by Roger Harris


As a keen W.E. Johns collector and a particular fan of the Worrals books, it was with some considerable surprise a few years ago when I discovered that there was a later edition of “Worrals Down Under” that had four illustrated colour plates in addition to the colour frontispiece.  I then discovered that there was a later edition of “Worrals in the Wastelands” that also had four illustrated colour plates in addition to the colour frontispiece!  How on Earth had these passed me by?!  I decided to investigate.  Many W. E. Johns fans will be familiar with the eleven Worrals books about Flight Officer Joan Worralson, of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and her best friend, Betty Lovell, known as “Frecks”.  The eleven titles were:-


1.  Worrals of the W.A.A.F – published September 1941 in book form (following publication in 12 monthly parts in Girls Own Paper from Oct 1940 to Sept 1941)


2.  Worrals Carries On – published October 1942 in book form (following publication in 12 monthly parts in Girls Own Paper from Oct 1941 to Sept 1942)


3.  Worrals Flies Again – published September 1942 in book form (following publication in 15 monthly parts in Girls Own Paper from Oct 1942 to Dec 1943)

(Although this book was published a month before ‘Carries On’ it is clear from the content that it follows it).


4.  Worrals on the War-Path – published July 1943 in book form.  (It appears this was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


5.  Worrals Goes East – published May 1944 in book form.  (It appears this was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


6.  Worrals of the Islands – published October 1945 in book form.  (It appears this was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


7.  Worrals in the Wilds – published November 1947 in book form (following publication in 10 monthly parts in Girls Own Paper from Nov 1945 to Aug 1946)


8.  Worrals Down Under – published October 1948 in book form (following publication in 10 monthly parts in Girls Own Paper from Oct 1946 to July 1947)


9.  Worrals in the Wastelands – published January 1949 in book form.  (It appears it was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


10.  Worrals Goes Afoot – published 29th August 1949 in book form.  (It appears it was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


11.  Worrals Investigates – published 4th July 1950 in book form.  (It appears it was never serialised anywhere – it certainly wasn’t published in the Girls Own Paper)


For the sake of completeness, I will just mention there were three additional Worrals short stories – i) Worrals Takes a Hand (The Children’s Gift Book 1946) –

ii) On the Home Front (Comrades in Arms – August 1947) and iii) Worrals Works it Out (Girl’s Own Paper – September 1947).

I will just run through the history of the publication of the Worrals books.  This will help inform those readers who don’t know and refresh the memories of those that do.


The first two Worrals books were published by Lutterworth Press, ‘WAAF’ priced at three shillings and six pence and ‘Carries On’ at four shillings and six pence. ‘WAAF’ only had a black & white frontispiece with a particularly unflattering illustration of Worrals.  ‘Carries On’ also had a black & white frontispiece but with eight additional full page black and white illustrations for the extra shilling.  Johns was persuaded to move to Hodder & Stoughton and they published ‘Flies Again’ at five shillings in September 1942.  I have W. E. Johns own hand amended proof copy of this book and the typeset has the publication date as August 1942 whereas the first edition has it at September 1942.  Clearly, the war-time paper shortages pushed that back by a month.  This book had a lovely colour frontispiece (the original artwork for both the cover and the frontispiece are in my own personal collection as it happens) and five black and white illustrations and was first published at five shillings.


Hodder & Stoughton would go on to publish the next five Worrals books.  ‘War-Path’ was published at 5 shillings with a colour frontispiece and eight internal full page illustrations, plus a ninth double page illustration.  ‘East’ was published at 5 shillings with a colour frontispiece and eight full page illustrations, one of which was a double page illustration.  The ninth illustration in this book was effectively the double page map on the inner cover and the flyleaf.  ‘Islands’ was the first Worrals book published after the end of the Second World War and no doubt paper shortages helped pushed the cost of this first edition up to six shillings.  Again, the book had a colour frontispiece and this time, twelve internal illustrations, on six double sided pages.  The quality of the reproduction of the images in this book was significantly improved.  ‘Wilds”, was again priced at six shillings, had a reduced sized colour frontispiece and six internal illustrations.  Although printed on a full page, each illustration was significantly less than full page size, no doubt to keep down the costs.  This was published in November 1947 and was the last Hodder & Stoughton Worrals book.


By now, Johns was frustrated with printing delays at Hodder & Stoughton due to paper shortages.  He couldn’t get his Biggles and Gimlet books published fast enough and he had already decided to move Worrals to be published at Lutterworths Press as I have a carbon copy of their draft agreement, dated 24th June 1947, to publish four Worrals books.  In it, Lutterworths say “the first two novels which we have run to nearer 60,000 words”.  As a result they say  …. the price is likely to be 7/6”, whereas Johns wants them sold at 6 shillings.  It appears clear that both “Down Under” and “Wastelands” had already been written by June 1947, even though they would not appear until October 1948 and January 1949 respectively.  When they were published, they were priced at seven shillings and sixpence and were completely lacking in the illustration department.  The frontispiece was not an original picture but merely the top half of the dust jacket picture and there were no internal illustrations whatsoever.  Additionally, the author was credited as “W. E. Johns” without the “Captain” much to John’s chagrin.


Lutterworths then publish the last two Worrals books, “Afoot” in August 1949 and “Investigates” in July 1950.  “Afoot” was 6 shillings, again poorly illustrated.  No internal pictures other than a frontispiece that was merely the top half of the original dust jacket illustration.  “Investigates” fared better, at six shillings, this offered better value for money because, although the frontispiece repeats the top half of the dust wrapper again, at least in this Worrals book we get four lovely colour plates and a list of illustrations.  On both of these books, the author is credited as “Capt. W. E. Johns”.  Why the change?  Well, Johns had written a scathing letter to Lutterworths on 4th July 1949, reminding them that they has said that they could do what Hodders could do.  It was on the literal interpretation of that term that I proceeded, with some difficulty, in withdrawing Worrals from Hodders and sending her to you”.  Johns then points out that Lutterworth Press reduced the advanced royalty and print run.  They wanted stories reduced from 60,000 words to 50,000 words and publication was delay.  He then says “you omitted the customary illustrations and then, on top of that, increased the price to a figure that had the effect of reducing sales considerably.  Finally, you took what I consider an unpardonably liberty in altering my usual title, without reference to me, to one which I use exclusively for adult work”.


Personally, I always felt that the Worrals books just got better and better, but the last one, it has to be said is fairly awful.  Not only is the plot rather ridiculous, the ending is even more so.  Worrals effectively goes in and just tells the baddies to stop doing what they are doing.  I imagine that Johns, sick and tired with Lutterworths, just knocked out a last lame contractual obligation book and hurried it to a resolution without too much thought.  In the July 1949 letter referred to above, Johns says, “the last book of our present contract is written and only awaits the typist” so he had only recently finished it before writing the letter.


Lutterworths tried to get Johns to change his mind, but his working arrangement with them was over.  It may have been in an attempt to appease Johns, that in 1950, Lutterworths issued “new illustrated” versions of their Worrals books all priced at six shillings.  The first two to receive this treatment were the very first two Worrals books, “WAAF” and “Carries On”. The “New Illustrated Editions” of these two books featured new cover art.  They also have a distinctive yellow spine with a large blue band across it.  They had a frontispiece that again was the top half of the dust wrapper illustration.  I can only suppose that the thinking behind this was that many children didn’t keep the dust wrapper or soon destroyed it.


In “WAAF”, opposite the first page of the first chapter is a list of illustrations and in addition to the aforementioned colour frontispiece the book had four lovely colour plates.  In “Carries On” before the first page of the first chapter there is a whole new page and on the first side of that is the list of illustrations.  Again, in addition to the frontispiece are four lovely colour plates.  However, I wonder how many of you have actually seen these illustrations?  The bulk of these reprinted books simply do not have the colour plates and the page referring to the illustrations has been removed.  This has clearly been done at the printing stage.  Virtually every copy of these reprinted books I have found does NOT have the illustrations!  It took me some considerable time to find two copies that did!  I have both examples of these books, ones with the illustrations and one without.  The “WAAF” reprint was “printed in Great Britain at the St. Ann’s Press, Timperley, Altrincham” and on that page there is an interesting minor difference.  After the words “Fifth Impression 1948” it says “New Illustrated Edition 1950” in the copy that does have the colour plates and it says “Sixth Impression 1950” in the copy that does not have the colour plates or list of illustrations.  Additionally, the contents page for this book has been re-type set in a larger font as the page has had to be reprinted.  The back of the original contents page had the list of illustrations on, which is now not in this book.  The two versions were clearly printed at different times, with different printing plates.  However in “Carries On” which was “Printed in Great Britain by Ebenezer Baylis and Son, Ltd, the Trinity Press, Worcester, and London” both versions of the book follow “Third Impression 1948” with “New illustrated edition 1950”.  Ebenezer used the same plates it would appear.  The “illustrations” page is just removed as it was on a page of its own and although there are no illustrations in one version and four colour plates in the other, I can find nothing to distinguish the two versions, other than what is missing.


“Down Under” and “Wastelands” were also released with the yellow spine and large blue band, again with, and without, illustrations.  Both my versions of this reprint of “Down Under” are price cut but I have regularly seen this cover priced at six shillings, and both versions of “Wastelands” are priced at six shillings.  These reprints use the same cover illustrations as the first editions.  Again, there are two versions of this “New Illustrated Edition”, those that feature four colour plates and the frontispiece (the usual top half of the dust jacket picture) and those that do not feature the illustrations or have a list of illustrations.  Both dust jackets have a white flash over the unacceptable “W. E. Johns” on which is now written “Capt. W. E. Johns”.  Both copies of “Down Under” have on the printing details page “First Published 1948” followed by “New Illustrated Edition 1950” whether they have the colour plates in them or not.  Both were published by Ebenezer Baylis and Son, Ltd.  The version without the colour plates have lost the entire chapter contents page as the list of illustrations was on the back of this.  Mean old Ebenezer didn’t bother to redo the contents page with no list of illustrations on the back, it would appear.  With regard to the two versions of “Wastelands” it is exactly the same, except that the “First Published” year is 1949 rather than 1948.  “New Illustrated Edition 1950” follows and the one without the illustrations does not have the contents page as the list of illustrations was on the back of that.  Ebenezer is the publisher again.


I think there is a reason why the prices are cut off of my copies of “Down Under”.  I have pictures of a “New Illustrated Edition” of “Down Under” with a separate paper yellow band around it saying “First Cheap Editon  3s. 6d. net”.  I am guessing that the versions WITHOUT the colour illustrations were sold off cheaply at three shillings and sixpence and the version with the colour plates was sold at six shillings.  That would fit with all the facts. I am tempted to challenge anyone to find copies of this book with four colour plates in as they are VERY hard to find.  So hard to find that I didn’t believe they existed until I chanced upon them one day and then it took me considerable time and effort to find copies with the illustrations to buy.


Just a couple of asides.  I have a version of “Worrals in the Wastelands” with the “normal” first edition dust jacket and spine, that is price clipped and repriced at six shillings rather that the seven shillings and six pence.  It appears that after the original first edition release, the book was then repriced at six shillings.  Johns said in his letter to Lutterworths that sales had been affected by the higher price.  They must have reduced the price to sell off the unsold stock.


“Worrals of the Wastelands” was originally entitled by Johns “Worrals and the Lipstick Clue” but (unsurprisingly) the publishers didn’t like that title.  In a letter dated 13th August 1947, Peter Watt, Johns’ literary agent writes to Johns about this and asks him to suggest a new title.  Scrawled on this letter in Johns handwriting is what I assume to be “W in the Wasteland” (Note there was no “S” on the end of that) however the scribble could easily be read as “W in the Northland” and maybe it was misread(!) and that should have been the title.


I always thought that the last Worrals book – “Worrals Investigates” was only issued in an illustrated version.  But I have discovered that there is also a version that has no illustrations.  This book was published on 4th July 1950 and has the usual colour frontispiece (reproducing the dust jacket illustration) plus four very nice colour plates.  In the original first edition at page 5 there is a list of chapter titles on a contents page and then on page 6 there is a list of the illustrations.  I have a version of this book where this page has been carefully removed, although there are still signs of it having been there and there are no colour plates other than the frontispiece.  I am of the opinion that this has been done by the publishers rather than some previous owner.  Both books have the same publication details and it would appear that although there was only ever one edition of the book, some had the colour plates and some didn’t.


So, what was the cause of the missing colour plates in all of these books?  Too many books printed and not enough colour plates?  A lack of funds?  Or was it that the books were published at six shillings with colour illustrations to appease Johns and when he didn’t return to Lutterworths, they thought, why bother with the expense?  Just issue the reprints without the colour plates.  Who knows?  It’s a mystery worthy of Worrals herself!


I would be very interested to hear from Johns collectors if they have copies of the “New Illustrated Editions” of the Worrals books with all four illustrations in.  Most importantly I want to know if “Worrals Goes Afoot” was ever published with illustrations?  I am confident in saying it was not, as it was never republished with the yellow spine with blue flash as far as I am aware – but who knows?  Maybe somebody out there can prove me wrong.  For years, I always thought that “Down Under” and “Wastelands” had no illustrations.


Please feel free to contact me at rogerharris@biggles.info and you can go to www.worrals.com to view all the illustrations to which this article refers.