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The Press Cuttings Collection   :  (for Internet Mentions see here)

Report by Marie Scofield: October 2010

An article on Storybook Homes, (Sunday Telegraph, 16/5/10) mentioned one of W.E.Johns’ homes, “The Old House”, Lingfield. Apparently there is a shelf of Johns’ books which the deeds of the house stipulate must remain with the house.

The magazine Aviation Classics, May 2010, had an article called “For Biggleswade & Shuttleworth read Bigglesworth”. It stated that Johns was a friend of Richard Shuttleworth, whose estate was near Biggleswade, & these names provided inspiration for the name Bigglesworth. (There are of course various other claims about the origin of the name.)

Book & Magazine Collector, Feb.2010, included an article on Pearson’s Weekly and claimed that W.E.Johns joined its editorial team in May 1939. The July 2010 issue of the same magazine had an article on Norman Wright’s limited editions, aand the theme of the magazine’s monthly quiz was W.E. Johns. The Best of British, March 2010, noted Johns’ as a contributor to the Boys Own Paper, in an item on the Paper.

The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth, 1918-1988 by J.J. Halley has entries for the real squadrons whose numbers Johns used in his books.
(Note that sometimes Johns’ use of a number predated the formation of the real squadron.)

The forward to Aircraft of the Aces - Legends of World War 2 by Tony Holmes stated that “Prolific author Captain W.E.Johns captivated a generation of teenage boys with his Biggles stories”. Other cuttings sent mention various people who have read/ been inspired by Biggles stories: Michael Palin (see British airways magazine High Life, 2008), Paul Middleton (Ultralight Monthly, October 1994), Michael Clarke, author of Harry Ferguson: before the Plough. There is a follow-up to previous mentions of Mr Hagedorn, who crashed his aircraft earlier in the year and attributed his escape to his memory of a Biggles story. The Air Accident Investigation Branch reported that Mr. Hagedorn had underestimated the fuel required for the journey.
(Press & Journal, 12/8/10, Chelmsford Weekly News, 19/8/10, Daily Telegraph, 12/8/10)

The Sun, 8/6/10, showed a photograph captioned “Biggles disappointment - fed-up fans dressed as fighter pilots at match.” (No other information).

Some readers have come across older items, these are welcome & add interesting information. These include a review in the Radio Times, 4/2/1955, of the play “The Devil’s Advocate”. The play is fiction but is said to be based on the character of Ernst Udet. Johns wrote in (11/3/1955) with his claim that Udet shot him down.

Also Aerospace, March 1982, has a write-up about a proposed Biggles film, written by an American, not based on any book, to be made by the Stigwood Organisation. It is set in Abyssinia in 1935-36 & included “a beautiful belly dancer spy”. The article included criticisms of the concept from various well known aviation experts. On a subsequent letters page, writers mentioned Marie Janis, also Johns’ stories in Modern Boy.

Thank you to all who sent information. However I understand from the Editor that there are problems in finding enough space for BFA articles. The May Press Cuttings had to be considerably reduced. Please keep sending items but please do not be offended if they cannot all be used.

Report : February 2010  by Marie Scofield

As usual, thank you to everyone who sent press cuttings and information.

Please keep watching for mentions of W.E. Johns and his characters in the media.  

The last press cuttings article contained several references to Vince Hagedorn's crash. After an engine failure, he recalled Biggles' actions in a similar situation, pancaked onto trees, avoided serious injury, and claimed that Biggles had saved his life. Further references to this have been sent.

“The Loop”, September 2009, had a brief write-up of the story with a photo of the microlight in a tree, and another photo of the “Biggles' Big Adventures” book. Sunday Post, 16/8/09,carried an article, “In My View”, by Norman Wright, with the headline “Biggles is still a very thrilling read”.

Norman Wright began with Mr. Hagedorn's attributing his escape to his reading of Biggles books, and went on to praise the Biggles books generally. He mentioned the fairly frequent emergency landings with the build-up of tension, the geographical knowledge incorporated in the stories, the “great cast of characters”, and listed some of Biggles' “admirable qualities”. Norman Wright concluded his article by urging anyone who had not read a Biggles book to do so.

“The Aeroplane”, November 2009, had a “Hairy Moment” page, headlined “Biggles saved my life”, this time by Dr. P. Stewart. He described an incident in 1945, when he was an A.T.C. Cadet learning to fly gliders. There was no instructor in with the pupil. One day he was practising “high hops” to 150 feet, but he did not gain sufficient hight. At an altitude of 80 feet, he sailed over the boundary of the small aerodrome and was heading towards a densely packed railway marshalling yard. He had only been taught to fly straight and level and had had no instruction to cover this situation. He asked himself “What would Biggles do?” and followed the advice which came to mind. He landed safely and ended his article by saying “There is, however, no doubt in my mind that Biggles saved my life”.

Possibly because of the wide publicity given to Vince Hagedorn's assertion that Biggles saved his life, BBC Radio 4 broadcast on 3/9/09 a half hour programme “Biggles: Adventures through Time”, presented by Alexander Armstrong. He referred to Biggles as a “quintessential British hero”. He discussed various aspects, including something of W.E. Johns' life, Biggles as “representing the spirit of the Royal Flying Corps”, the Battle of Britain pilots who went on record saying that they learnt their war flying tactics from Biggles, and librarians' criticisms of the books in the 1960's. He also mentioned the claims that Biggles was based on T.E. Lawrence (highly unlikely) and Arthur Bigsworth. Biggles fans who have commented to me on the programme seem to regard it as generally fair, apart from some “jokey” remarks which grated.

In ”The Australian Society of World War One Aero Historians Newsletter”, May 2009, Wing Commander W. Bigsworth wrote about a distant relation, Air Commodore Arthur Bigsworth, a pilot in World War One. The Wing Commander claimed that the Air Commodore worked with W.E. Johns in the Air Ministry and went on to say that family historians were “reasonably sure” that “the character of Biggles was actually based, at least in part, on that of Arthur”. As we know, the most generally accepted view is that Biggles was based on a number of people that Johns had known, so Bigsworth probably was one.

“Post-Lib”, no. 54, September 2009, contains an article by John Lester on popular children's authors of the twentieth century. He discussed the “reluctance of critics to admit any merit in the popular literature of childhood.” He mentioned Blyton and Johns as being writers who suffered from unsupported claims about their books being generally accepted as fact. He referred the statement in Children's Literature, Ed. P. Hunt, O.U.P.,1995 about the “unquestionably modest literary qualities “ of the books. John Lester argued that the Biggles books “survive because they are well written. Johns was successful because he was a superb storyteller, particularly adept at evoking atmosphere”. John Lester used a quotation from Biggles Goes Home to illustrate his point and went on to say that books by Blyton and Johns are still in print, that they and other children's authors have societies to commemorate them and journals that discuss their work. The article is illustrated by an issue of “Biggles Flies Again”.

Hilary Mantel, on “The Guardian” Review page, 12/12/09, wrote favourably about Biggles books and W.E. Johns. She commented on the fact that in the family reprint of“Biggles Flies North, Biggles asked for a Bovril. She assumed that in the 1939 original, Biggles had asked for something different, as alterations were made to the text in some of the books in the 1960's. One of BFA's readers, Susan, spotted a printing error and emailed "The Guardian". Hilary's husband, the Biggles fan, replied with the omitted words. On the Letters Page,19/12/09, one person confirmed that Biggles did ask for a Bovril in the first edition and Ginger a malted milk. Someone else wrote in to say that in the pre-war “Modern Boy” serialisation, Biggles ordered a “hot drink”. The writer assumed that the story paper would not mention the product of a non-advertiser, but that the rule would not apply in the book. One other letter pointed out that Johns was a “fine plantsman” and a horticultural writer.

“Royal Air Force News”, 11/9/09, included a review of Biggles' Secret Assignments, and offered five copies as prizes in a competition answering the question “When did the Biggles stories first appear?”.

There have been two references to Biggles noticed in books. In one of the crime series of novels by Reginald Hill, featuring Dalziel and Pascoe, “Death comes for the Fat Man”, 2007, there is a brief mention of Ab “prancing round like a hairy Biggles”. In “A Memory of Sky: a Pilot's view of Canada's Century of Flight” by Jim Shilliday, 2009, he wrote of his flying training. He was told to practise emergency landings on a small airfield built during World War One and this reminded him of Biggles.

There are a number of passing references to Biggles. “Flying Scale Models”, August 2009, contained an article by Simon Delaney on the Sopwith Camel. He mentioned that whenever he saw a Camel, he thought of Biggles. “Experimental Aircraft Association on line Newsletter”, 18/9/09, (U.S.A.), mentioned one Cathy Penney, who became interested in aviation after reading Biggles books and went on to a career in aviation. “Radio Times”, 7/10/09, had an “On this Day”
segment. Thirty six yeas ago they broadcast a documentary exploring the British hero, starring Christopher Cazenove. He portrayed a range of heroes from Sir Galahad to Richard Hannay. When asked whom he admired, he replied that “I can still see Biggles flying over the pine-clad forests”. “Berkshire Life”, December 2009, had a photo of a girl in an aircraft cockpit on the Annual National Young Aviators Day. The item was headed “Miss Biggles”. On ITV, the answer to a “Fuse” quiz question was “Biggles”.On eBay, there was recently an auction for a photograph of a Scandia truck, apparently owned by W.E.Johns Transport, and showing “W.E. Johns” on the side of the truck.

An old copy of “Collectors Gazette”, August 2004, had an article by Alwyn Brice on a person who collected aviation books. The article mentioned Johns' The Pictorial Flying Course and the photograph on the page showed a person, presumably the collector, reading The Modern Boys Book of Aircraft with W.E.J.'s cover illustration in view.

As usual, please keep looking out for mentions of W.E.J. and his characters.

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