First Edition Biggles book set to fly

The first edition Biggles book - The Camels are ComingAn extremely rare first edition book of one of the first ‘Biggles’ series by W.E Johns looks set to fly out of a Norfolk auction house later this month.

Fine Art auctioneers, Keys in Aylsham, are selling The Camels are Coming, which features the legendary fictional character Capt. James Bigglesworth of the Royal Flying Corps, or Biggles, as he is more well known.

The book, published in 1932, consists of 17 short stories featuring the adventures of the World War One flying ace and his sidekicks, Algy, Ginger and Smyth.

It was the first of nearly 100 books featuring the character written by Johns up until his death in 1968, a body of work which was wildly popular in its time, and which is still fondly remembered by a substantial number of enthusiasts.

The first edition of the Biggles book, the Camels are ComingThe auction house said that the rare first edition is already causing a stir among Biggles fans, and bidding is expected to be brisk; the book has a conservative pre-sale estimate of £500-£600.

“First editions are always much sought-after, and when it is a first edition of the first book in a hugely popular canon like Biggles, it is sure to elicit massive interest,” said Keys head of books and ephemera Robert Henshilwood.

“This volume is already being much talked about on the various Biggles-related internet forums, and we are expecting considerable interest when it goes under the hammer later this month.”

The book will be auctioned on the first day of Keys’ two day Books, Maps, Prints and ephemera Sale, which takes place on January 25 and 26.

About W.E Johns and Biggles

  • Born in India in 1893, William Earle Johns first served as an infantryman in Gallipolli and Macedonia, before joining the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.  In September 1918 he was shot down over the Western Front; his navigator was killed, but John survived and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.
  • After finally leaving the RAF in 1927 with the rank of Flying Officer (equivalent to Lieutenant in the RFC – not Captain, the rank he later added to his pen name), he started writing short stories, 17 of which form the first Biggles book, ‘The Camels Are Coming’.  He wrote nearly 100 Biggles books before his death in 1968.
  • There are strong Norfolk links to both W.E.Johns and his fictional creation.  Johns himself was a sanitary inspector in Swaffham before the war, and married in Little Dunham church.  He learned to fly at No.25 Flying Training School in Thetford, and his fictional character Biggles also learns to fly in the county, at the fictional Settling.
  • The character was featured in 44 episodes of a television series in the early 1960s, as well as a rather unsuccessful film in 1986.
  • Johns died in 1968 in London, aged 75.


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