|Creator:||Captain W.E. Johns|
|Date(s):||1932-1970 (but see below)|
|Medium:||Books, Radio, TV, Comics, Film, Computer Game|
|Country of Origin:||United Kingdom|
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Biggles is a pilot, the titular hero of a series of nearly a hundred novels and short story collections for boys by Captain W.E. Johns (1893-1968), beginning with The Camels Are Coming (1932) and ending with Biggles Sees Too Much (1970). Two subsequent books, Biggles Does Some Homework (1997) and Biggles Air Ace: The Uncollected Stories (1999) were respectively an unfinished novel published in that state in a limited edition, and short stories published much earlier that had been omitted from earlier collections. There was also an Australian radio series The Air Adventures Of Biggles (1949-1954), a British 44-episode TV series (1960), numerous comics, and a film which was generally felt to be unfaithful to its source material; Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986) with a computer game based on it.
James Bigglesworth, nicknamed "Biggles", begins as a teenager in the First World War. Having lied about his age, he enlists in the Royal Flying Corps aged 17 and quickly becomes a flying ace and commander of his own wing of fighters. He often takes part in intelligence missions, such as flying spies behind enemy lines. His usual companions are his cousin Algernon ('Algy') Lacey and his mechanic Flight Sergeant Smyth, who continue to work with him after the war. Various other pilots appear in the series, but (especially in the WW1 stories) tend to be killed or otherwise leave the series fairly quickly. Another long-term character is Major Raymond (later Colonel, then Wing Commander and ultimately Air Commander after the formation of the Royal Air Force), who is his mentor and often responsible for his intelligence missions. A frequent enemy in this period, continuing on until the Cold War era, is German intelligence officer Erich von Stalhein.
Between the wars Biggles and Algy operate an amphibious aircraft, which is used for charter flights and occasionally for British Secret Service operations. An eventual recruit to the team is Ginger Hebblethwaite, a teenager who acts as sidekick in subsequent stories.
In WW2 Biggles commands 666 Squadron, a "special duties" unit that serves around the world in a variety of roles. As usual Algy and Ginger accompany him, with the rest of the complement of an RAF squadron, many of them stereotypes for one or another nationality or region in the UK. A new member of the core team is Lord Bertram 'Bertie' Lissie.
Post WW2 Raymond recruits Biggles to a new Scotland Yard department, the Special Air Police, assigned to investigate crimes involving aircraft and often to intelligence missions. These often pitted him against Erich von Stalhein, now with the East German secret police, but he eventually rescued von Stalhein from prison and they ended as friends. He is still with the Special Air Police in the last books of the series.
Because of their nature and period, and because they were often edited to conform to "boy's adventure story" expectations, these books contained period racism and to an extent sexism, though Johns was considerably better in this respect than many other authors; he also wrote the Worrals series about a female WW2 pilot.
Like many series intended for boys, these books mostly have an all-male cast (occasional female romantic interests appear but never last) and it has long been open to slash interpretations; interpretations reinforced by several references to the series in Monty Python's Flying Circus. The most common pairing is Biggles/Algy.
- The Biggles Information Web Site
- Biggles Flies Uncensored: More Whisky, Less Jingoism; article about editorial censorship of the Biggles books.
- Johns was a prolific author of more than 160 books, most of them about the armed forces. The main series were Biggles; the "Steeley" books (1936–1939), a World War 1 pilot turned crime-fighter; "Worrals" (1941–1950), the adventures of a female pilot in WW2; "Gimlet" (1943–1954), commando adventures, and the "'Tiger' Clinton" books (1954–1963), science fiction with a background in part derived from flying saucer literature. There were occasional canon crossovers between the Biggles, Worrals, and Gimlet series, mostly in the short stories.