Saturday, 14 March 2009

Who is Biggles?

It has dawned on my grey cells that some of this blog's readers may not realise that the CFZ canine, Biggles, is named after a certain Major James Bigglesworth of literary fame. Those readers of a certain age will be familiar with the name, but some of you young 'uns, and perhaps some of you from abroad, may not be. Hence, below is an explanatory introduction by Graham, who has long been a fan of the heroic pilot, who has flown through the imaginations of many a young lad in the past.

W. E. Johns, the creator of the Biggles character, was himself a World War 1 pilot. Biggles was a fighter pilot in that war, joining up in 1916. He soon established a reputation for bold and never-say-die flying and fighting.

In the years between the two world wars, Biggles and his gallant comrades, Algy and Ginger, undertook a series of private ventures and some escapades for the British Secret Service, foiling various criminal plots. Sometimes a good, old-fashioned, British punch on the jaw was sufficient to bring a villian to book - but a recurring protagonist, Erich Von Stalhein, was more elusive.
Von Stalhein was also a major opponent during World War 2 (as a Nazi of considerable ingenuity) and during the Cold War that followed.

During the 1960s, Biggles books became an early victim of political correctness, as the character was seen by some as racially prejudiced. The books were withdrawn from many libraries, but survived in my town, in the local shop where I bought them as a child.

Here, by way of example, is how one Biggles adventure unfolds:

The Second World War is over but one German submarine is on the loose, carrying Nazi gold.
Air Commodore Raymond asks Biggles to assist in the hunt. Its captain, Von Schonbeck, plans to keep the stolen gold. Biggles establishes a base at Kerguelen Island, near Antarctica - in the vicinity of the last sighting of the U-boat.

Schonbeck promptly sinks their supply ship, and the hunt is on in ernest. While attempting to depth-charge the submarine, Biggles and Ginger are shot down and, marooned on an ice-floe, are taken prisoner by Schonbeck.

Ginger saves Biggles from a firing squad before they manage to escape. With the help of some imprisoned Norwegian sailors, the submarine is trapped in Schonbeck's secret harbour and its crew takes to the island. Biggles and his allies pursue them and Kerguelen Island echoes to the sounds of heavy gunfire before Von Schonbeck meets a nasty fate in a bog. Thus the gold is recovered.

The stories usually are uncomplicated contests between good and evil, and the British qualities of pluck and decency win through every time. Biggles the Dog has much to live up to, but doubtless he'll win through!

As an interesting close to this introduction, Jon's grandfather was an insurance salesman and one of his clients was, in fact, W.E. Johns, and Jon's father used to get a copy of the pre-releases of his books way back in the 1930s. As a tantalising piece of crypto-literature -ology, my late father-in-law remembered reading an adventure which never seemed to appear in book form. He used to tell Jon that he remembered it was one of the best he had read of the ace's adventures - I wonder why it was never printed?

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