Biggles Takes It Rough

Oh yes he does.

Actually this is from a great site,, which has the front covers and illustrations from all 98 (!) Biggles books, along with plot summaries if you can't be bothered reading them all. (The covers are on the main page.) The main site,, gives the same treatment to all the other creations of Captain W.E. Johns,It turns out he wasn't a captain after all, but only a lowly flying officer. Must all one's childhood illusions be shattered? not excluding Biggles' feminine counterpart Worrals of the WAAF. I had no idea he wrote so many - he even tried his hand at science fiction. Perhaps I'm being unkind, but I'm picturing some overly-jovial chap going on a jaunt through space to give the bally Martians what-for. Eh?

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12 thoughts on “Biggles Takes It Rough

  1. Chris Williams

    WE Johns trivia:

    A long time ago, I used to go past the hardware shop with the 'Johns lived here' blue plaque on it every day on my way to school. That biography site says he was born on Mole Wood Road, but the blue plaque house is on Cowbridge or Port Vale. Not a lot of people know that.

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    41 Cowbridge according to Discover Hertford! We have blue plaques over here too, but it's a bit pointless as no-one interesting was ever born here - certainly nobody of the calibre of W.E. Johns ...

  3. Wonderful find. There's a PhD in jacket design there for a start. I still have, somewhere at my folks' house, a first edition of Biggles Works It Out - presumably the Muscle Mary prelude to Taking It Rough (or getting orchids).
    Ranks into peacetime - there's a great bit in England Their England about how some Majors and Captains survived into peace, whilst others disappeared - the survival equating to the sense of self-security felt by the owner.

  4. Brett Holman

    Post author

    At first glance there's a striking difference between the 'Boy's Own'-style covers, with aeroplanes in combat or Biggles dealing with some nasty blighter, and the much more stylish ones, especially those published by Oxford UP (!), with scenes of aircraft flying serenely through a beautiful landscape - these could easily come from a contemporary poster for Imperial Airways or somesuch. I wondered if they were aimed at different audiences, but judging by the prices, they weren't.

  5. Chris Williams

    More on Johns. I was buying books last week, and alongside a really cheap copy of Wohl's book, I found 'Hertford in old photographs'. This is the beginning of the end: I have become interested in the local history of my origins. Shoot me now.

    On the other hand, this allowed me to discover two events that were complete news to me (which is interesting in itself):

    1. In 1916 a zeppelin bombed Bull Plain, about 300 yards from Chez Johns
    2. In 1944 a V2 hit Mill Bridge, about 150 yards closer to it.

    From airship to ballistic missile in less than 30 years - you can say a lot of things about the C20th, but 'uninteresting' is not one of them.

  6. Brett Holman

    Post author

    I don't think you need shooting, Chris -- not just yet, anyway! Speaking for myself, indulging in a bit of local and/or family history can be a useful corrective to my usual focus on big pictures. You can always call it microhistory if that will help you justify it to yourself :)

    Joseph Morris, The German Air Raids on Britain, 1914-1918 (Darlington: Naval \& Military Press, 1993 [1925]) mentions a few raids on Hertford (not the intended target, I think). The most serious seems to have 13 October 1915 -- 9 people killed and rumours that the town had been wiped off the map according to Thomas Fegan, The 'Baby-Killers': German Air Raids on Britain in the First World War (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2002); others were on 2 September 1916 (the night Leefe Robinson shot down SL11) and 19 October 1917.

  7. Chris Williams

    Maybe Strasser had it in for the beer. Fair play to him if so.

    Alternatively, it might have been because Hertford lies at the confluence of 4-6 rivers (depending on what you count as a river), so that might have made it easier to spot on a moonlit night.

  8. Nabakov

    Couldn't link to my old comment at Barista v1 so here it is cut, pasted and lightly reworked.

    A synposis of "Biggles in Australia".1955.

    "A picture of Erich von Stalhein in an Australian paper is the clue that starts this adventure. Von Stalhein was rescued with others after apparently being shipwrecked. Biggles flies to Australia to investigate exactly what von Stalhein was up to. Searching the islands and atolls of northwest Australia, Biggles and Ginger settle on a lagoon for the night. Here a giant squid attacks their seaplane and this is the picture that is on the dust cover of the book. Eventually, they find the island where the shipwreck happened. They also find a number of bodies, a Geiger counter and what appears to be part of a list of German agents in Australia. It appears that another boat was also shipwrecked and a fight ensued to get the one and only lifeboat.

    Biggles enlists the help of local police officer Sergeant William Gilson and they take him to the island to show him the bodies. However, von Stalhein has returned in a boat called the Matilda and cleaned away all evidence of any crimes. Enquiries about the Matilda lead to further clues. A man name Smith chartered a plane to rescue von Stalhein and his cronies after they were shipwrecked. Meanwhile, Algy and Bertie have arrived and an Aborigine tries to kill Biggles. It appears that various Iron Curtain agents are stirring up the local natives and encouraging them to murder white people. Travelling to Tarracooma with Bill Gilson there is a confrontation with the bad guys and some arrests are made.

    Meanwhile, von Stalhein is unexpectedly found at the airport. His pilot, a man called Cozens is befriended by Biggles and his comrades. He knows nothing of the villain's affairs, as he is just a pilot. However, by just talking to Biggles, Cozens' life is now in jeopardy and he is taken away on the Matilda. Biggles has to fly to Sydney and so it is down to Algy, Ginger and Bertie to rescue Cozens. This they do by flying after the boat. Cozens jumps into a crocodile infested river to escape and get to the Seaplane. Cozens takes Ginger and Bertie to the Smiths' operational base at a place called Daly Flats. Here they find that hostile Aborigines have already attacked and they have to fight them off. Smith is killed in the fighting but von Stalhein escapes to fight another day."

    Yes, it was pre "Biggles Buries The Hatchet".

    "Biggles in Oz" was republished in 1981 by Angus & Robertson, with illustrations by Patrick Cook, tongue wedged firmly in his stiff upper lip. I have a copy along with several of my original childhood Biggles books.

    It's interesting that in the very first Biggles stories, young James drinks half a bottle of whiskey a day, swears like a trooper and carries on with sexy spies. Johns cleaned up his act rather a lot after the books found a more youthful audience than was first intended.

    And is not "Biggles and the Plot that Failed" one of the most pissweak titles you've ever heard? Kinda reminds me of Maggie Thatcher's remark that she enjoyed rereading thrillers.

    Nice blog by the way Brett, and overflies a subject I'm also very interested in - the whole "wings over the world" techno-utopian vibe. I'll be back.

  9. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Woah, thanks for the review. Yet another Biggles book I must read some day.

    There are a few very lame Biggles titles -- though to be fair, Johns did have to come up with nearly a hundred of them. I like Biggles Makes Ends Meet and Biggles Takes a Holiday, which don't exactly promise thrilling adventures and ripping yarns.

    And yes, you can get your aerial techno-utopian fix here!

  10. from bohicket oaks

    Excellent reading! Thank you for leaving a review that caught my attention.
    In fact, I will be reading the book you had mentioned.

    I must agree with the above poster. Biggles Takes a Holiday was a very good novel. The content and story line was very well thought out.

  11. Replying rather late to your suggestions on the content of W E Johns' space series, I think you may have overlooked two things: the time these were written - early 1950s, when the world looked likely to blow itself into fragments - and the author's virulent anti-war stance. His thundering editorials in the late 1930s came from his understanding that war was coming and we needed to prepare for it, not because he wanted it, and he frequently put his anti-war beliefs into Biggles' mouth. In the space series, his hero refuses to let anyone, even his own government, into the secrets of his inventions, being convinced that they would be "instantly adapted for warfare". He also states that he wonders if it would not be better "if I were to destroy myself and my inventions" to avoid this happening. His heroes do indeed encounter Martians, and the professor invents a pesticide to help them in their fight against the mosquito like creatures that have devastated the planet. Johns likens space travellers to sailors: "travellers on dangerous voyages always have been not only friendly towards each other, but willing to accept perils on their behalf".

  12. Post author

    Thanks, Shirley. I haven't read Johns' space books and I confess my comments were entirely facetious! One day I'd like to read the editorials you mentioned, though.

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