retype it and it is rather too long! Unless I posted it in the picture gallery… it's a scan in pdf format and that won't go into text format as far as I can see :(

Hmmm. You could run it through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) then tidy up, if it won't extract from the pdf. I could try it. Always like a challange.
(The stuff posted here is too good to miss, excellent stuff).

Not even going to ask about OzBiggles cat...!
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 11 Feb 2014, 11:56

Tommy Smith wrote:
SaintedAunt wrote:Lovely picture OzB :D I have another interesting one but I'd have to retype it and it is rather too long! Unless I posted it in the picture gallery… it's a scan in pdf format and that won't go into text format as far as I can see :(
Hmmm. You could run it through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) then tidy up, if it won't extract from the pdf. I could try it. Always like a challange. (The stuff posted here is too good to miss, excellent stuff). Not even going to ask about OzBiggles cat...!


Hehe, please don't ask about the cat [or it's rabid curiosity, lol], or I will be forced to throw the thread off-track again with a poorly considered Mrs. Slocombe one liner about her's..... :shock: :? :sorry2:
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: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Fairblue » 11 Feb 2014, 12:46

SaintedAunt wrote:Lovely picture OzB :D

I have another interesting one but I'd have to retype it and it is rather too long! Unless I posted it in the picture gallery… it's a scan in pdf format and that won't go into text format as far as I can see :(

Email it to me, and i'll convert it, if you like and return it in word format.
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 11 Feb 2014, 12:57

Thanks - I'll look and see what free OCR software is around, but if it involves using my scanner it doesn't work properly since I updated my OS a while back. And no updates for the HP all-in-one on software either. No wonder I got it free with my new iMac (well, new two years ago!). I suppose I should be grateful it still can print and copy :)
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Tracer » 11 Feb 2014, 17:48

OzBiggles1963 wrote: I suddenly have this strange vision of people [us!] sitting around in the Diogenes Club of Sherlock Holmes fame, reading Biggles, shuffling through The Times, & ordering fine scotches & water ["single malt old bean!"] in hushed whispers to immaculately dressed waiters with white gloves & silver trays.




And the problem with that is?????? :lol: 8-)

I'll take my single malt neat and read the Telegraph, though
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 11 Feb 2014, 19:15

Tracer wrote:
OzBiggles1963 wrote: I suddenly have this strange vision of people [us!] sitting around in the Diogenes Club of Sherlock Holmes fame, reading Biggles, shuffling through The Times, & ordering fine scotches & water ["single malt old bean!"] in hushed whispers to immaculately dressed waiters with white gloves & silver trays.


I'll take my single malt neat and read the Telegraph, though

Single malt, if a good one, should never be added to :lol:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

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

I must admit I do see myself in my old age in a Nursing Home surrounded by Biggles books - quite mad but very happy :bounce:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Fairblue » 13 Feb 2014, 13:52

Jenny Rob wrote:I must admit I do see myself in my old age in a Nursing Home surrounded by Biggles books - quite mad but very happy :bounce:

Maybe a nursing home dedicated to Biggles fans - membership of the forum compulsory. :lol:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Inactive User 149 » 13 Feb 2014, 13:59

Yes with a branch in Australia :bounce: We could spend the rest of our lives arguing about who is the best sidekick :onguard: We would not need nurses we would need referees :roll:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 13 Feb 2014, 14:45

Jenny Rob wrote:Yes with a branch in Australia :bounce: We could spend the rest of our lives arguing about who is the best sidekick :onguard: We would not need nurses we would need referees :roll:


Yes indeed, please start an 'over 50's' [prefer not to call it 'retirement home' :o ] villa for the incurably Biggles-minded senior citizens....best sidekick? Oh dear, walking frames at 10 paces? :lol: :lol:
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: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 13 Feb 2014, 14:48

Jenny Rob wrote:I must admit I do see myself in my old age in a Nursing Home surrounded by Biggles books - quite mad but very happy :bounce:


I shall sell everything & move into my own personal library/bedroom/internet forum chamber, where debate & Biggles trivia shall flow like champagne! :D
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: Flying High with Biggles

Postby kylie_koyote » 13 Feb 2014, 14:55

OzBiggles1963 wrote:
Jenny Rob wrote:I must admit I do see myself in my old age in a Nursing Home surrounded by Biggles books - quite mad but very happy :bounce:


I shall sell everything & move into my own personal library/bedroom/internet forum chamber, where debate & Biggles trivia shall flow like champagne! :D


This sounds awesome. I shall endeavor to join you despite being a smidge too young.
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Spitfire666 » 13 Feb 2014, 15:05

OzBiggles1963 wrote:I shall sell everything & move into my own personal library/bedroom/internet forum chamber, where debate & Biggles trivia shall flow like champagne! :D

Good thinking, OzB :!:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Inactive User 149 » 13 Feb 2014, 15:51

It will be very nice to have someone a bit younger to look after us all 8-)
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 13 Feb 2014, 18:09

SaintedAunt wrote:Thanks - I'll look and see what free OCR software is around

Got some - not free but not expensive. It happily converted 10 pages of a pdf file last night but it takes ages for a human being to sort out the bits it doesn't understand! I am about half way through...
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Fairblue » 13 Feb 2014, 18:58

SaintedAunt wrote:
SaintedAunt wrote:Thanks - I'll look and see what free OCR software is around

Got some - not free but not expensive. It happily converted 10 pages of a pdf file last night but it takes ages for a human being to sort out the bits it doesn't understand! I am about half way through...

Your sacrifice has been duly noted, SA. :lol:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 13 Feb 2014, 19:40

Fairblue wrote:Your sacrifice has been duly noted, SA. :lol:

I just hope you think it is worth it when you see it ;) But I am sure it will come in handy again - useful to have a means of converting scanned stuff into text just using one's computer.
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby Fairblue » 13 Feb 2014, 20:15

SaintedAunt wrote:
SaintedAunt wrote:Thanks - I'll look and see what free OCR software is around

Got some - not free but not expensive. It happily converted 10 pages of a pdf file last night but it takes ages for a human being to sort out the bits it doesn't understand! I am about half way through...

Run it through a spell-check! :crazypilot:
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby SaintedAunt » 13 Feb 2014, 20:37

Fairblue wrote:
SaintedAunt wrote:Got some - not free but not expensive. It happily converted 10 pages of a pdf file last night but it takes ages for a human being to sort out the bits it doesn't understand! I am about half way through...

Run it through a spell-check! :crazypilot:

It's quotation marks, apostrophes and other punctuation it can't cope with, mainly. And sometimes it goes completely haywire and misses a sentence out, or converts it into some strange characters. No quick fix - it's much easier to rely on one's eyes than a spell checker I think, in this case. Although spell checkers are useful for finding typos.

I dare say that as it's cheap software it's not the best - but it's ok and 10 pages of a pdf file is quite long, especially as there are marginal notes for it to cope with. On the whole I think it's doing quite well :)
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Re: Flying High with Biggles

Postby OzBiggles1963 » 14 Feb 2014, 06:48

SaintedAunt wrote:
Fairblue wrote:Your sacrifice has been duly noted, SA. :lol:
I just hope you think it is worth it when you see it ;) But I am sure it will come in handy again - useful to have a means of converting scanned stuff into text just using one's computer.


I learn something new every day....converting pdf documents into text, imagine that? :geek:
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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OzBiggles1963
Wing commander
Wing commander
 
Posts: 4687
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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."


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