Air stories and air story artwork in early 20th Century British Juvenile Literature
Page updated 17th August 2014.
Marise Duncan – Flying Heroine - Jim Mackenzie
Hunter Hawk - Skyway Detective - Jim Mackenzie
List of Dorothy Carter's Books | George E Rochester | Other Book Reviews
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Marise Duncan – Flying Heroine - Jim Mackenzie

Stories about flying that were written specifically for girls are not as rare as you might think. A fan of W.E.Johns would immediately mention the eleven full-length Worrals adventures and the three Worrals short stories. In their own way Joan Worralson and Frecks, her comrade and friend, were pilots and adventurers that could win the admiration of both boys and girls and, to a certain extent, were rivals to Biggles and his team. However, we must turn to Dorothy Carter to find a series female character who is a pilot and whose adventures were created by a woman. The first in the series of six stories was "Mistress of the Air" (1939) in which we are first introduced to Marise Duncan and her family. Her father is an airline pilot and her mother is everybody's idea of the conventional house-wife. Marise is determined to prove that a woman's place is not just in the home. She wins the famous King's Cup air race and, rejecting the idea of a secretarial job, is taken on as an instructor as a flying school in the Home Counties. The second part of the story is concerned with a treasure hunt in the Ellice Islands. Marise is put in charge of training the pilots and organising the expedition.

The second and third books in the series "Star of the Air" and "Snow Queen of the Air" are nowadays the easiest for collectors to find as they were produced in large quantities for Collins' Boys' and Girls' Library editions. The dust-jacket of "Star of the Air" (1940) is particularly colourful and the story lives up to the cover.

Marise is offered the part in a Hollywood Film. After family consultation she decides to cross the Atlantic (rather tamely by boat !), taking her mother with her as chaperone. Marise's modesty is brought out strongly by the way in which she wonders who the reception is for when the Transcontinental train pulls into the Los Angeles station. Surprisingly enough the crowd and the press are there to greet her. It's a real Hollywood welcome. Life in California is depicted as lively and exciting with so many things happening at once. Marise is mortally offended when she learns that the boss of the film studio doesn't actually want her to do any flying. She makes up her mind to show those Americans that she can fly. Stunting in an old biplane, Marise soon has them eating out of her hands. The film executives hold their heads in horror when they learn that she even intends to do her own crashes. In spite of a series of exotic names like Arnold Rex, Piggy Moss and Hiram Plitzen the Americans all prove to be both good-natured and go-ahead. The other stars of the film are only too glad to help Marise out and she proves to have acting talent. The second half of the story is about encounters with a Mexican bandit – in fact the one depicted on the dust-jacket. Marise meets Jim Grant, a fellow Britisher pilot , who survived the First World War but who has horrific scars. When her own efforts to crash a 'plane prove tamely disappointing, Jim shows her how it really should be done. Jim Grant crops up in some of the later books but all suspicions of a romance between him and Marise are neatly side-stepped.

"Snow Queen of the Air" is full of complimentary comments about Canadians in the same way that "Star" was about Americans. Marise's father has been chosen to set up the staging posts for a new airline across the polar and sub-polar regions. Marise and her mother accompany him on his travels. A whole set of new skills are now added to Marise's already quite extensive repertoire. Some of these (such as taking off and landing on skis) are in the world of aviation and others are about how to survive in the frozen wastes. Not surprisingly Marise gets plenty of opportunities to put into practice what she has learned. Exciting moments include the description of Marise' father getting lost in a blizzard and Marise suddenly finding herself adrift on an ice floe. Fortunately her 'plane has stayed the right side of the crack but unfortunately the ice area that is left is too small for a take-off in any direction. She earns the title of Snow Queen when she flies her plane out of a snowstorm and lands amongst a group of native Canadians who have a legend about a queen who will arrive in a great bird and take them off to a world of riches. As a new leader of the tribe Marise uses her power to insist that the strong look after the weak and that the women get a fair deal. It is the bandits who let the story down. Marise herself is both charming and resourceful. The descriptions of the setting and the Canadian people are interesting and well-crafted. The "good" characters carry conviction; the "bad" characters seem to go in for motiveless and rather ill-organised criminal acts. Those of you who know "Biggles Flies North" will recognise the territory but would soon see how superior W.E.Johns is when it comes to the creation of character and the development of plot.

The remaining three volumes were set during the Second World War and show Marise in action in various different theatres of operation. "Sword of the Air" has her operating (with her father !) behind German lines and displaying a hitherto unseen knowledge of foreign languages. The Canadian Arctic training comes in useful in "Comrades of the Air" when Marise's adventures take her to Russia. In "Marise Flies South" the young airwoman pits her wits against the dastardly Japanese.

Lots of further details about Dorothy Carter and Marise's adventures can be found in Mary Cadogan's splendid book "Women With Wings – Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction". The last three books in the Marise Duncan series are particularly difficult for collectors to find but, though they are generally less well constructed than the Worrals series, all six books are worth a read. It seems strange that, as the forties faded into history, so fictional female pilots seemed to disappear from the scene. The dust-jacket of "Air Hostess Ann" gives an indication of how the next generation of females were relegated from the cockpit into the cabin. The text of this 1952 Scottie Book steers clear of all suggestions that women should have their hands on the controls. "Ann wanted to fly, to travel, to meet new people, to see the world." This sounds promising when you read it in the blurb. However, she was merely "determined to become an air hostess." Pretty tame stuff when you consider what Marise and Worrals had been up to 10 years before.

Dorothy Carter is also known to have written several other books about flying and several magazine serialisations. Two titles "Wren Helen" and "Wren Helen Sails North" indicate that, like W.E.Johns, she was probably supplying stories to help bolster interest in the different branches of the wartime armed services.

The following list of Dorothy Carter’s books does not include stories published in magazines:
1. Flying Dawn A. & C. Black: London, 1936.
2. Mistress of the Air. Collins: London & Glasgow, 1939..
3. Wings in Revolt..Lutterworth Press: London, 1939.
4. Star of the Air, Collins: London & Glasgow, 1940.
5. Snow-Queen of the Air.. Collins: London & Glasgow, 1941.
6. Sword of the Air... Collins: London & Glasgow, 1941.
7. Comrades of the Air.. Collins: London & Glasgow, 1942. .
8. Wren Helen.. Lutterworth Press: London & Redhill, 1943.
9. Wren Helen Sails South.. Lutterworth Press: London & Redhill, 1944.
10. Marise flies South.. Collins: London & Glasgow, 1944.
11.Wren Helen Sails North. Lutterworth Press: London & Redhill, 1946.
12. Jan's Flying Start.. Lutterworth Press: London & Redhill, 1947.
13. Jan flies down under.. Lutterworth Press: London & Redhill, 1948.
14. North for Treasure.. Lutterworth Press: London, 1961.


Running the Gauntlet(s)
Howard Leigh
A Hawker 'Demon' of No.23 Squadron intercepted by three Gloster 'Gauntlets' of No.19 Squadron. Presented with Popular Flying, July 1936.

The Hawker 'Fury
Howard Leigh
Powered by the Rolls-Royce 'Kestrel' Engine.
This plate was presented with Popular Flying, June 1936.


W E Johns Christmas cards were produced by Popular Flying in 2 sets; B/W packets of 10, 2 cards each of 5 different designs and hand-tinted colours packets of 8, 2 cards each of 4 different designs. This is from Popular Flying, January 1934, which was probably published in early December, 1933. Maybe there were different sets published in subsequent years?



`B' – Flight, by Bruce Carter
Reviewed by
Jim Mackenzie
Bruce Carter's real name was Richard Hough and he was both a naval historian and a WW2 pilot. When I reviewed "Four Wheel Drift", his story of Grand Prix Racing, I remarked that I had fond memories of "Speed Six" about the Le Mans 24 hour event. I have to say, much as I enjoyed them, I like "B- Flight" better than either. Now that causes a problem. This Puffin book is reasonably well available and so I don't want to spoil the story for anyone. I hope you all take the chance to read it. The hero of "B-Flight" was born in 1900 and is thus one year younger than
Biggles. Like W.E.Johns' hero we see his last days at school, his early days learning to fly in the RFC and his service in France in a Sopwith Camel. Threaded between these events there is also a love story and a search for personal identity. The accounts of the ground strafeing and the dog-fights are very good. The depiction of the squadron members is quite harrowing and only just comes within what would be permissible for juvenile readers. Death, destruction, drinking to oblivion, loss of limbs, loss of hope – they all are dealt with- as is the ambivalent attitude that most pilots had towards their German enemies. I am not expert enough to judge whether the flying details are authentic but I rely upon Bruce Carter as both a pilot and a historian. I have found that I can depend on him as a storyteller and was particularly impressed by the way in which he used an ordinary brown leather belt as a potent symbol of faith and commitment. Read it, if you can.#

Jaggers Air Detective, by John Templer
Reviewed by David Anderson.
In my continuing reading of old boys' aviation adventures, I turned to this book as a change from the Westermans, senior and junior. 'Jaggers Air Detective' was published by Oxford University Press in 1936 and has some excellent black and white illustrations and a colour frontispiece by D.L. Mays.

So physically the book closely resembles a Biggles book of the period. Intriguingly, it also reads like a Biggles book or, rather, a Biggles book of ten years later. Jaggers and his comrade Winks, commonly known as 'the Winkle', and their mechanic Corporal Chubb, form the new unit of Air Police. Their liaison officer at Scotland Yard is Inspector Gasc.

But their are differences. While ten years later Biggles' Air Police are a civilian force, Jaggers is under orders from the Air Ministry. So while Biggles and Co. hardly dare carry a gun, Jaggers and Winks have two heavy machine guns attached to their Hawker Demon and have no qualms about opening fire over the hills and dales of England.

The book consists of ten stories, each of which first appeared in The Modern Boy. Most are quite long, allowing for a satisfying amount of storyline and, usually, at least one twist in the plot. Templer was obviously a very competent writer and builds up a charming camaraderie between Jaggers and Winks.

Unlike Biggles, who is always the leader and guiding force, Jaggers is sometimes allowed to take second place to Winks, who is the better pilot of the two. Winks is also sometimes the one who has the bright idea that solves the mystery.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly and recommend it to anyone who can get hold of a copy. There are only three Jaggers books in all, but I think if Templer had continued the series, and developed the characters a bit more, he would have been quite a rival for W.E. Johns. Unfortunately he never did. #

Hunter Hawk
Skyway Detective
Reviewed by Jim Mackenzie

The last lines of “Bandit Gold” by Eric Leyland and T.E.Scott-Chard are as follows:
“Hunter Hawk settled down to consider the information contained in the letter, which came from a man whose name was a household world throughout the world. There was always work for the famous firm of air detectives.”

This is then followed by the classic injunction
“Watch for the next case of the world-famous air-detective team with the latest air information – and thrills galore !”

The only problem with this is that neither Hunter Hawk, nor his creators, nor his publishers, seemed to have realised that they had reached the final flight. “Bandit Gold” proved to be the seventh and last in a series of seven. At a distance of forty years we can only speculate as to why the intrepid investigator never needed to shrug on his flying jacket ever again. The plaudits on the dust-jacket suggest that the stories were well-received:-
Teacher’s World : “…without a doubt the most famous air detective in the world.”
Eagle : “… you will revel in this tip-top adventure yarn and, whether you fancy yourself as a sleuth or “Comet” pilot, you will pick up some useful tips into the bargain.”
R.A.F. Flying Review: “The author has managed to cram some very authentic flying passages into a competent and thrilling yarn.”

Hmm. I would have thought that Biggles was the most famous air detective in the world. However, we will let that pass. The word “cram” is a very aptly chosen one for the authors had a very small canvas upon which to work.. Each volume has 127 or 128 pages and is ruthlessly divided into twelve chapters. Almost inevitably events happen thick and fast both in the air and on the ground. The mysteries Hawk and his cousin, Mike solve are not terribly complicated and Eric Leyland employs a trick that he has used to good effect in the many other stories of adventure and criminals that he wrote. It used to be said of the great “Golden Age” detective story writer Freeman Wills Crofts that you could always spot the guilty party by the apparent concrete nature of his alibi. Well, in Hunter Hawk stories the most trusted person always turns out to be the traitor or the crook.

Little background information about our hero is supplied. Skyways Detectives consists of Hawk and his cousin Mike. Just how old Hawk can be is simply covered by the fact that Mike is 19 and “much younger than his famous cousin”. Hawk’s real first name is “Jeff” but his adventures as an air-ace in the R.A.F. have meant that his nickname has stuck very tightly and matches his later career as a detective. By the way Mike is still nineteen at the end of the seven adventures, though one wonders how his hair has remained red given the number of close shaves he has been involved in. Wait a minute, an air ace turned detective, with a much younger red-headed companion sounds familiar - shades of Biggles and Ginger perhaps. However, to be fair to Eric Leyland and T.E.Scott Chard, the only other things I can find in common with that other well known series are Hunter Hawk’s ability to “network” amongst many bigwigs in the aviation world and the fact that Skyway Investigations have their base in a flat on the Embankment in London, not so far from Biggles and Co in Mount Street.

The Hunter Hawk books are as follows:
1. Outlaws of the Air (1957)
By chapter two of the first book the story has taken off and the two heroes are flying in a Proctor over the southern Indian Ocean heading for Rangoon. There then follows a very exhilarating description of what it is like to be in a small aeroplane during a tropical lightning storm. No sooner have they come through with no more damage than a broken radio, than a black dot approaching rapidly from starboard suddenly becomes identified as a Zero. A second later and the guns start blazing. Someone has buying up a lot of ex-military hardware and the purchases include a U-boat. A deadly and resourceful enemy with a secret island base makes a worthy opponent for the two cousins as they solve their first recorded case.
2. Atom Plane Mystery (1958)
Sabotage is an ugly word. When the intended destruction concerns the latest atomic powered plane then the mere idea becomes alarming. Ruthless international crooks make sure that Skyways Investigations have to take even bigger risks than usual to preserve national security. Mike’s disappearance adds to Hawk’s worries but, with a mixture of guts and guile, the two cousins find themselves prepared for the final climax.
3. Smugglers of the Skies (1959)
Drugs are coming into England by air. The ultimate accolade to Skyways Investigations is paid when the detectives of Scotland Yard call in the pair of detectives. The story moves to Geneva where both Mike and Hawk follow the trail that leads them both into danger and to the final solution.
4. Commandos of the Clouds (1959)
A revolutionary leader in the jungles of South America has taken the name the Scorpion. Just like the deadly insect himself he delivers his fatal sting and then scuttles back into safety. Hawk and Mike have been called in to assist the lawful government of Paranda. Before they have time to draw breath, however, the enemy attacks. Being clubbed down by a gun butt on the back-streets is bad enough but being caught in the air with no guns and three fighter closing in for the kill is even worse. Impossible odds and ruthless killers are met with the usual courage and skill.
5. Comet Round the World (1959)
Gather the suspects on board and keep them there. This was the formula for “Murder on the Orient Express” and the same happens on the proving flight of the Comet as it sets off around the world. Who is the guilty party and what is the motive ? The authors manage to use the restrictions of the airliner’s cabin and the dangers of the staging posts to keep the mixture of action and suspense boiling away until the unveiling of the villain at the end.
6. The Secret Weapon (1960)
Brilliant scientists have two purposes in this sort of fiction. First of all they need to invent a weapon for which there is no defence. Secondly they need to get themselves kidnapped. John Carr is snatched along with his key to world supremacy. Hawk and Mike have to take on not only a brilliantly organised gang but also “a hazard faced by no one else before !”
7. Bandit Gold (1962)
Where would you expect the treasure to be buried ? It’s on an island, of course. The two cousins return to South America and get caught up in a chase for Nazi gold. However, first of all there are two adventures with Dakotas. All Hawk’s skill as a pilot is put to the test as he flies through a devastating storm whilst Mike copes with an outbreak of trouble amongst the passengers. A later flight runs into difficulties when the auxiliary tanks are filled with water instead of petrol. Particularly satisfying is the fact that before the end the reader gets to see the former R.A.F. air ace in a one-to-one duel with his enemy in equally matched modern fighters.

T.E.Scott-Chard (Reference Officer of B.O.A.C.), as he is styled on the dust-jackets, was obviously the technical advisor and none of the stories has any apparent flaws of aeroplane detail. The stories do have many exciting incidents and there is a reasonable attempt to construct a plausible puzzle. But ….and it’s an important but….the characters do not really have anything more than two dimensions and, whilst there is a great variety of locations, none of the places described, comes alive as a real environment. But then, let’s remember, there were only 127-128 pages available and something had to go.

Adventures numbers 1 and 4 are probably the best, though the artwork on “Bandit Gold”, both the dust-jacket and the interior illustrations by N. Dear, is superior to the earlier volumes. From that point of view, perhaps it is a shame therefore that 7 proved to be an unlucky number for this particular pilot. #

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