OK, this makes twice inside a week that I have come across a reference to the Biggles books. Obviously the world wants me to pay attention: something I’ve not done for Biggles since my early teen years. Annoyingly I cannot trace the first Bigglesian reference! But here’s Interesting Literature with a good account of Captain W. E. Johns and his Biggles books. As the piece says few can remember the title of any of the Biggles books they read. Even after examining all the covers at The Biggles Information Web Site I can’t say I remember reading a solitary one. But I know I read (and owned) quite a few of them.
As the illustration shows the series was published by Oxford University Press for a while, from 1935 till 1943. Thereafter they were mostly published by Hoddder & Stoughton or Brockhampton Press (which is now an imprint of Hodder Headline, thus owned by Hachette). I’m not sure how the patriotic Biggles would feel about French ownership.
It’s a commonplace that it’s tough to get boys to read. Biggles obviously played his part in countering this reluctance. A flying ace who seems to have been present, youthfully, at every turning point in recent history was an obvious draw to the target audience. He was well brought up without being snobbish: a sort of airborne John Buchan character — with a few attitudes which today would be recognized as being politically incorrect. As Wikipedia puts it “Biggles represents a particularly ‘British’ hero, combining professionalism with a gentlemanly air.” Monty Python’s Flying Circus naturally couldn’t resist: