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Recalling the joys of Biggles and Bunter

countylive.ca is delighted to welcome Alan R. Capon to our family of bloggers. Al Capon is an historian, local author and  former newspaper reporter. He has co-authored several books with his wife Margaret Haylock-Capon. They reside in Prince Edward County and plan to contribute weekly blogs.

Many of the books read in my childhood still retain their magic when revisted decades later.

To this day I can still read and enjoy the Biggles books written by Captain W. E. Johns, particularly those, such as The Camels are Coming, set in the First World War. In real life, Johns was a pioneer military aviator who flew with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force. A survivor of many dogfights, he drew on his own experiences for the early Biggles stories.

Capt. Johns (1893-1968) also created Worrals, Gimlet and Steeley. At his peak he was one of the most popular juvenile fiction writers in the world. The earliest of the Biggles stories were first published in the magazine Popular Flying.

Another childhood favorite – Richmal Crompton’s “William” books with their memorable illustrations by Thomas Henry. William Brown, the quintessential English schoolboy, is everyone’s naughty young brother to the life! Still in print the books remain extremely popular.

I can, and do, still read the work of Frank Richards (his real name was Charles Hamilton). He was a writing phenomenon whose work appeared for over 30 years in the famous Fleetway House magazines, The Magnet and The Gem. Frank Richards created Greyfriars School with Harry Wharton and Co., and the immortal Billy Bunter. Paper shortages at the start of the Second World War brought the magazines to an end but, during the war, back numbers were readily available in secondhand bookstores. I devoured every copy I could find.

The Greyfriars stories returned after the war in hardback editions, creating a new generation of readers. Then Howard Baker, a publisher, began to reprint facsimiles of the original magazines in hardbound volumes, each edition containing a series from the Magnet’s golden age. Before his untimely death, Howard Baker had reprinted the majority of the Magnet stories.

Howard Baker was also the publisher of Sexton Blake stories and wrote a number of these himself under the Peter Saxon name. Sexton Blake, the schoolboy’s Sherlock Holmes, were written over many decades by various writers, some of whom were in later years to become quite famous for other works, such as Edwy Searles Brooks.  According to E.S. Turner, author of “Boys will be Boys” which tells the story of Sweeney Todd, Deadwood Dick, Sexton Blake, Billy Bunter, Dick Barton, et al. more than 100 authors wrote Sexton Blake stories between 1893 and the last original story featuring Blake published in 1978.

About now I am thinking of re-reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger Adventures, forgotten masterpieces by the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

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  1. Ann says:

    Glad to have you back in (virtual) print, Al!

  2. Doris Lane says:

    Al glad to see you have a blog on county live
    Look forward to your future articles

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