by Roger Harris


My original John Hamiltor dust jacket for’The Black Peril’


'The Black Peril' was the fifth and final Biggles book published by John Hamilton before W. E. Johns changed published to Oxford University Press.  The story itself had first been published in 'Modern Boy' Magazine in 10 parts under the title “Winged Menace” from issue 366 (dated 9th February 1935) to issue 375 (dated 13th April 1935).  The first instalment featured a picture on the cover of the magazine.


The book itself was published by John Hamilton Ltd, in early March 1935, with the British Library receiving their copy on 12th March 1935 (so it must have been published earlier than this date).  I have always wondered which was published first, ‘The Black Peril’, or ‘Biggles Learns to Fly’ published by the Boys’ Friend Library and dated 7th March 1935.  I chose to list ‘The Black Peril’ as first as that keeps the five Hamilton books as the first five Biggles books, although, of course, the stories from Biggles Learns to Fly’ were published in ‘Modern Boy’ from issue 323 dated 14th April 1934, so they would obviously have been written earlier.


The Black Peril was published in at least four editions by John Hamilton.  The first edition was in March 1935, with the next two editions following later in 1935.  I own a first edition and I also own the fourth edition of ‘The Black Peril’ as it has a 35 page catalogue in the back dated Autumn 1936.


The price of all four of the John Hamilton editions was 3 shillings and 6 pence and all editions of the book were published as part of the John Hamilton "Ace" series.  Just a brief note about "old money".  Prior to decimalisation there were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound - so there were 240 pence in a pound.  3 shillings and 6 pence was therefore 42 pence (pence was referred to by the letter "d" in old money).  On decimalisation, a shilling became 5 new pence so in "new money" the book would have cost 17.5 pence.


The pages of my first edition are tinted black along the top.  I am lucky enough to own a signed one.  It took me over twelve years of collecting the works of W. E. Johns to find it.  I bought it from a book dealer in England and I received it on 31st July 2012.  I know the precise date as it was such a memorable occasion for me.  I have displayed photographs of my original first edition to show the dimensions of the book and also to show what the first few pages look like to assist people in identifying first editions of the book.


Above you can see three pictures showing the size of the first edition book cover.  The book is 190 millimetres long and is 35 millimetres wide (my fourth edition copy is also 35 millimetres wide).  The depth is just under 125 millimetres from the back of the spine to the tip of the cover.


You can also see pictures showing the covers of the book and the first few pages of the book showing the other titles in the “ACE” series listed.  You will note that this copy is signed by W. E. Johns himself.  This is a 1930’s signature with a looped top to the “J” of Johns.   The half page title is toned through acid migration, though the imprint of the signature remains ghosted onto the page giving an indication of the age of the signature.


This signed first edition of ‘The Black Peril’ is possibly a unique survivor.  I would love to hear from any collector out there who has another.  My book also has an original John Hamilton dust wrapper which is virtually complete, with just two minor chips.  The dust jacket lists 15 titles on the back which match the 17 titles in the ‘Ace’’ series listed in the first edition of the book, with the exception of ‘War in the Air’ and ‘The Black Peril itself.


As with all of the John Hamilton books, there is no publication date.




Although generally speaking, it is hard to determine the different John Hamilton editions of "The Black Peril", as the books were undated, the first edition itself can be determined from the catalogue in the back of the book.  The first and second issues of the ‘The Black Peril’ contained the Autumn 1934 and Spring 1935 catalogues respectively, but these catalogues were undated.  Both catalogues had 32 pages.  It was the Autumn 1934 catalogue that was put into the FIRST EDITION and the first title advertised in that catalogue is “Days on the Wing” by Captain the Chevalier Willy Coppens de Hout-Hulst.  The Spring 1935 catalogue was put into the second edition and the first title in that catalogue is “Max Immelmann - Eagle of Lille” by Franz Immelmann.  The book itself has blue boards and the titles are only on the spine in gold gilt (although on my copy this has obviously faded over the years)


Here is a picture of the first page of the catalogue in the back of the original first edition.




The picture below is of the catalogue in the back of the SECOND edition, by way of comparison.



The picture below is of the catalogue in the back of the FOURTH edition, by way of comparison – note the “Autumn 1936” date towards the top




And finally, here is a real treat for Biggles fans!   Did you know that the ending of the original book “The Black Peril” differs from that published in “The Winged Menace” - the Modern Boy version?  Well it does!  Ginger talks about how running away from home was the best thing he ever did.  This was cut from the book.  I suspect it may have been seen as encouraging youngsters to run away from home, hence the deletion.  You can read the original ending from the last page of the story in ‘Modern Boy’ in the picture below.  You will note that quite a lot of text was cut out.  You can see in the picture of the book above, on page 222, it starts with “Never mind that; as long as I can fly that’s all I care”.  Well as a reference point to how much text was cut out you will find that line in the penultimate paragraph of the first column below.  In other words, virtually all of the second column below was cut out, bar the last seven lines!