Biggles' Combined Operation.

By Captain W E Johns

Printed: 1959

Publisher: Hodder & Stroughton. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 13 × 19 × 2.5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 13 x 19 x 2.5

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Item information


In the original dust sheet. Red cloth binding with black titles on the spine and on the front board.

It is the intent of F.B.A. to provide an in-depth photographic presentation of this book offered so to almost stimulate your feel and touch on the book. If requested, more traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

James Bigglesworth, nicknamed “Biggles“, is a fictional pilot and adventurer, the title character and hero of the Biggles series of adventure books, written for young readers by W. E. Johns (1893–1968). Biggles made his first appearance in the story The White Fokker, published in the first issue of Popular Flying magazine and again as part of the first collection of Biggles stories, The Camels Are Coming (both 1932). Johns continued to write “Biggles books” until his death in 1968. The series eventually included nearly a hundred volumes – novels as well as short story collections – most of the latter with a common setting and time.

The chronology of the canon, spanning both world wars, set up certain inconsistencies over the unavoidable ageing of Biggles and his friends. Also, later editions had to be somewhat edited in line with changing norms of acceptability, especially regarding racism, and in view of the pre-teenage readership who increasingly favoured both the books and the comics.

William Earl Johns (5 February 1893 – 21 June 1968) was an English First World War pilot, and writer of adventure stories, usually written under the pen name Capt. W. E. Johns: best known for creating the fictional air-adventurer Biggles. W. E. Johns was a prolific author and editor. In his 46-year writing career (1922–1968) he wrote over 160 books, including nearly one hundred Biggles books, more than sixty other novels and factual books, and scores of magazine articles and short stories.

His first novel, Mossyface, was published in 1922 under the pen name “William Earle”. After leaving the RAF, Johns became a newspaper air correspondent, as well as editing and illustrating books about flying. At the request of John Hamilton Ltd, he created the magazine Popular Flying which first appeared in March 1932. It was in the pages of Popular Flying that Biggles first appeared.

The first Biggles book, The Camels are Coming (a reference to the Sopwith Camel aeroplane), was published in August 1932 and Johns would continue to write Biggles stories until his death in 1968. At first, the Biggles stories were credited to “William Earle”, but later Johns adopted the more familiar “Capt. W. E. Johns”. While his apparent final RAF rank of flying officer was equivalent to an army (or RFC) lieutenant, captain is commonly used for the commander of a vessel or aircraft.

Johns was also a regular contributor to The Modern Boy magazine in the late 1930s as well as editing (and writing for) both Popular Flying and Flying. From the early 1930s, Johns called for the training of more pilots, for if there were not enough when war came, “training would have to be rushed, and under-trained airmen would die in accidents or in combat against better trained German pilots.” He was removed as editor at the beginning of 1939, probably as a direct result of a scathing editorial, strongly opposed to the policy of appeasement and highly critical of several Conservative statesmen of the time. Cockburn, however, feels that the government was concerned about being so “expertly attacked” on the lack of trained pilots by the editor of the most widely read aviation magazines in the world, including readers “in the RAF or connected with flying.”

Johns’ opposition to appeasement is reflected in some of his books. For example, in The Black Peril (1935) the storyline revolves around German preparations for conquest. Even more advanced in his thinking, for that time, was the story Biggles Air Commodore (1937) which alludes to Japanese preparations for conquest of British colonies in the Far East.

Apart from “Biggles”, his other multi-volume fiction series were:

  • The 6-volume “Steeley” series (1936–1939), featuring former First World War pilot turned crime-fighter Deeley Montfort Delaroy (nicknamed “Steeley”).
  • The 11-volume “Worrals” series (1941–1950), detailing the exploits of plucky WAAF Flight Officer Joan “Worrals” Worralson (who was also the subject of three short stories); these were created at the request of the Air Ministry to inspire young women to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
  • The 10-volume “Gimlet” series (1943–1954), whose hero is the dashing British commando Captain Lorrington “Gimlet” King.
  • A 10-volume science fiction series (1954–1963) that follows the interplanetary adventures of retired RAF Group Captain Timothy “Tiger” Clinton, his son Rex, scientist Professor Lucius Brane (who invents a spaceship powered by cosmic rays) and Brane’s resourceful butler Judkins.

Johns also wrote eight other books of juvenile fiction, twelve books of fiction for adults, and eight factual books, including several books on aviation, books on pirates and treasure hunting, and a book on gardening, The Passing Show.

Unusually among children’s writers of the time, from 1935 Johns employed a working-class character as an equal member of the Biggles team – “Ginger” Habblethwaite, later Hebblethwaite, the son of a Northumberland miner. However, readers never learn his real given name, and he proclaims himself a Yorkshireman once or twice.

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