the Russians, until his masters imprisoned him. In the book “BIGGLES

BURIES A HATCHET” (1958), Johns has Biggles go and rescue him and

the old enemies eventually become friends.

Biggles has some faithful companions. In his early flying days, he is joined at 266 Squadron by Algy Lacey. Biggles initially dislikes Algy, but

he is soon won over by his skill as a pilot and his personality. Algy is

a faithful companion in most of the Biggles books, although in later

books, there is a reason given for his absence, such as being on leave, when Johns needs less characters. In the book “THE BLACK PERIL”

(1935), Johns introduces a 15-year-old boy “Ginger” Hebblethwaith. We

never actually learn Ginger’s first name! He is a red-haired lad, that Biggles calls “Ginger” from when he first meets him. Ginger is there to

represent the teenage boys of the target audience of the books. He is

someone for them to identify with. Ginger appears in virtually every Biggles book thereafter – but he is never in the First World War flying

stories. By the time the Second World War started, Johns has Biggles

go back into action with his own squadron and there is one pilot who

goes on to be permanent companion, Lord Bertie Lissie. Very much in

the “silly ass” mould of characters, like someone from a P. G. Wodehouse novel. When the Second World War ends, it is Biggles, Algy, Ginger

and Bertie who join – and form – the Air Police. Johns then has Biggles

becoming a detective and the post war Biggles books are Biggles and

his friends investigating various mysteries. Number of the later Biggles

books contain collections of short stories of their Air Police work. This is

because there was huge demand for short stories for annuals and children’s books and the short stories were later collected and published

as Biggles books.

Johns also wrote two Biggles books about Biggles’ early life. In 1951 we

have “BIGGLES GOES TO SCHOOL” where we learn that Biggles was in

fact born and bought up in India. However, it is not until March 1968 that

“THE BOY BIGGLES” tells us about Biggles’ childhood in India. This, in fact,

was the last Biggles book published in Johns’ lifetime. Although when

Johns died, he left four (and a half) unpublished manuscripts that were

published until the end of the 1960s, with the last one in July 1970. The

unfinished novel was finally published in a very limited edition in February 1998.

The value of the original first editions has increased astonishingly. The

original John Hamilton books and the twenty Oxford books are very

hard to find in their original dust jackets. I presume this was because

dust jackets were removed during war-time paper drives in the Second

World War. So early Biggles first editions in good dust wrappers are rare

and expensive. Post WW2, Biggles books are surprisingly very common

in first edition. This is because the print runs were huge. But as the popularity of Biggles tailed off in the 1960s, the late 1960s books are much

harder to find as the print runs were far lower. The “BIGGLES AND THE

DEEP BLUE SEA” (1968) is one that is particularly rare and sought after.

The inter war years

As editor of Popular Flying magazine, Johns was an outspoken critic

of the Government's air policy in the 1930's. Appeasement could only

lead to war and of course, he was right. The monthly “Popular Flying”

soon became the best-selling aviation magazine in the world. By 1934,

its circulation was 24,500 a month. In 1935, John Hamilton sold Popular Flying Ltd, as it then was, to George Newnes Ltd and Johns was

asked to stay on as editor. Johns also began to contribute regular articles to “Men Only” and to “My Garden” magazine, where his regular

column was called “The Passing Show”. On January 12, 1938, Doris and

Bill Johns moved to Colley Chase, Reigate Hill, Surrey. On April 2, 1938,

George Newnes Ltd launched a sister paper to “Popular Flying”. It was

a weekly magazine called “Flying” and Johns was asked to edit that as

well. It took many of the spill over articles for which there was no room

in the monthly. From February 19, 1938, Johns was also writing a regular

weekly column for “Modern Boy” called “Let's Look Around”. As well as

all these commitments, Johns was also writing books at an astonishing

rate, some 40 between 1931 and 1939! He wrote many short stories, both

for adult magazines as well as for juvenile ones and many of these stories were later collected into books. Johns' continued attacks on the

Government upset prominent politicians and they brought pressure to

bear on George Newnes Ltd to have him removed as editor of both of

their flying magazines. His last editorial for the weekly “Flying” magazine

was on January 21, 1939. Both magazines were to later fold during the

Wartime paper shortages.

INFO Eduard - October 2021