“Ever been up in the air?”
“ No, sir.”
“What’s your name?”
“Bigglesworth, sir. I’m afraid its a bit of a mouthful, but that isn’t my fault. Most people call me Biggles for short.”
“ All right, Biggles. Get in.”
So it began, in Biggles Learns to Fly, when he trains (and vomits all over the sky) and becomes a fighter pilot in World War 1. The chronological first Biggles book, although far from the first Captain W. E. Johns wrote—later still, he wrote The Boy Biggles but I never read it. Illustrated versions are the only ones that count, especially those published by Hodder and Stoughton. Rip-snorting stiff upper-lip stuff.
An invisible cord seemed to hold the Albatross to the tail of the Hun.
There was a spluttering jar as something crashed through his instrument board.
An Armistice was signed an hour ago, mien Herr, but of course you didn’t know.
Biggles Defies the Swastika—it might not be the best Biggles book—if there is one that’s better than the others—but it certainly is the best title.
Biggles left fist shot out and took him in the pit of the stomach.
By gosh! There’s the sub! cried Ginger suddenly. She’s there. We’ve got her.
By Jove! You’ve certainly been busy with the jolly old bodkin.
Boys like to read something `exciting.’ Don’t tell me its bad for them... If your son likes adventure stories and relishes tales of courage, travel and fighting, you won’t go far wrong in giving him any of the Biggles books by Captain Johns. (1950 review of Biggles Hunts Big Game, published in 1948, the 29th of the series.)
Biggles stared. “I’ve been what?”
“Detective Air-inspector, which, incidentally, is a new rank at the Yard.”
Biggles stared. “Suffering Icarus!” he breathed. “That’s terrific. When Bertie learns this, he’ll swallow his monocle...”
When there weren’t any wars to fight, Biggles was a flying policeman, hunting villains with German names throughout the far reaches of the Empire.
Australia, for Pete’s sake. Where will the ubiquitous Erich turn up next? Biggles wondered…
And then this!!
…With its great tentacles over the bows of the plane a giant squid was raising itself out of the water.
No foolin’. It’s what happens to you when you land your seaplane on the Great Barrier Reef. And then, when you head inland... The blacks, shaking their spears, yelling and stamping… will attack, hurling their tridents at you. Biggles in Australia is the most outrageous of the adventures of Captain W. E. John’s hero. My first encounter with the fallibility of the British.
And I can’t leave out the immortal last line of Biggles and the Black Peril; When I get my hands on a joystick I shall be able to hold my own with you guys on the next show we do.
It took until I was about eighteen before I finally outgrew him, with The Cruise of the Condor, perhaps the best of all Biggles books, in which he declares, after an aerial dogfight over the Amazon in the 1960s: Great jumping-cats, if this is civil flying, give me war flying every time.