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Neill Gilhooley

Real stories behind Biggles

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Neill Gilhooley

Have we ever tried to identify the real stories behind WE Johns' The Camels Are Coming / Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter? Johns says himself that we might recognise some of the events upon which his tales are based.

Roger Harris gives us excellent chapter summaries, The Camels are Coming http://www.biggles.info/Details/01/ and Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter http://www.biggles.info/Details/51/, as here:

"I THE CARRIER

Biggles' propeller kills a carrier pigeon but Biggles finds the message and goes to rescue a spy.

II SPADS AND SPANDAUS

Biggles and his squadron join up with some Americans for a major air battle with the Germans.

III THE ZONE CALL

A captured German pilot tricks Biggles, but he realises in time to foil a German attack.

IV THE DECOY

When Biggles loses one of his pilots to a German trick he goes all out to get the plane responsible.

V THE BOOB

Biggles first meets a new pilot who happens to be his cousin and whose Christian name is Algernon.

VI THE BATTLE OF FLOWERS

Algy takes revenge when a German raid on the Squadron's aerodrome destroys his garden.

VII THE THOUGHT-READER

Biggles discovers a German plane receiving secret signals from a spy using corn in a field.

VIII BIGGLES FINDS HIS FEET

Engine trouble forces Biggles down in 'no-man's-land' where he has a taste of trench warfare.

IX THE BOMBER

Biggles attacks a heavily defended new German bomber and has to devise a way to shoot it down.

X ON LEAVE

Biggles is forced to take leave but manages to shoot down 2 German seaplanes that bomb the UK.

XI FOG!

Biggles gets lost in fog and is shocked to discover he has landed by a German gas supply dump.

XII AFFAIRE DE COEUR

Biggles meets the love of his life, Marie Janis, only to discover that she is a spy.

XIII THE LAST SHOW

Biggles gets promoted to Major and is shot down only to discover the armistice has been signed."

 

I'm not doing very well, though it is a while since I read 'By Jove!' that might have some of the answers.

Certainly in chapter I, in which he crashes a Camel in No Man's Land and sprints over to the 9th Royal Scots, is an experience of Captain Arthur Stanley Gould Lee (No Parachute, 1968 and Open Cockpit, 1969).

Being shot down on 11.11.18 would seem to be a reference to his friend Capt 'Jock' McKay though I think he was shot down the day before and DoW.

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Neill Gilhooley

A few instances recorded here by David Tattersfield 

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/articles/biggles-last-flight-the-flying-career-of-captain-we-johns/

III may relate to a lost pilot at Azelot

VI may relate to his airfield raid 31 Aug 1918

XII may have been based on a girl he met returning from Nancy

XIII Shot down, and reference to Alfred Amey 'not even unpacked his kit' with poetic licence

The author also tells us that two instances of Arthur Bigsworth (encounters with a Zeppelin and a U-Boat) were used in Biggles books.

-

Also some very good information on the last months of 55 Squadron in the war by Tony Heyes

http://sonicpathfinder.org/family/ach/ach.html

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

 

The author also tells us that two instances of Arthur Bigsworth (encounters with a Zeppelin and a U-Boat) were used in Biggles books.

-

 

Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth, CMG, DSO*, lived (as I have probably said elsewhere) in West End, just outside Southampton, and worked with W E Johns in the Air Ministry post-GW.

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Neill Gilhooley

Ah yes, it is a shame we do not have a memoir from him. This fiction was all very good when growing up, but never as good as (a relatively truthful) first hand account.

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healdav

As I remember it, Johns was himself a WW1 pilot, who was twice shot down (with the gunner being killed on both occasions). Presumably he uses a lot of his experience in the books.

Like you, I didn't worry too much about whether they were true when I was 9 or 10.

Strangely, it was much, much later, that I discovered that the original books ere written about WW1. They were 'all' rewritten as WW2 books, with Biggles et al, flying Spitfires. The library had every single one of these, but none at all of the original WW1 set.

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yperman
On ‎31‎/‎10‎/‎2018 at 10:25, Neill Gilhooley said:

Biggles meets the love of his life, Marie Janis, only to discover that she is a spy.

I don't remember Biggles having a sex life...bet she is  based on Maud Allan or maybe the prostitute who used to provide her services while wearing a British Army Captains coat (mentioned in 'They didn't want to die virgins)...must kindle some Biggles for the C word time of year.

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DavidOwen
56 minutes ago, yperman said:

must kindle some Biggles for the C word time of year.

I would guess they will all have been "sanitised" for the current generation.

I did find a CD/DVD (mp3) of Australian radio recordings made in the 1950s on a famous auction site for £1.69 (115 episodes, some missing) may splash out on that...

The DVD of the Grenada TV series is a bit steep at £80+

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Neill Gilhooley
4 hours ago, healdav said:

They were 'all' rewritten as WW2 books

I recall reading (it would be in 'By Jove!') that he mobilised Biggles in 1939 to help the war effort but had not updated his language and had to be told Archie was no more, he must now speak of flak.

1 hour ago, yperman said:

I don't remember Biggles having a sex life

I thought that was invented in 1963? I also recall reading that if any girls appeared in his books, WEJ received thousands of letters of complaint from his schoolboy readership. 

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Neill Gilhooley
11 minutes ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

if any girls appeared in his books

I had forgotten he wrote other books, such as Worrals...

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

 

I thought that was invented in 1963? 

 

:lol:

 

Stop Larkin about

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Nick Beale
4 hours ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

I recall reading (it would be in 'By Jove!') that he mobilised Biggles in 1939 to help the war effort but had not updated his language and had to be told Archie was no more, he must now speak of flak.

I thought that was invented in 1963? I also recall reading that if any girls appeared in his books, WEJ received thousands of letters of complaint from his schoolboy readership. 

The story was called "Affaire de Coeur" and it was in (I had to look this bit up, since the books are somewhere in the loft) "The Camels Are Coming". There was another actual woman in "The White Feather" when our hero was briefly back in England but still managed to intercept and down a German raider (seaplane?) off Ramsgate.

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yperman
17 hours ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

 

 I also recall reading that if any girls appeared in his books, WEJ received thousands of letters of complaint from his schoolboy readership. 

Whereas now he would get 1000s of letters of complaint from feminists that there aren't any female pilots and as for at least one of his books on the war against  Japan the politically correct (outside China) would just die speechless in droves...

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healdav
18 hours ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

I had forgotten he wrote other books, such as Worrals...

In one book, not sure whether one of his novels or elsewhere, he says that as he was never a WAAF, he couldn't be sure that he had got it all correct, so apologised in advance.

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Mark Hone

The Marie Janis story is revisited in the late novel 'Biggles Looks Back' in which Biggles and his gang (now rather improbably including his former arch-enemy Erich Von Stalhein) attempt to rescue her from a castle behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the issues outstanding from the original story 'Affaire De Coeur' are resolved. 

Useless trivia which I've mentioned before: one of the various contenders for the 'original Biggles' , Air Commodore Cecil George Wigglesworth, served in Iceland in the Second World War alongside Flight Lieutenant John Battersby Crompton Lamburn. Lamburn, an old boy of Bury Grammar School, was the brother of Richmal Crompton (Lamburn), creator of 'Just William', for whom John was the main inspiration. Biggles meets Just William.

Edited by Mark Hone

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Neill Gilhooley

My thanks to all, much appreciated. 

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David Filsell

Cannot put my finger on the story, In a Biggles tale explosive is based in a spotting balloon by the Brits on the Western Front to kill a German ace "balloon buster which I think may could well be based on an event described in War Flying in Macedonia by Hauptmann Heydermarck. Not sure of the publication date of HH's book 

Edited by David Filsell

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Neill Gilhooley
12 minutes ago, David Filsell said:

War Flying in Macedonia

I shall put it on my Christmas list.

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

I shall put it on my Christmas list.

 

There's a good book on the 9th Royal Scots coming out, too. You might want a copy of that :whistle:

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Neill Gilhooley

I couldn't possible comment, but I've already read it... Have a fine Christmas Mr B.

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David Filsell

Niell,

Good luck. i thought copies were scarce, but on checking I fund abe  books has a quite a number listed, many are recent reprints

Regards

David

Edited by David Filsell

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Ghazala

Back in January 1993 Stuart Wavell wrote this in The Sunday Times

 

Stiffen the crows!  The true identity of Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth, the intrepid air ace known to generations of schoolboys as Biggles, has finally been revealed.  He was Air Commodore Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth, a highly decorated first world war pilot.

The authoritative revelation by a friend of Biggles creator, Captain W E Johns, enfilades a theory prevalent last week that the fictional hero of more than 100 books was based on Lawrence of Arabia.

Sir Peter Masefield, wartime personal adviser to Lord Beaverbrook, said that during during a 40 year friendship with Johns, the author had told him that Bigsworth was his prototype for Biggles.  "We discussed it at some length over the years" Masefield said.  "It emerged originally from John's meeting with Arthur Bigsworth just after the first world war.  Bigsworth was the touchstone.

"They did not really become friends.  It was just the charisma of the man.  Bigsworth was then an air commodore and went off to be air officer commanding the Mediterranean, based in Malta.  Johns was a fairly lowly form of life at the Air Ministry recruiting office."

Jenny Schofield, co-author of John's biography, 'By Jove! Biggles', commented "Sir Peter has solved the mystery.  If Johns told him that Biggles was Bigsworth who am I to argue?   But of course Johns was projecting himself, too, into the character."   Schofield is chairman of the Johns Centenary Committee which is hosting a lunch at the RAF Club on Saturday, when Masefield as guest of honour will share more reminisces.

Bigsworth, DSO and bar, AFC, died in 1961.  According to Masefield, who met him briefly, he had an "amused understanding" of Johns's appropriation of his name.   Masefield said Johns kept quiet about the source of his legendary inspiration, but did not regard it as a dark secret.   "He saw Biggles as a fictional character and he called him Bigglesworth as an extension of Bigsworth.   But in the long run I suppose he had no relation at all to Bigsworth, who pursued a steady career in the RAF without doing anything outstanding after the war."

Masefield decided to reveal the truth in a letter to The Times on Friday, after being incensed by an academic's claim that Biggles was based on T E Lawrence, the former adventurer in Arabia whom recruiting officer Johns had admitted into the Air Force in 1922.

"It's absolute rubbish," Masefield snorted.  "Johns didn't like Lawrence at all.  He regarded him as a homo, which was totally against his inclinations."

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Maureene

Available online

Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter by Captain W E Johns 1954. Archive.org, Digital Library of India Collection. Contains thirteen short stories, eleven of which were originally published in The Camels Are Coming (1932) and two of which were originally published in Biggles Of The Camel Squadron (1934), originally written for older adolescents. Note however Wikipedia states “The early First World War books were reprinted in the 1950s, when the Biggles books had acquired a younger readership and were bowdlerised", so perhaps the stories in this book have been changed.

 

Cheers

Maureen

 

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Mark Hone

The original Great War Biggles stories were written for adults. They're not exactly racy by modern standards and were mocked for their lack of realism by some former flyers like WM Yeates. The reprints referred to were by Dean and Sons , who specialised in abridged versions of classic novels for children (Walter Scott, The Brontes etc). They did not alter the basic stories but the very mild swearing was toned down and references to drinking alcohol excised. The more recent reprints by Red Fox restore most of the original material and contain explanatory notes.

Johns himself fought at Gallipoli before transferring to the RFC. Anyone interested in the creation of Biggles and the Great War context should read 'By Jove, Biggles' by Berresford Ellis and Williams, which, despite its title, is a biography of Johns. This details his wartime career ( he actually saw air combat, briefly,  in 1918 as a bomber pilot) and explores the problem of his claimed rank of Captain. It also defends Johns, fairly successfully in my view, from the various charges of prejudice levelled against him by people who have usually never read his books. For a man of his time and upbringing, Johns emerges in the main as fairly liberal in his outlook. He was hardly a great writer but was capable of more subtlety than he is sometimes given credit for. For example, it was only when rereading the books latterly that it dawned on me that Lord Bertie Lissie, ostensibly a rather irritating Bertie Wooster-like upper class twit, is in fact the toughest and most ruthless of Biggles' men when it comes to the crunch. 

 

Edited by Mark Hone

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Moonraker
15 hours ago, Maureene said:

... Wikipedia states “The early First World War books were reprinted in the 1950s, when the Biggles books had acquired a younger readership and were bowdlerised", so perhaps the stories in this book have been changed.

 

8 hours ago, Mark Hone said:

.... The reprints referred to were by Dean and Sons , who specialised in abridged versions of classic novels for children (Walter Scott, The Brontes etc). They did not alter the basic stories but the very mild swearing was toned down and references to drinking alcohol excised.

I vaguely recall that on one occasion Biggles landed after another feat of derring-do and expressed his need for a ginger beer.

 

Moonraker

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Nick Beale
On 21/12/2018 at 08:19, Mark Hone said:

Useless trivia which I've mentioned before: one of the various contenders for the 'original Biggles' , Air Commodore Cecil George Wigglesworth, served in Iceland in the Second World War alongside Flight Lieutenant John Battersby Crompton Lamburn. Lamburn, an old boy of Bury Grammar School, was the brother of Richmal Crompton (Lamburn), creator of 'Just William', for whom John was the main inspiration. Biggles meets Just William.

 

When I first saw this mentioned, the writer suggested that if only the original Biggles and William Brown could have been dropped behind enemy lines, the war would have been over in a week.

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