BIGGLES & Co
A History by Richard Whittle
Biggles & Co – The W.E Johns Quarterly Magazine, was started by a small group of book collectors who saw a need for a platform for informing like-minded persons about the then little-known facts concerning their passion: i.e. the extensive works of their chosen author and indeed the circumstances in which they were created.
John Trendler, Paul Marriott, Richard Whittle and Ross Williams became friends through their obsession with collecting first editions of Biggles and all the other books of W.E. Johns. In 1989 this group met together to discuss how collectors’ needs could best be served. Initially a Monthly Newsletter was suggested, but it was immediately rejected on practical grounds as was the formation of an Appreciation Society. Who would have time to administer it?
After a good deal of head-scratching, it was decided that John would edit and produce a magazine, on a quarterly or half-yearly basis, and before long he, Richard, and Mary Whittle were typing up the pages of the first issue. Richard recalls how he went to John’s home in Bushey, Herts and sat beside him, helping to paste the A4 size sheets on to large boards for the printer to photocopy; for that is how the early issues were produced. Some of these paste-boards survive to this day. Peter Burgon initially joined the team as artwork provider and illustrator but left after the first year.
Computers in those days were in their infancy and as John had a PC, while Richard had an Apple IIe (the Mac hadn’t been invented yet!), there were considerable problems with the incompatibility of the operating systems. Matters were not helped when Issue No.4 had to be printed twice after the Binders had been careless with trimming and stapling the entire run of 150 copies!
Although initially there was no capital, by Issue No 5 the magazine had attracted 115 subscribers, and the next issue heralded the beginning of a new era when John was able to engage Serif Services, a computer expert who lived a few doors down the road, to produce the magazine using the new art of desktop publishing. This resulted in two major changes.
1. The general appearance of magazine improved drastically.
2. The magazine and its content became almost exclusively a one-man production, that of John Trendler.
From its inception, Biggles & Co, ably led by John, also organised the Annual Spring Meeting, then held in Hertfordshire. Initially this was combined with a Book Fair, but the latter was dropped after the first two years. Advertising the first of these meetings in 1990, John wrote:
“This is not intended as a rival or substitute for the meeting held at Nottingham in October, but as an additional ‘get together’ for collectors. Try to support us in this, hopefully, annual event.”
Not even John could have foreseen that this event would continue to the present day, albeit not in Hertford but in Berkshire. Paul Marriott left the team in the Summer of 1993, for family reasons, and was not replaced until the end of 1994, when Margaret Collins (W. E Johns’s niece) and her husband Neville took over Administration and Subscriptions.
It was Christmas Eve 1996 when the impossible happened; John Trendler, little more than 50 years old, suffered a massive heart attack from which he died almost instantly and W.E Johns enthusiasts everywhere lost their greatest supporter. Norman Wright, John’s best friend, took charge of the magazine for one final issue, because Andrea, John’s widow, realised that readers needed to be told why the magazine would no longer appear as she felt, rightly, that nobody could replace him. Norman wrote in his tribute to John:
“…it was John’s firm editorial hand, eye for detail and sheer hard work that led the Quarterly through its formative issues and ensured that the magazine was not only pleasing to look at but also highly informative. … it was always essentially a one man production with John putting in countless hours of work, proof reading articles, selecting illustrations, typing up text, writing letters to contributors and answering the dozens of letters that he received asking for information on W.E Johns and his work...”
“As the look feel and ethos of BIGGLES & CO was almost exclusively John’s creation, his family feel that it would not be John’s wish for the magazine to continue under its present name under a new editorship. They do however hope that a new magazine will appear to carry on uniting members of a hobby which John greatly enjoyed and to which he contributed so much time, effort and enthusiasm.”
Several names were considered before deciding on BIGGLES & CO. some examples are: ‘Heroes Aloft’, ‘1893’, ‘The Works & Heroes of W.E Johns’, ‘I Say Old Boy’, ‘Chocks Away’, ‘The Older Modern Boy’. However BIGGLES & CO stood out from the beginning.
The first issue initially sold 120 copies, out of which 70 paid an Annual Subscription.
The BIGGLES & CO logo originally appeared in the September 1936 issue of Popular Flying, in an advertisement by John Hamilton for their Steeley books. It was based on a photo of WEJ standing in front of a Puss Moth at Croydon Aerodrome during the previous Summer. Click here for more details
Starting with Issue No 3, BIGGLES & CO was sent out in custom-designed envelopes, on which John cleverly placed the Biggles logo, mirrored to suit the address position.
The pyramid design used for ‘Air Mail’ was not in fact part of any book, but was drawn especially for the purpose by Mary Whittle.
Group photo – Left to Right: Richard Whittle, Peter Burgon, Unknown, Ross Williams, John Trendler, and Paul Marriott.