Friday 16 December 2011

Books, ties and heroes

I'm on a bit of a roll with the old charity shop finds this week, it seems.  Went back in to town yesterday and had a look around the two other second-hand stores therein and came back with two ties and two books, all for less than £10.  More on the ties in a later post, I think; for now I will use the books as a basis for this post.

The latest addition to my bookshelf
These two tomes are by a favourite author of mine and one of them features my literary hero.  The author is William Earl Johns, more commonly known as Captain W. E. Johns (and for those of you who might not have heard of him, or know little about him, here is a short biography of the man).  If you haven't heard of Johns, you may at least know his most famous creation and the aforementioned literary hero  - Biggles.

I make no apologies for my love of the Biggles stories.  If grown men can read Harry Potter with apparent impunity then I can jolly well read Biggles books.  Not many people know that the Biggles series actually started off aimed at adults - they were hard-hitting war stories recalling many incidents and adventures of the First World War, some of them quite grim.  It soon became apparent that the stories appealed to young boys too and so the early tales migrated from Popular Flying magazine where they first appeared to The Modern Boy and thence in to book form (with some alterations to make them less graphic).

17 years of reading and re-reading have taken their toll
Biggles first entered my life at the Imperial War Museum Duxford back in the early '90s.  We'd gone there on a school outing, it was the end of the day and we were allowed to look around the gift shop prior to leaving.  I was searching for something inexpensive but memorable to take home with me and my eye was drawn to a display full of some of the then-new Red Fox (Random House) republished Biggles books.  What 11-year-old boy, already with an interest in military history and aeroplanes, could resist this cover (left)?!  I'd never even heard of Biggles prior to that, but before long I was hooked and lapped up any Biggles stories I could find.  Seventeen years and 47 (out of approximately 98) books later and I still get a thrill of enjoyment from reading the escapades of this famous fictional airman.  I'd even go so far as to say that he influenced me growing up and helped make me the person I am today.

The Biggles books have been accused by the PC brigade of being racist, sexist and imperialist but this, as always, is a misapprehension and glosses over some of the facts - not least the era in which the stories were written.  Putting these spurious claims to one side (before this becomes an essay - a more detailed Biggles post will have to wait, it seems!) Biggles essentially champions the traditional values of bravery, honesty and fair play.  We need more like him.


  1. Oh, derring-DO! That picture in the book at the top is most excellent.

  2. I grew up reading Biggles books, thinking back I had several early 1st editions picked up at church fairs and the like but they were all given away when i was at uni, since then I have re-collected quite a lot, my favourite is the WW1 short story about the turkey - hilarious!


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