BIGGLES DOES SOME HOMEWORK
Book First Published by NORMAN WRIGHT as a limited edition in PAPERBACK of only 300 numbered copies in February 1998 - 170 pages
Book was then Re-Published by NORMAN WRIGHT as a limited edition in HARDBACK of only 300 numbered copies in June 2007 - 140 pages
(For both the paperback and the hardback there appear to be around 25 additional complimentary and review copies, which are unnumbered and just marked “comp”)
This Biggles book was never serialised elsewhere.
The cover of the original paperback first edition
Captain W. E. Johns died whilst writing Chapter 12 of this book and his estate did not initially want the unfinished book published. It wasn’t until some thirty years after his death that they were finally persuaded to do so.
As the book is hard to find, I have done the story summary on a chapter by chapter basis, so that all Biggles fans can get a good idea of what this last story was all about and enjoy it.
The Chapters can be summarised as follows:-
CHAPTER ONE - A HEART TO HEART
Biggles is called in to see Air Commodore Raymond who reminds him that they are both getting old and the day is not far distant when both he and Biggles will be due to retire. Due to its success, Raymond wants to expand the Special Air Section of the Police and buy new planes. The time has also come for them to have their own Aerodrome to use. Who will replace Biggles when he retires? Raymond has been looking for possible new recruits to the Air Police and wants Biggles to try out some new people to see what he thinks. To this end, Raymond has made arrangements for a suitable RAF Officer, nearing the end of his commission, to attend for interview. At the end of the day, the recruitment decision will, of course, be for Biggles.
CHAPTER TWO - ALEXANDER GORDON MacKAY
Biggles, Algy, Bertie and Ginger meet Alexander Gordon MacKay, the son of V.C. holder, General Alexander MacKay. MacKay (junior) is dark skinned and he explains that he has Native American or "Red Indian" blood in him. The team get to know and like MacKay and find out that his nickname is "Minnie" - short for Minnehaha (from Longfellow's poem 'The Song of Hiawatha'), because of his native American ancestry. Minnie joins the team for a probationary period.
CHAPTER THREE - A STRANGE TALE OF A BAG
Air Commodore Raymond asks Biggles to investigate the mystery of an army kit bag that has been found in the middle of remote countryside. The kit bag was packed with registered post office mail stolen from a Post Office van where the driver had been coshed and was now seriously ill in hospital. Biggles takes Algy, Bertie, Ginger and Minnie down to investigate the location where the bag was found.
CHAPTER FOUR - RURAL REFLECTIONS
Biggles and the team meet with local Police Constable Murphy who shows them where the bag was found and then leaves. The bag was found in a small clump of trees known as a spinney. Minnie is the first to raise the possibility that the bag has fallen or been dropped out of an aeroplane. Climbing the tree under which it was found, Minnie finds evidence that this was the case. From the tree, Minnie sees a stranger coming and he arrives soon after a man in a RAF tie.
The man in the RAF tie is looking for the army kit bag. Biggles says that it has been found but it is empty. The man leaves and Minnie is sent to follow him. The man returns to his car by the road where two men are nearby waiting in a London taxi. One of these waiting men shoots the man in the RAF tie. Minnie runs back to report to Biggles. Biggles suspects that the new men on the scene will be with them very shortly and sets Ginger and Minnie to watch for their approach.
Minnie returns to the spinney to say the men are on their way and Ginger has gone off to get the number of their car. Two nasty villains arrive and there is a confrontation between them and Biggles' party. They want the kit bag and the contents, the registered mail. The confrontation looks like ending in violence when one of the villains pulls a gun on Biggles, but this confrontation is ended by the return of the Police Constable. The two villains leave. After some time, Ginger returns to say that (with the help of a passing motorcyclist), he followed the two villains to Lotton Hall, a nearby large house set in huge grounds.
Biggles asks the Police Constable who lives at Lotton Hall. He is told it is a Mr. Nestor Zolton, from Cyprus, who is believed to have made a fortune from shady gambling joints in London. He walks with a stick and for this reason tends to travel in a large London taxi. Everybody returns to London and Biggles goes to brief the Air Commodore as to the result of his enquiries so far and finds that he is now dealing with a murder. The injured Post Office driver has now died. Biggles makes his plans and returns to his office to brief everybody on the next line of enquiry.
Bertie is sent to keep watch on the spinney of trees where the bag was originally found. On the way, he drops Ginger and Minnie off at Lotton Hall to keep watch there. Biggles' theory is that the army kit bag was dropped due to a problem with the aircraft so Algy is sent to make enquiries with all aerodromes within a 50-mile radius of Lotton Hall as to any planes making any emergency landings. Bertie climbs a tree in the spinney to keep watch and soon sees four men approaching. These are the two villains, plus the man with the RAF tie, now bandaged, and a fourth man who Bertie thinks must be Zoltan. They are obviously trying to force the bandaged man to tell them where the contents of the kit bag are. Unfortunately, the tree Bertie is in breaks (and this is the picture on the cover of the book - together with pictures of (presumably) Biggles and Air Commodore Raymond). The bandaged man in the RAF tie takes the opportunity to run for it, leaving Bertie to face the wrath of the three remaining men.
Meanwhile, Ginger and Minnie see a car leave Lotton Hall. They don't know who is in it but later meet with Police Constable Murphy who is able to tell them it was Doctor Grey who was in the car. Apparently, the Doctor had been called out to see a man with a minor gunshot wound. Seeing four men walking in the direction of the spinney where Bertie is keeping watch, Ginger follows them, whilst Minnie goes to investigate the now supposedly deserted Lotton Hall.
Ginger hears Bertie fall out of the tree and soon meets the fleeing bandaged man. Stopping him, Ginger finds out his name is Varley. Varley agrees to tell Ginger all he knows about what is going on, in return for safe passage away from the area. Ginger is told that there are two rival drug gangs and they are at war with each other. Zoltan, who is a Greek Cypriot, leads one gang and a man named Alfondari, who is a Turkish Cypriot, leads the other. Both gangs deal heroin. The registered mail was stolen because it contains a package of heroin. Zolton usually picks it up at a Hotel but now needs to intercept it because he has been tipped off that the rival gang now know about this. Ginger takes Varley back to the main road where they meet up with Biggles who had said he would come down to join them. Biggles is told of the new information and decides to take Varley with him back to London. This is Biggles' last appearance in the story and his final line is "I'll drop you off as near as I can get to the spinney". This is said to Ginger who is sent to make sure Bertie is alright and to tell the gang what has happened to the missing mail.
Bertie is being offered £100 by Zoltan to tell the gang where the contents of the army kit bag are. He declines to do so. Ginger arrives and, following his orders is quite happy to tell the gang what has happened to the contents of the army kit bag. The registered mail has been returned to the Post Office, who have gone on to deliver it in the normal course of post. The gang leave Ginger and Bertie, presumably to return to Lotton Hall.
Ginger and Bertie go to look for Minnie who was supposed to be at Lotton Hall. Finding no sign of him, they venture closer and hear the dogs at the Hall making a commotion. They find that half a dozen Alsatian dogs are holding Minnie at bay. He has climbed up into a hayloft to get away from the dogs. One of the villains appears on the scene with a rifle. Ginger asks Bertie to go and contact Biggles to say they need help whilst Ginger stays to try and delay things. "With considerable reluctance Bertie backed away from ......"
It was on the 21st June 1968 at 8.30 a.m. that William Earl Johns (born 5th February 1893) stopped mid-sentence in order to make himself and his wife a cup of tea. He went upstairs to her and sat in his armchair and suffered a fatal heart attack and died immediately. He was 75 years old. So ended the saga of Biggles, first published in 1932 and last published in 1997. It is appropriate that Johns' final Biggles story should be published some 65 years after his first. Sixty-five is, of course, the normal retirement age for men and this was a story in which Biggles was facing retirement from the Special Air Police and recruiting fresh new blood to take his place.
With the exception of the frontispiece, there are no story illustrations in this book.
Biggles Does Some Homework
Subtitle - The Final, Unfinished Novel
Publication Details - published privately by Norman Wright in a limited edition of only 300 books.
Click on the above to see it in more detail
The original cover artwork – which used to be in my own personal collection