Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Biggles and Worrals

I realised when I did my first blog post about Biggles that there was more to say than would fit into one post. I'd forgotten a lot about Biggles which came flooding back when I started checking my facts – and I also learned a lot of new and surprising information.

For instance, “Captain” WE Johns was never of that rank – he was a Flying Officer (about the level of an RFC Lieutenant) - he gave himself the rank as his authorial byline. The first Biggles stories appeared in 1932, and he went on writing until his death in 1968, with the last couple of books appearing posthumously.

Whilst Biggles was his most popular series, Johns wrote other series – I can dimly remember being aware of Gimlet, a brave British commando, when I was a boy, though I don't think I ever read any of them. 


I also came across his science fiction tales about “Tiger” Clinton. As an avid SF reader I devoured them... but wasn't desperately impressed. 

The character I did not know about, though, until I started these blog posts, was Worrals. In the 40s Johns wrote 11 books about plucky WAAF Flight Officer Joan "Worrals" Worralson who flew adventurous missions with her friend Betty “Frecks” Lovell. In the first book she flies a fighter, shoots down an enemy plane, and sabotages a German plot. 

Considering that I criticised Biggles for the total lack of female characters, I am pleasantly surprised at his creation of a strong and capable female role-model. From what i have managed to glean from my trawl across the internet, he was encouraged to create Worrals by the Air Ministry to encourage girls to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Apparently the series was very successful, and sold well in the 40s and 50s.

I said in my last post that James Bigglesworth's spectre encouraged the writing of Sorrel in Scarlet – I suspect that the spirit of Joan Worralson was there, too, standing shoulder to shoulder with her more famous colleague. It was a complete coincidence that my heroine and Johns' heroine had similar sounding names... wasn't it?

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