Aged 11, after entering secondary school, thanks to a classmate, I discovered my fictional hero, Biggles, and this instilled in me a love of airplanes, adventure and reading . According to Wikipedia: “James Bigglesworth, nicknamed “Biggles”, is a fictional pilot and adventurer, the title character and main hero of the Biggles series of youth-oriented adventure books written by W. E. Johns (1893–1968). Biggles first appeared in the story “The White Fokker”, published in the first issue of Popular Flying magazine, in 1932. The first collection of Biggles stories, The Camels Are Coming, was published that same year. The series was continued until the author’s death in 1968, eventually spanning nearly a hundred volumes – including novels and short story collections – most of the latter with a common setting and time”.
For the next three years, Biggles books were my favorite and that despite being an avid reader anyway. Thanks to my local library, I was able to borrow many of the 100 Biggles books that were then available and read them all, cover to cover. I found the stories appealing and always my hero, Biggles, along with his three chums: Algy, Ginger and Bertie, went on many an exciting adventure, were able to cleverly navigate themselves out of all sorts of awkward situations and overcome any number of obstacles and baddies, always delivering on whatever task that had been set for them to do, however difficult, everything coming together at the end. The stories always involved flying airplanes and it meant the chums had to travel all over the world, often to exotic and remote places. After that I moved on to something else and gave Biggles little thought. But Biggles must have had an impact. It kept alive and deepened my love for reading, and some of Biggles characteristics, like independence and skepticism, rubbed off (although others, like dare devilry and ingenuity, didn’t). Up to the time I started sixth form, I was set on becoming a pilot. I recall once writing in an essay competition about three people who lived in my life time who I particularly admired. These were: Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson and W.E.Johns.
A couple of years ago, I managed to find some Biggles books, which I read with relish, and despite being a lot more sophisticated etc. these days, I found them rather good reading and, just as I recalled, the plots were exciting even if often far fetched. It did remind me though of an age that is now gone, one of Empire, deference, class, doing one’s duty to sovereign and country, deferred gratification, quaint customs and basic communications. It also struck me that Biggles and his friends were at least a little racist and xenophobic, and the sexual content in the books was nigh zero, although there was a fair bit of violence, albeit not gratuitous. I recall visiting an elderly couple a little prior to that, who had in their lounge a neatly arranged bookcase that was full of Biggles books, which I viewed with nostalgia and coveting eyes. They had brought these for their long left home son (who is around my age) as he was growing up.
The reasons Biggles came into my mind in the last few days though, after all this time, were necessity, nostalgia and chance. Necessity was having to tidy up and that meant sorting out my own books (and there were many to sort); nostalgia was stumbling on printed matter that long ago had meant something to me and chance was stumbling on one such, which had the title: “Biggles – the authorized biography”, which I am presently gleefully reading. As I do so, happy memories come flooding back. But times move on – I suspect few 11-14 year olds around today are Biggles fans, which is a pity.