I can’t begin to tell you the pleasure I am getting from reading an old children’s book from 1933. It is as thick as a house brick; most of the pages are loose; both the frontispiece and dustjacket are missing, having been replaced with modern facsimiles; the binding is decidedly spongy; and there are old Sellotape repairs to the spine. But it is still a joy to read. It is a first edition of the first full-length Biggles adventure: The Cruise of the Condor.
Part of the pleasure of reading this particular edition is knowing that my dad might possibly have read the self-same copy when it was first published, over eighty years previously. As a child, my dad would sometimes receive a new Biggles book as a Christmas present, and it was an event eagerly anticipated, particularly when the hardback editions were not cheap: the original price of The Cruise of the Condor was 3s6d and some of the Oxford editions weighed in even pricier at 4s.
Thirty plus years later, when I was buying the same titles as a child, the editions I purchased were Armada and Knight paperbacks, invariably priced at 17½ pence. It was a significant dent to my pocket money allowance. I still recall the disappointment upon stumbling across an old Biggles edition that was not available in paperback––Biggles in the Gobi––in a secondhand bookshop in Arundel, only to discover that it was priced at £2. Quelle horreur! It was a sum beyond a small boy’s imagination.
It is rare for a book––or a series of books––to transcend generations; for all the millions of titles published each year only a handful will remain in print––and continue to be read, or collected––beyond the span of their publisher’s advertising budget.
And now there is my son. The next generation. Is he a fan of Biggles too? Is he bugger. It is all PS5 and Slowthai.
© Bradley Dunbar
Bradley Dunbar is the end of a Biggles line.