Biggles, that "dashing champion" of the skies, is to be reinvented as a working-class hero for a new series of blockbuster movies, it was announced yesterday.
The First World War flying ace, full name James Bigglesworth, will have to reach a new generation of fans so his upper-class "chocks away" pedigree will have to go. And while his adventures will retain their "Boy's Own" period charm, the stories will be tailored to appeal to fans of Indiana Jones and James Bond.
The first film, Biggles Flies North, will go into production next year and will be shot in Malaysia, Canada and Britain. Scott Millaney, a producer whose credits include Sid and Nancy, A Kiss before Dying and the conspiracy thriller Hidden Agenda, said yesterday that casting had yet to be finalised but that he had secured the rights of 92 of Captain W E Johns's 167 books.
Announcing the film series at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, Millaney said: "Biggles has the potential to rival the success of Indiana Jones and James Bond as icons of the box office. Discussions are well advanced with both A-list directors and actors who recognise the ability to make Biggles the action hero of the new millennium. The stories are timeless and the film will captivate anyone with a sense of adventure.
"This is one of the last great publishing franchises to become available to the screen and we're in town to forge long-term partnerships and alliances for the screen and the ancillary merchandise."
Biggles is popularly believed to have been based on Capt Johns's Royal Flying Corps chum Air Commodore Cecil Wigglesworth but some fans believe he had more ofT E Lawrence in him. Johns knew the erstwhile Lawrence of Arabia when they were in the RAF in the Twenties. Lawrence's high-pitched giggle earned him the nickname Tee Hee Lawrence and Biggles was described as having an "irritating falsetto laugh".
But it is not just Biggles's breeding that will have to be taken down a notch. When some of the books were reprinted in 1993, the publishers had to remove such phrases as "yellow monkeys" which Capt Johns used to describe the Chinese.Reuse content