Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Who wrote 'The Adventures of Biggles'?
If your first answer to the above question was "Capt. W.E. Johns", then you're wrong - sort of. While Capt. W.E. Johns did, indeed, pen nearly 100 novels and short-story collections starring this quintisentially British aviatior hero, keen-eyed Biggles fans will note that no book appearing under Johns' name ever bore that title.
The Adventures of Biggles was, in fact, the name of the comic book published and created in Australia by Action Comics Pty. Ltd. (Sydney), launched in the early 1950s to capitalise on both the popularity of the Biggles books amongst Australian readers, and on the Australian-produced radio serial, The Air Adventures of Biggles, which was broadcast on numerous commercial networks during 1949-54.
The Adventures of Biggles comic book actually outlasted its radio serial counterpart, running for over 50 (non-consecutive) issues during 1953-57, and was illustrated by Australian artists, Albert De Vine and John Dixon. The comic was even reprinted under licence in Great Britain by Strato Publications - truly a case of sending coals to Newcastle!
Although Capt. W.E. Johns was credited as the author of the comic book series on the front cover of the comic book, a recent discovery I made confirms that Johns did not actually write any stories for the comic book version of Biggles. The accompanying scan of the inside front cover of The Adventures of Biggles No.17 features an interesting type-written note, which reads as follows:
"Biggles" comics are produced in Australia under an arrangement with Captain W.E. Johns, originator of "Biggles". The Australian written scripts are sent to England for approval before publication. I've written about two or three years' supply of 'Biggles' comic scripts for the Australasian market."
Frustratingly, the author of this note has neglected to include their name - was it penned by Albert De Vine, the credited illustrator whose work appeared in that same issue? Or was it the work of another writer?
The comment about obtaining overseas approval of the Australian comic book scripts was certainly boorne out in an unpublished interview I counducted with John Dixon earlier this decade, who succeeded De Vine as illustrator on The Adventures of Biggles:
John [Dixon] says he was given a free hand when it came to creating new Biggles adventures for the comic book series. "Although I do remember Capt. Johns commenting in a letter to [Australian publisher] John Edwards that 'Biggles did not fly jets'," he says. "I don't recall whose idea it was to update the character."
Dixon's recollections infer that he also wrote, as well as drew, the Biggles comic book stories. Whether the same was equally true of Albert De Vine, an artist about which maddeningly little is known today, can only be the subject of conjecture. I've reproduced the contents of this cryptic note, and the page on which it appeared, in the hopes that it might trigger someone's memory, out there, somewhere, who might be able to shed light on the identity of its author. (Image courtesy of the Rare Books Collection, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria.)