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Biggles is to the British what Steve Canyon is to Americans. Scratch that; he's much more well-known and liked. He's a fictional pilot, originally in the Royal Flying Corps (later to become the RAF) during World War I. Along with his cronies Algy and Ginger, he goes on to operate the Special Air Police, and lead 666 Squadron in World War II. There have been films, books, graphic novels, and more about the life of James Bigglesworth; numerous homages can be found throughout popular culture. For example, during the Spanish Inquisition sketch by Monty Python, one of the inquisitors (sent to fetch the comfy chair!) is a 'Cardinal Biggles.' He's wearing an RAF-style leather flying helmet.

The Biggles stories were the creation of Captain W.E. Johns (William Earl Johns). Johns, born in 1893 in Hertfordshire England, enlisted in the Territorial Army as a Private in a a cavalry regiment just prior to the outbreak of World War I. Marrying just before departure, he was posted to Gallipoli and served in that campaign with the ANZAC forces, surviving to transfer to the new Machine Gun Forces in the trenches of Salonika, Greece. After suffering malaria, he applied for the new Flying Corps - and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and sent back to England to flying school, where he began a life around airplanes which would form the basis of James Bigglesworth's life.

Johns finished flying school and was sent to France as a bomber pilot, flying de Havilland DH4 biplanes. He was shot down over Germany, captured, escaped, recaptured, and eventually repatriated with the end of the war on November 11th, 1918. He returned to his wife and son on Christmas day 1918.

His marriage foundered after the war, and he took up with another woman with whom he would remain for the rest of his life. Once out of the RAF (he never actually made Captain, by the way) he began working in aviation illustration and books. He was offered the job of editing a new adult aviation magazine, 'Popular Flying' - and began writing the Biggles stories to develop a fictional character for the magazine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Biggles himself was born in India in 1899, moving to England in 1913 to live with his uncle and attend school. He joined the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of World War I, becoming a fighter pilot on the ubiquitous Sopwith Camel and meeting his friend Algernon Montgomery Lacey (Algy). Becoming a Major at the end of the war, Biggles takes Algy and forms the Special Air Police, spending the interwar years in world-ranging criminal investigation/secret agent capers before taking the King's Shilling again as head of 666 Squadron (Biggles' Squadron) during the Second World War. 666 Squadron carried on the tradition of 'special operations' in the Biggles stories, collecting a gang of misfit aviators for all manner of adventures.

W. E. Johns died before writing an 'end' to the Biggles adventures, which is probably how it should be. Biggles is still out there, protecting us. There isn't a machine made he can't fly.

There have been Biggles books, comics, television specials and movies (a 1986 film, for example, starring Neil Dickson and Peter Cushing).


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