THE BIGGLES BOOKS PUBLISHED BY

THE THAMES PUBLISHING COMPANY

 

There is an interesting history behind these publications.  W. E. Johns wrote the first five Biggles books for John Hamilton Ltd and he sold the entire rights (other than serialisation rights) for

£25.00 per book.  When he moved to Oxford Publishing in 1935 he was being paid £250.00 per book for the entire rights (other than serialisation rights).  It wasn’t until his move to Hodder &

Stoughton in 1942 that Johns started to receive royalties on his Biggles books.  John Hamilton Ltd went into liquidation: It is believed they were bombed out of business at the beginning of the

Second World War, around 1940/41.  The rights in Johns first five Biggles books, “The Camels are Coming”, “The Cruise of the Condor”, “Biggles of the Camel Squadron”, “Biggles Flies

Again” and “The Black Peril” all passed to a man named Mr. Daniels.  This letter dated 18th May 1949 explains what happened to those rights, it deals with a number of different issues and

was originally a six page letter, so I have cut out the irrelevant parts and edited it down to two pages:-

 

 

So now we know that ‘The Thames Publishing Company’ and ‘Juvenile Productions Ltd’ were both owned by Purnell the printers and they gave Johns an extra £75.00 per book purely as a

goodwill gesture.  It is interesting to note that Johns had been trying to buy back the rights of his first five Biggles books and it is rather astonishing to think that the First World War stories of

“The Camels are Coming” and “Biggles of the Camel Squadron” were considered “too dated”!  Those Royal Flying Corps stories are now considered to be amongst his best stories!

Although the letter refers to only publishing “The Cruise of the Condor” and “The Black Peril”, Thames Publishing also published “Biggles Flies Again”.  These three books were published in

a series referred to as “The Modern Library”

 

THE THREE “MODERN LIBRARY” BIGGLES BOOKS

 

 

 

 

 

These were large books – each measuring 6.5 inches (16.5 cms) by 9 inches (23 cms).  Each

one came with a dust jacket and if you click on the images above you can see those dust

jackets and the internal colour plates.  Each book had five colour plates inside, one used as a

frontispiece and then four spread throughout the book.  The covers and inner colour plates were painted

by the artist, J. E. McConnell.  ‘The Black Peril’ also had 34 black and white line drawings on 34 of the

pages.  ‘Biggles Flies Again’ had 40 of these black and white drawings on 40 of the pages.

Strangely, ‘The Cruise of the Condor’ had no black and white line drawings.  In order to

make it clear they were Biggles books “Cruise” and “Peril” had the words “A Biggles Story”

added to the cover.  As to when and in what order these books were published, it is not

entirely clear.  The fact that “The Cruise of the Condor” is different due to the lack of internal

illustrations makes me think that it was published first, particularly as Johns is only credited as W. E.

Johns and not Captain W. E. Johns.  Yet on both “Biggles Flies Again” and “The Black Peril” he is

credited as “Capt.”  The website “Biggles Online” says “Flies Again” was published in 1950, “Cruise” was

published in 1950/51 and “Peril” 1950/51 and it would seem logical that publication was in 1950

bearing in mind the letter above is dated May 1949.  Thames have the most annoying habit of

printing the publication date of the book on the rear side of the pastedown of the inner front cover.

This means you can’t see it!  It is possible in certain circumstances to see it.  If you soak the

book in water and peel it away (very difficult to do and it destroys the book) or if you spray

the inner cover of the book with Isopropyl Alcohol Isopropanol (99.9 % pure alcohol).  This

allows you to see the text that is there, but you need to photograph it and then reverse it and

change it to a negative format to try and read it.  The alcohol then evaporates leaving the book

  undamaged.  The smell of the alcohol soon fades.  However, even then it is very difficult, if not

impossible, to read the dates on these books.  On the later Thames books the dates can be clearer

but I have not been able to accurately ascertain the date of publication of all of my Thames books.  Price

wise “Peril” is not priced, even on the dust wrapper.  “Condor” is priced as 5 shillings on the dust wrapper

 and I have two copies of “Flies Again” both priced at 6 shillings on the dust wrapper, but they may be

later issues, so I can’t be certain that helps indicate which book was published first.  Particularly as

“Cruise” didn’t have the black and white illustrations, which would have made it cheaper to produce.

Often you can be guided by dated inscriptions.  One of my “Flies Again” copies was a gift for Christmas

1952, but of course that doesn’t mean it was published then, merely no later than that date.

 

The spines of the three Modern Library Books

 

 

The THAMES PUBLISHING CO.  LONDON, then re-published these same three books at a more usual book size, this being 5.5 inches (14 cms) by 8.25 inches (21 cms) in a series of books

called the REGENT CLASSICS.  “The Cruise of the Condor”, now retitled “Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor” was published in November 1952.  “Biggles Flies Again” was published in

August 1953 and “The Black Peril” was also published in August 1953.  This series also included BIGGLES OF THE SPECIAL AIR POLICE (which was published in September 1953).

 

THE FOUR “REGENT CLASSICS” BIGGLES BOOKS

 

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “Ah, it’s you, is it?”

It will be familiar as it was used in the Modern Library version at page 33 when it was

captioned “What do you mean, landing at this hour?” he stormed.

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “In silence the pilot watched the

stricken man”.  It will be familiar as it was used in the Modern Library version with the

identical caption.

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “The crumpled figure in the

cockpit came to life” this is a new illustration and NOT a scene you will find anywhere in

“The Black Peril”.  The clue is the black gauntlet painted on the crashed aircraft.  This in fact

depicts a scene from the story “The Black Gauntlet” in Biggles of the Special Air Police! 

You will find the line on page 26 of that particular book.  It would appear that on publication

the frontispiece illustrations for “The Black Peril” and “Biggles of the Special Air Police”

were mixed up!

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “Algy shot straight underneath

the hostile machine” this is NOT a scene you will find in “Biggles of the Special Air

Police”.  The picture depicts a scene from the book “The Black Peril” as we know, because

this picture is re-used from the Modern Library version of “The Black Peril”.  The line in the

book is actually “The amphibian shot straight underneath its escort” and it can be found in the

Modern Library version on page 97 opposite the original picture and split over pages 169 and

170 on the Regent Classic version.  Interestingly, in the original John Hamilton first edition of

the book, the line was “The Vandal shot straight underneath its escort” (page 152).  It would

appear that on publication the frontispiece illustrations for ““Biggles of the Special Air Police”

and “The Black Peril” were mixed up!

 

 

There are many varied editions of these books, particularly this version of “Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor” – I even have a laminated version of that book with this cover.  These books

were generally published with red boards or blue boards, both with and without the colour frontispiece, and with a paper dust jacket without any price on.  The text on these boards was then

either in gold or in black – and even the red board version with gold text of “Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor” had the title differently on the front in different versions:-

 

 

BIGGLES OF THE SPECIAL AIR POLICE” was an original new first edition Biggles book and it contained SIX new Biggles Air Police stories that I believe were written by W. E. Johns

especially for this publication.  I am confident that none were ever published elsewhere.  None have ever turned up in any annual that I know of.  The rest of the book then had SEVEN of

John’s Royal Flying Corp stories.  (The ones previously thought to be “too dated” to publish).  The first six were the first six stories from “THE CAMELS ARE COMING” (the very first

Biggles book) and the seventh story was an RFC story called “The Ace of Spades”.  This story was first published in the John Hamilton book “THE COCKPIT” in August 1934 and then re-

published in a collection of Johns’ stories called “THE RAID” in April 1935, also published by John Hamilton.  It would appear that Thames Publishing had the rights to this story as well.

 

The THAMES PUBLISHING CO.  LONDON, then re-published these same four books (again at 5.5 inches (14 cms) by 8.25 (21 cms) inches) in another series of books, this time called the

KINGSTON LIBRARY.  This series also included THREE new books called BIGGLES PIONEER AIR FIGHTER, BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON and BIGGLES OF 266. 

Whereas the Regent Classics books were unpriced, with the Kingston Library, each book was priced on the dust jacket at 3/6  (Three shillings and six pence or 17.5 pence in modern money).

 

THE SEVEN “KINGSTON LIBRARY” BIGGLES BOOKS

 

 

The frontispiece is the same as the Regent Classics one.  Click on the book cover to see the

frontispiece – Captioned “Ah, it’s you, is it?”  It was used in the Modern Library version at

page 33 when it was captioned “What do you mean, landing at this hour?” he stormed.

The frontispiece is the same as the Regent Classics one.  Click on the book cover to see the

frontispiece – Captioned “In silence the pilot watched the stricken man”.

It was used in the Modern Library version with the identical caption.

The frontispiece is the same as the Regent Classics one.  They didn’t correct the mistake!

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “The crumpled figure in the

cockpit came to life” this is a new illustration and NOT a scene you will find anywhere in

“The Black Peril”.  The clue is the black gauntlet painted on the crashed aircraft.  This in fact

depicts a scene from the story “The Black Gauntlet” in Biggles of the Special Air Police! 

You will find the line on page 26 of that particular book.  It would appear that on publication

the frontispiece illustrations for “The Black Peril” and “Biggles of the Special Air Police”

were mixed up!

The frontispiece is the same as the Regent Classics one.  They didn’t correct the mistake!

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “Algy shot straight underneath

the hostile machine” this is NOT a scene you will find in “Biggles of the Special Air

Police”.  The picture depicts a scene from the book “The Black Peril” as we know, because

this picture is re-used from the Modern Library version of “The Black Peril”.  The line in the

book is actually “The amphibian shot straight underneath its escort” and it can be found in the

Modern Library version on page 97 opposite the original picture and split over pages 169 and

170 on the Regent Classic version.  Interestingly, in the original John Hamilton first edition of

the book, the line was “The Vandal shot straight underneath its escort” (page 152).  It would

appear that on publication the frontispiece illustrations for ““Biggles of the Special Air Police”

and “The Black Peril” were mixed up!

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “Quick now,” said the peasant;

“Run for it”.  This was a new illustration and it depicts a scene from the story “FOG!”.  The

actual line in the book is “Quick now,” said the voice again; “run for it.  There’s an archie

battery fifty yards down there – you were walking straight into it; I saw you land, and I’ve

been chasing you ever since” and it is on page 177 of the book.

The cover of this book features an illustration from a story not actually in it! (see below*)

Click on the book cover to see the frontispiece – Captioned “There was a rush towards the

blazing hangars”.  This was a new illustration and it depicts a scene from the story “THE

PROFESSOR COMES BACK”.  The actual line in the book is “There was a general rush

towards the blazing hangars” and it is on page 129 of the book.  It so happens that I own this

original frontispiece illustration painted by J. E. McConnell so I can inform you that it was

painted at the size of 6 inches (15 cms) by 10 inches (25 cms) with a pencil note on it saying

reduce to 4”.  It is reproduced in the book at a size of 4 inches (10 cm) by 7 inches (180 cm).

You can see this original painting below:-

 

For some unknown reason, no frontispiece was ever done for this book!

I would presume it was to save money and keep costs down, thereby maximising the profit

from the book, particularly as this was the last of the Kingston Biggles books to be published.

The Kingston Library version of The Black Peril was published in August 1953

The Kingston Library versions of The Cruise of the Condor, Biggles Flies Again, Biggles of

the Special Air Police and Biggles Pioneer Air Fighter were all published in November 1954

The month of publication of Biggles of the Camel Squadron is not known, but it is believed it

was published in 1954.  Biggles of 266 was published a year later in November 1955.

 

 

The letter below, written by W. E. Johns on 21st November 1954 is interesting as in it, Johns confirms that he has written new forwards “at my own request” to THE CAMELS ARE COMING

(Renamed “BIGGLES PIONEER AIR FIGHTER”) and “BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON”.  For “PIONEER AIR FIGHTER”, Johns wrote a seven page forward entitled

“About Pioneer Air Combat” and then a two page note about “How Biggles was Born” (not to be confused with the Radio Times article with the same title from the edition dated 26th August

1949.  See that Article here.  Johns was paid 12 guineas for this – See letter here).  The forward in “CAMEL SQUADRON” is different from that in “PIONEER AIR FIGHTER” and only runs

to three pages and it is then followed by the same two page note about “How Biggles was Born”.  Johns had first written an introduction for Thames Publishing for the Regent Classics version

of BIGGLES OF THE SPECIAL AIR POLICE where, after the six Air Police stories, he wrote a three page introduction to the first six stories from THE CAMELS ARE COMING entitled

“Biggles, Then and Now”.

 

 

Here is another letter by W. E. Johns, dated 11th July 1965 referring to the sale of the rights of the original Biggles books.  As this letter is less legible, I have typed up the contents to assist.

 

                                                                                                          July 11th 1965

Dear Mr. Howarth,

It is nice to hear from old Biggles admirers.  Aviation has changed more than somewhat since the days of Popular Flying.

As for the first Biggles books I wouldn’t hold out much hope.  “The Camels are Coming”, No. 1.  is now a collectors piece.  I have only my file copy – and have refused substantial offers for it from people who are trying to get the complete saga, now 80 books.  Unfortunately I sold the book outright and so lost control.  It has been reissued many times by publishers, for the chain stores, but never under the original title.  I have a copy called “Biggles, Pioneer Air Fighter”, published a long time ago by the Thames Publishing Co., London.  No other address, as 3/6 it was sold through either Woolworths or Marks and Spencer.

Keep an eye on second hand shops.  You may strike lucky.

Best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

W. E. Johns

This letter is dated 11th July 1965 and Johns refers to 80 Biggles books.  In actual fact the 87th Biggles book, ‘Biggles and the Blue Moon’ was published in May 1965 with ‘Biggles Scores a Bull’ about to be published in August 1965.  I say Blue Moon is the 87th Biggles book, because I count the four Gimlet books that Biggles appears in as Biggles books – (how can you not?) but obviously Johns would not do that.  So, in fact, as far as Johns was concerned, he had written 83 Biggles books.  Was he just rounding down, or did he not know precisely the exact number of Biggles books he had written?  I wonder if he looked at the number on the spine of ‘Biggles of the Blue Moon’ and saw “75” then added to that figure the 5 John Hamilton books that he had lost control of, thereby getting the figure of 80?  If that was the case then did he notice that they had made a mistake with the spine numbering of ‘Biggles and the Blue Moon’ because the previous book had number 72 on the spine and then the number jumped to 75.  The book with spine number 73 (Biggles Scores a Bull) was published in August 1965 and the book with spine number 74 (Biggles in the Terai) was published in February 1966.  If Johns looked at the spine numbers and realised that the book with the spine number 75 was really book 73, then did he add 7 to the numbers to get 80?  Those seven being the 5 John Hamilton books, plus two of the “unnumbered” Biggles books – Biggles in France, (Biggles Learns to Fly had, of course, been republished with a book spine number of 2), Comrades in Arms, Biggles Air Detective, Biggles of the Special Air Police and Biggles Flies to Work.  YOU CAN READ THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO

THE NUMBERING OF THE BIGGLES BOOKS HERE

 

The content differences between the original book ‘THE CAMELS ARE COMING’ and the original book ‘BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON’ and these reprints need to be noted.

 

THE CAMELS ARE COMING (1932) originally featured 17 different Biggles stories.  (The very first Biggles stories)

The first six of these stories were republished when they appeared in BIGGLES OF THE SPECIAL AIR POLICE (September 1953)

The remaining eleven stories from ‘The Camels are Coming’ appeared in BIGGLES PIONEER AIR FIGHTER (November 1954) but that meant there were not enough stories to fill the book.

They therefore took two stories from BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON (1934).  Those two stories were “The Thought-Reader” and “Biggles Finds His Feet” and they were inserted

between ‘The Battle of Flowers’ (story 12 in ‘The Camels are Coming’) and ‘The Bomber’ (story 13 in ‘The Camels are Coming’) to increase PIONEER AIR FIGHTER up to 13 stories.

This meant that when the Kingston Library version of BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON was published (and the exact date is unknown but it is believed to be in 1954), the thirteen

stories of the original 1934 book had to be reduced to eleven stories as two of the stories had already appeared in PIONEER AIR FIGHTER.

 

 

There was an unforeseen consequence to removing the stories from

BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON.  Unfortunately, the cover artist,

J. E. McConnell had chosen to illustrate this scene ……….

 

“Bonjour, m’sieur! Echoed Biggles, still advancing.  He was still about twenty yards away when he saw the peasant’s hand move quickly to his pocket, and then up.  Before he even suspected the other’s purpose, a deafening roar filled Biggles’ ears, and the world seemed to blow up in a sheet of crimson and orange flame that slowly turned to purple and then to black.  As he pitched forward limply on his face, Biggles knew that the spy had shot him!”

 

Which was from the story “The Thought-Reader” – originally in the first edition copy of BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON (1934) at pages 148/149.

 

This was a story that was moved to BIGGLES PIONEER AIR FIGHTER, so you will now find that quote on page 112 of that book.  That therefore meant that the picture on the cover of BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON illustrated no scene in the book.

 

 

 

 

BIGGLES OF 266 (August 1956) reprinted stories from BIGGLES IN FRANCE (1935) in an amended format.  Click on the book titles for more information.

 

The seven Kingston Library Biggles books went on to become seven of the ten ubiquitous DEAN & SON books, reprinted numerous times.

The truth is that Johns decision to sell those original early Biggles books at £25.00 each lost him a fortune in future royalties.

Chances are, if you find a second hand Biggles book – it is one of these stories, as the numbers sold were so numerous.

 

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