BIGGLES FLIES AGAIN
(1893 – 1968)
W.E. Johns was an English pilot and writer of adventure stories, usually written under the pen name Captain W. E. Johns. He is best remembered as the creator of the ace pilot and adventurer Biggles.
During the First World War he spent part of his active service in the army before being commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. In August 1918 he became a bomber pilot in the newly formed RAF. The following month he was shot down. Narrowly escaping death, he was held as a prisoner of war until the conflict ended.
W. E. Johns was a prolific author and editor. In his 46-year writing career (1922–68) he penned 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 in a story called The White Fokker.
The first Biggles book, The Camels are Coming, was published in August 1932 and Johns would continue to write Biggles stories until his death in 1968. W.E. Johns died while writing his last Biggles story, Biggles does some Homework, which shows Biggles at last preparing to retire.
The RAF has in its possession a short article by W.E. Johns entitled “My Week” which sets out Johns’ writing routine while he was living in Scotland in the 1950’s and 1960’s.Basically he would get up about 4.00 a.m., put on his dressing gown and go to his study and write out one or two chapters that he had thought out the previous day. Johns wrote in blue fountain pen on lined paper. At 8.30 a.m. he would take a cup of tea to his wife, Doris. He would spend his mornings fishing and thinking out story lines and dialogue. They would then lunch together at the riverbank and he would finally pack up about 6.00 p.m. After dinner, he would jot down ideas thought out that day. He would then go to bed any time between 10.30 p.m. and 1.00 a.m. and the routine would continue. This was usually from February to June. On 1st July a typist would arrive to type the hand-written manuscripts. In August Johns would shoot from 12th August (the “glorious 12th”) until the first week in November. In November, they usually went to London on business and then go off round Europe on tour, returning in February to Scotland for more fishing and writing.
My grateful thanks go to Roger Harris for his assistance in writing this post. He runs a number of excellent websites dedicated to various aspects of W.E. Johns’ work. These are listed below.