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Hauksbee

Biggles Flies Again...!

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If you hang around in WWI circles long enough, sooner or later the name "Biggles" will come up.  "Biggles" (Bigglesworth) was the creation of Capt.W.E.Johns (himself a WWI pilot). Starting around 1932, Johns embarked on a project that would last his lifetime: taking the story of his hero through WWI, the inter-war years, and through WWII. These books were, admittedly, adolescent reading, but a good cut above the rest of the field. The standard narrative usually went something like (1) two young stalwarts, Frank and Jack (2) inadvertently find themselves posted to a place which is about to erupt into a slaughter of historical proportions, e.g., The Somme,The Battle of Jutland, or Bloody April. (3) They soldier on manfully, rarely garnering so much as a scratch, (4) defeating scads of Huns, (5) all the while spouting patriotic nonsense.

 

Biggles is more of a well-rounded character; one who is heroic only reluctantly and respects the German pilots. Biggles often experiences real fear. This is undoubtedly because W.E.Johns wrote from his own experiences. Over his lifetime, Johns wrote 102 Biggles novels.(made it through WWII) He died in 1968.

 

Amazon.com has a goodly sampling of the Biggles books. I just finished reading the first, "Biggles Learns To Fly".

 

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Nice! I remember the Biggles movie from 1986 and I knew he was a character from books before. But I didnt know he has so much adventures. I will give it a read.

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I would highly recommend 'Biggles of 266' which is a collection of excellent short stories. Some are humourous like 'The Battle of the Flowers', some deadly serious like 'War in Hot Blood', and some are in between, like 'the Camera' - one of my favourites, where our hero is tasked with somehow bringing down an exceptionally high-flying Rumpler without destroying its special camera.

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- one of my favourites, where our hero is tasked with somehow bringing down an exceptionally high-flying Rumpler without destroying its special camera.

I checked the availables on Amazon.com, and "Biggles of 266" was listed. I bought a copy, hardbound & used for $7.40 (+ shipping). I really want to find out how he brings down that Rumpler.

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 I really want to find out how he brings down that Rumpler.

Well, "Biggles of 266" finally arrived.  It's a collection of short stories; some of the earliest Biggles tales dating from 1932. I searched out "The Camera". It proved to be a disappointment. The story revolves around a one-of-a-kind German-made camera with an extraordinary lens which took five years to grind. It allows clear photos to be taken from extreme altitudes. It fell into British hands when the plane carrying it was forced down on the Allied side of the lines.  Then the British used it to great effect until they too were forced down on the German side.  Now Biggles is tasked with bringing down the Rumpler carrying it without destroying it.  In the event of his success, the Rumpler crew have orders to drop the camera over the side.

 

On his first attempt, Biggles finds that no matter how hard he tries, the Rumpler is about 3000 above him. He returns to base and has a talk with his crew chief. They pull the gas tank and replace it with a much smaller one, thereby saving fuel weight. He halves the length of his MG belts. They remove all the instruments. From their store of replacement parts, they cannibalize a few feet of wing and jury-rig extensions.  The next day, as soon as word arrives that the Rumpler has been seen crossing the lines, Biggles takes off in hot pursuit.  It's a long hard slog, but he manages to arrive at the same altitude.  He decides that the best attack is a head-on and he shatters the propeller, but seriously wounds the pilot.  The Rumpler goes down. Biggles sees the observer trying to wrestle the camera loose to jettison it. A few extra MG bursts put a stop to that.  The Rumpler makes a hard landing in a field. Biggles tries a desperate side-slip to get down before the Germans can destroy the camera., but the wing extensions force him to land long and the Camel crunches into the Rumpler's top wing. Biggles gets out safe, extricates the German pilot, friendly troops arrive, congratulations all 'round and the camera is pulled from the wreckage...with a single bullet hole entering at back and exiting front, shattering the precious lens.

 

Very disappointing.

Edited by Hauksbee

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Each to his own! 'The Camera' remains one of my firm favourites. So many little word pictures are painted in such a short story, which convey the experience of the WW1 pilot as only someone who's been there can really do. And the twist at the end is a fine piece of writing! When someone at work tells me something is impossible, I tell them what Biggles told his crew cheif, when the latter said Biggles's request to add several thousand feet to the ceiling of his Camel was impossible.

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Each to his own! 'The Camera' remains one of my firm favorites.

Perhaps I'm just hard to please.  I was looking forward to an 'outside-the-box' solution. Some real cleverness. And it came so close: a head-on attack concentrating on chewing up the propeller was a pretty good solution. Only to lose the camera from a bullet that had to travel through the engine, travel through the pilot and into the observer's compartment and precisely strike the lens. Yawn.

 

I also am skeptical of W.E.John's statement that the lens took five years to grind. Once upon a day, I and some friends got enthused about about hand-grinding a telescope lens. It was a lengthy process, and we never did get on with it, but five years seems a bit long.

Edited by Hauksbee

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Gosh, you're a hard one, with that 'willing suspension of disbelief' thing! Maybe it's partly down to national rather than individual, preferences - I'm not sure the sometimes childlike, sometimes understated humour of (say) 'Dad's Army' appeals to many on your side of the pond, although 'Don't tell him, Pike!' is part of our shared national identity, over here,

 

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 'Dad's Army' appeals to many on your side of the pond, although 'Don't tell him, Pike!' is part of our shared national identity, over here,

Watched the "Dad's Army" clip. Then, finding myself on YouTube, I searched out a few more episodes. Great stuff!  Second only to "Blackadder Goes Forth". (Pretty hard to top Rowan Atkinson's dry sarcasm. Never could stand "Mr. Bean, tho')

Edited by Hauksbee

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If you liked Dad's Army, you might also appreciate another character from the pen of the same writers, Croft and Perry, namely the Welsh equivalent of Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann...

 

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Looks like another winner. I'll dig into it latter today, but I've got a list already started of friends who will have to be notified. Thanks.

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Biggles books have also been translated into several other languages. I remember reading a few of the books in my youth. I was going through a period of adventure literature, which included works from E. R. Burroughs, Karl May, W. E. Johns and C. S. Forester.

 

Good times!

Edited by Hasse Wind

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I recently found a copy of The Rescue Flight at a second-hand bookshop.   I bought it but found I couldn't finish it.   Maybe I've grown up a bit in the last fifty years :biggrin:

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I recently found a copy of The Rescue Flight at a second-hand bookshop.   I bought it but found I couldn't finish it.   Maybe I've grown up a bit in the last fifty years :biggrin:

Sad, but I know what you mean. A year or so ago I tried to re-read "The Lord of the Rings" and somehow, the air had gone out of the tires. All things must pass.

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