Biggles (film)

Biggles is a 1986 British sci-fi adventure film directed by John Hough (and later released in 1988 in the United States as Biggles: Adventures in Time[6]). The plot involves a time traveller from the 1980s who travels to World War I to help the character Biggles from the series of novels by W. E. Johns and where Biggles also travels to the 1980s to save his new friend. The film stars Neil Dickson, Alex Hyde-White, and Peter Cushing in his final feature film role.

Original British 1986 quad film poster
Directed byJohn Hough
Produced byPom Oliver
Kent Walwin
Screenplay byJohn Groves
Kent Walwin
Based onthe Biggles books
by W. E. Johns
StarringNeil Dickson
Alex Hyde-White
Fiona Hutchison
Peter Cushing
Marcus Gilbert
William Hootkins
Music byStanislas Syrewicz
CinematographyErnest Vincze
Edited byRichard Trevor
Compact Yellowbill
Distributed byUIP (UK)
Release date
  • 23 May 1986 (1986-05-23) (UK/date)
  • 29 January 1988 (1988-01-29) (USA[1])
Running time
92 min.[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£7 million[3]
Box office£1.45 million (UK)[4], $112,132 (USA)[5]


Catering salesman Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White), living in present-day New York City, falls through a time hole to 1917 where he saves the life of dashing Royal Flying Corps pilot James "Biggles" Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson) after his photo recon mission is shot down. Before he can work out what has happened, Jim is zapped back to the 1980s. With assistance from Biggles' former commanding officer William Raymond (Peter Cushing) who lives in the Tower Bridge in London, Ferguson learns that he and Biggles are "time twins", spontaneously travelling through time when one or the other is in mortal danger. Together, Ferguson and Biggles fight across time and against the odds to stop the Germans changing the course of history by destroying a "Sound Weapon" with a Metropolitan Police helicopter that was stolen by Biggles while escaping a SWAT Team in 1986 London.




As early as 1968, and inspired by the success of films such as The Blue Max, there were plans to make a film based on W.E. Johns' books entitled Biggles Sweeps The Skies scripted by Chris Bryant to be filmed in Algeria and financed by Universal Pictures.[7] Pre-production work was done, including building replica period aircraft. James Fox was tapped to play Biggles and even appeared in promotional material.[8] However, the film was cancelled due to budget and location problems.[9]

Peter James bought the rights to the Biggles stories in 1976 but the film remained in development hell for several years.[10] The film was produced by Yellowbill Films.

John Hough had already directed several movies for Hammer Films and Walt Disney in America, and had had box office hits with Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Escape to Witch Mountain. He had read the Biggles books as a child and was available after a deal to direct a James Bond film fell through.[11] He was attracted by the unconventional story and signed to direct in November 1984.[12]


Early versions of the script were written by Michael Fallon and called for an adventure film in the mould of Raiders of the Lost Ark.[13] The original story would have been much more faithful to Johns' original novels. Some sources claim that during scriptwriting, however, Back to the Future was released and became a major hit, so the script was duly altered by Walwin and John Groves to follow this trend, in an attempt to capitalise on Back to the Future's popularity. However, Biggles had already completed filming by the date of Back to the Future's UK release date of December 1985.[14]

The film takes much liberty with the storyline of the original novels. In addition to the introduction of a science-fiction plot, Biggles is much older than in the books (where he is only a teenager in 1917), and the characters Ginger and Bertie feature although they don't join Biggles until much later in the book series. However, the presence of Biggles' friend Algy, adversary Erich von Stahlein and love interest Marie fits with the earlier books in the series.[15] The sound weapon appears to be based on a real life sonic device that the Nazis were working on during the Second World War. It used a reflector to transmit high energy sound waves.[16]


Principal photography took place over six weeks between January and March 1985.[17] Biggles was both Dickson's and Hyde-White's first leading role in a motion picture.[18] It was also Fiona Hutchison's first movie role. She described her character Debbie as 'trapped and terrified.'[19] To play Biggles' rival von Stahlein, Marcus Gilbert researched German WWI fighter aces, especially Manfred von Richthofen. At one point, he can be seen wearing a Blue Max medallion.[20]

Veteran stuntman Gerry Crampton co-ordinated the action sequences and designed the stunts for the film,[21] while second unit director Terry Coles, who had done similar work on Battle of Britain was in charge of filming the aerial sequences.[22]

The film includes a scene where Biggles lands a helicopter (a Bell 206 JetRanger) on a flat wagon on a moving train. This was filmed on the Nene Valley Railway and was apparently the first time such a stunt had been attempted. Fifteen takes were needed before the director was satisfied that the sequence was finished. The helicopter was flown by renowned stunt pilot Marc Wolff.[23]


The film was mostly shot in London and on various locations in the home counties.[24] Tower Bridge and the surrounding area was extensively used, including the Tower Hotel which doubled as the film crew's base of operations.[25] Some of the aerial sequences were shot near Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. The 1917 weapon testing ground scene was shot at the Beckton Gas Works, which a year later was used for scenes in Full Metal Jacket and had been the location for the pre title sequence in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only and the finale of the John Wayne actioner Brannigan.[26] The weapon itself was a custom made fibreglass dish mounted on a mobile crane. It was filmed at the former London Brick Company works near Brogborough in Bedfordshire, as were the trench scenes. The site is now a landfill and recycling centre owned by FCC Environment.[27] [28] The exterior church scenes were all filmed at All Saints Church, Holdenby, and the courtyard scenes were filmed by the stable blocks of Holdenby House.[29]


Several aircraft were used in the film. These included a Stampe SV.4, which is flown by Biggles, and a Boeing Stearman, which is flown by his archrival, von Stalhein. Both these bi-planes are actually from the 1930s as flying and maintaining actual WWI aircraft was considered prohibitively expensive. The Stampe was flown by Stuart Goldspink while the Stearman was piloted by former WWII bomber pilot John Jordan.[30] The Stampe was later seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.[31]


Biggles received a royal charity premiere on Thursday 22 May 1986 at the Plaza Cinema on Lower Regent Street in London.[32] The film went on general release in the UK on Friday 23 May 1986[1] To promote the release of the film, the story was published in newspapers in comic strip form and promoted via ABC Cinemas with discounted tickets available.[33]

When released in the USA on 29 January 1988, Variety were more positive, praising the action scenes and Dickson's performance especially.[34] Sheila Benson of The LA Times found the film enjoyable in parts, but overall disappointing.[35]

The film was not a success at the box office but in the intervening years has gained a cult following.[36] John Hough observed that the film got into profit later through television repeats and video sales.[37]

In 2000, a new film entitled Biggles Flies North was announced after the rights to the character and books had been sold on with a prospective shooting date of 2001 and locations filmed in Malaysia. As of 2019, nothing has materialised.[38]

Video game

As a tie-in to the film, a video game with the same title was released in 1986 by Image Works for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.[39] The game was based on the movie's storyline and featured four different missions which including flying combat sequences with biplanes, a rooftop chase, searching for the secret weapon in a trench setting and first person helicopter gameplay.[40] The game received mixed reviews.[41]


  1. The Times, Saturday 17 May 1986, page 18: Films: Biggles - Plaza - From Friday Linked 2015-06-13
  2. "Biggles (1985)". BBFC. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  3. "h2g2 - 'Biggles' - the Film - Edited Entry". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  5. "Biggles (1988) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  6. IMDb: Biggles (1986) - Release info Linked 2015-06-12
  7. "Chris Bryant". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  8. "Image of james fox play biggles in the film biggles sweeps the skies seen here in the cockpit of a replica sopwith camel, 1969. by Science & Society Picture Library". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  9. "Biggles' Biplane". 11 July 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  10. Decline and fall of the funny film The Observer 8 Feb 1976: 32
  12. "Biggles: The Making of a Movie (TV) (S) (1985)". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  15. Biggles Fansite: A history of Biggles on film Re-linked 2015-06-12
  17. Steven Parkes. "Biggles on Blue Peter". YouTube. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  18. Gullo, Christopher (5 August 2004). "In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing". Xlibris Corporation. Retrieved 5 December 2018 via Google Books.
  19. Marla Hart. "PERSEVERANCE PAYS FOR FIONA HUTCHISON". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  21. "Biggles - Film (Theatrical) - Crew Members". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  22. Beck, Simon D. (10 June 2016). "The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion". McFarland. Retrieved 5 December 2018 via Google Books.
  23. Beck, Simon D. (10 June 2016). "The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion". McFarland. Retrieved 5 December 2018 via Google Books.
  24. "Where was 'Biggles: Adventures in Time' filmed?". British Film Locations. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  26. "the - Biggles - Adventures in Time (1986)". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  29. "Film & TV - Holdenby House". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  30. "2017 Aviators". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  32. The Theatres Trust Theatre Database: Plaza Cinema Linked 2015-06-13
  33. "STARLOGGED - GEEK MEDIA AGAIN - comic (non Marvel/DC) illustration - Pinterest - Comics, Geek stuff and Marvel". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  34. Staff, Variety; Staff, Variety (1 January 1986). "Biggles". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  35. BENSON, SHEILA (29 January 1988). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Biggles': Exhausting Flight That Disappoints From Time to Time". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  36. "London Hotels in Films". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  39. World Of Spectrum: Biggles Re-linked 2015-06-12
  40. " - The Gamebase Collection". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  41. "Biggles for Commodore 64 (1986) MobyRank". Retrieved 5 December 2018.
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