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More About Biggles

During the 1960s, Biggles books were removed from libraries and children's reading lists due to the perception of racial prejudice throughout the books.

The publisher Red Fox (a Random House imprint) is reprinting many of the Biggles titles with footnotes that explain slang and military terms used in the books.

Biggles first appeared in 1932 in the first issue of Popular Flying magazine in a story called 'The White Fokker".

James "Biggles" Bigglesworth was born May 1899 in India. He was the second son of an an administrator in the Indian Civil Service and his wife.

Biggles' first encounter with an aircraft was while attending Malton Hall School in Hertbury, England when a Blériot that was forced to land on the school cricket pitch.

A "lost" birth certificate allowed Biggles to join the army as a subaltern in the Rifle Regiment in 1916. In the summer of that year he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and flew in combat in September 1916 with 169 Squadron, RFC.

Between the World Wars, Biggles worked as a charter pilot.

After World War II, Biggles worked for Scotland Yard as head of a new Special Air Police division.

Because of his upbringing in India, Biggles was fluent in Hindi.


by Richard Davies


Biggles - Air Detective

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.


1930s


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.

1940s

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, Bigglesfirst editions are highly collectible, particularly the early stories complete with dust jackets.

1950s

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.

1960s

AbeBooks Most Expensive Sales of Biggles Books

  1. The Camels are Coming (1932 First Edition) - $17,754
  2. Biggles in Spain (1939 First Edition) - $3,949
  3. Biggles Defies the Swastika (1941 First Edition) - $3,120
  4. Biggles Sees It Through (1941 First Edition) - $2,229
  5. Biggles and The Black Peril (1941 First Edition) - $1,684
  6. Biggles Does Some Homework (Johns' unfinished work - one of just 300 printed) - $1,470
  7. Biggles Does Some Homework (Johns' unfinished work - one of just 300 printed) - $1,468
  8. Biggles Does Some Homework (Johns' unfinished work - one of just 300 printed) - $1,295
  9. Biggles and the Deep Blue Sea (1967 First Edition) - $1,202
  10. Biggles in Borneo (1943 First Edition) - $1,178

AbeBooks' Bestselling Biggles Books