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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

Chocks away..!

Huge excitement in the literary world today.

Nope, it has nothing to do with the upcoming address being given by Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at a Burns Supper this evening. Though, that does promise to be interesting in the light of the former National Poet for Scotland, Liz Lochhead, having, a couple of weeks ago, accused Burns of having been a “Weinsteinian” and “a sex pest”.

Good grief! They sure as heck didn't teach us that in our English (or Scottish) Lit classes.

No, I'm referring to the 'Book and Ephemera' (love that word) sale to be hosted over the next couple of days by Keys Fine Art Auctioneers, in Norwich.


Because among the lots going under the hammer is an original 1932 edition of The Camels are Coming, the first ever Biggles book, written by former infantryman and First World War pilot, Capt. WE Johns.

Ah, Biggles, aka Major James Bigglesworth, a name sure to bring back fond memories for those of us weaned on Just William, Jennings, Billy Bunter, the Eagle, Hotspur, Lion and the War Picture Library (Achtung! Donner und Blitzen; Banzai!; take that, Jerry etc, etc).

By the time their creator had taken off on his last sortie back in 1968, the Biggles books ran to nearly a hundred volumes. Those of us who were fans devoured every single one. It's why pocket money was invented. Well, that, along with Penny Chews, Gobstoppers, Sherbert Fountains, Anglo Bubble Gum and Mackintosh's Mint Cracknell; for which my dentist still thanks me.

I still have my Biggles books stowed away in my loft. All originals, though, admittedly, no longer in pristine condition, as you can tell from the attached illustrations. They'd be lucky to fetch a couple of bob on the open market. And that's in old money. But I wouldn't part with them, not for all the tea in Liptons.

My favourite had to be Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor, but they were all brilliant reads. In today's increasing PC world, some souls have drawn attention to passages that are perceived to be racist in tone, but way back then, they were of their time, and we had no idea. We just looked upon them as ripping yarns, up there with The Hardy Boys, King Solomon's Mines, Treasure Island and Classics Illustrated. Remember them?

Sadly, the books never translated well onto the screen. There was a TV series in the 1960s, courtesy of Granada. Gotta say, I don't remember it, too well. Biggles was played by Neville Whiting. Yeah, right..who? More curious was the fact that Biggles' chief pal, Ginger, was played by John Leyton, better known as a pop star (as in his hit single Johnny Remember Me). John's still with us, God love 'im, and film-goers might recall him better as one of the successful escapers in The Great Escape. He was also in Guns at Batasi and also played a POW in the Frank Sinatra movie Von Ryan's Express.

After the TV show there was the 1986 big screen disappointment, Biggles, starring Neil Dickson. It was given another shot 24 months later when it was re-released as Biggles: Adventures in Time. Sad to say, it was no better the second time around.

But back to the auction. At the time of writing, The book's expected to go for between £500 to £600.

It'll be interesting to see how it does. I'll update as soon as I know.

Update - 28th January: the book sold for £1,800..!

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