Amongst my archive of W. E. Johns letters is a letter dated 29th April 1949 from Peter Watt, (Bill Johns’ literary agent) to Bill Johns which had the intriguing paragraph
“I will try to find out from the B.B.C. who the boy was who, via Wilfred Pickles in “Have a Go”, gave you such publicity”. At the end of the letter, after the signature is a P.S. “Since dictating the above, I have discovered from the B.B.C. that the young man in the Pickles programme was Raymond Humberstone c/o Arthur Moody Esq., Hon. Sec. Louth & District Boys’ Scouts Local Association, 63 Grimsby Road, Louth, Lincs.”
This set me thinking. I wondered if Raymond Humberstone was still alive. It was an unusual name, not “John Jones” or anything like that. Could I, some 67 years later, trace him? Well, using that incredible device known as “The Internet” I searched for Raymond Humberstone and soon found a company director with that name who was born in March 1936. That would make him 13 years of age in April 1949 – the right age and the right name. I had a home address for him, so on 1st January 2016, I sat down and wrote the following letter:-
Dear Mr. Humberstone,
THE BIGGLES BOOKS OF CAPTAIN W. E. JOHNS
This letter is a complete shot in the dark and I may have the wrong person completely. My name is Roger Harris and I am a keen fan of W. E. Johns, the author of the Biggles books. I run a couple of Internet web sites at www.biggles.com and www.wejohns.com.
I have a large collection of W. E. Johns memorabilia, including loads of his personal correspondence. Amongst the correspondence is a letter dated 29th April 1949 from Peter Watt, his literary agent, to Bill Johns. I enclose a copy of the letter for you. You will see there is reference to a boy called Raymond Humberstone giving Johns some great publicity and he asked his agent to find out whom the person was and his address.
I did a search on the Internet and found yourself – as a company director – and I understand from my research that you were born in March 1936 – which would make you 13 in 1949 and an ideal candidate to be the person who was the Biggles fan. I am writing to ask – was it you? And did Bill Johns ever contact you to say thanks? He might even have sent you some signed books.
If I have got the wrong person, then feel free to bin this letter, but if I am correct would you contact me and let me know? You can contact me at (address, phone and e-mail details provided)
Many thanks for your assistance.
Then, to my surprise, on the evening of 4th January, I received the following email.
Reference your letter of the 1st Jan. To answer your question “was it you?” Yes it was.
Isn't it nice when another piece of the jig-saw drops into place? I know the feeling from researching family history. Not knowing your age I cannot be certain how much you know of the 'Have a Go' show and I may not be telling you anything new.
I was brought up in the village of North Somercotes in Lincolnshire and joined the local scout group there that came under the jurisdiction of the Louth district. All groups were invited to fill in a questionnaire to appear on the show and eventually I was chosen to appear on the programme in January of 1949 at the Playhouse Cinema in Louth.
On the show was Wilfred Pickles himself, Barney Colham and the pianist Violet Carson who later found fame as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. W.P. was asking all the questions, one of which to me was, “what books did I like reading?” It was then that I mentioned 'Biggles' and Captain W E Johns. Nothing much else of note happened other than I won £1-17-6, until the April of that year when it was broadcast on the radio. Local press also got hold of the story.
Then a parcel came to my home. In it was a small 'poly photo' of W. E. J. not personally signed but it had his signature on it. Which I now cannot find. Also enclosed and personally signed inside with a brief note, was a book “Gimlets Oriental Quest”. Nice as the present was I can recall being disappointed that it was not a 'Biggles' book.
The book lay in the bookcase until about ten years ago largely forgotten until a conversation with my daughter suggested she had no interest in it. From then on I could see one day it was going to end up in a skip. I then decided along with some pictures I would put it in the local Print and Book Auctions.
It was sold on line to someone in New Zealand and for the life of me I cannot tell you what price it went for and I doubt if I could find a receipt for it now. I never found out until it was too late that he lived and worked in Swaffham in Norfolk which is just down the road from where I live now. I could have easily knocked on his door and asked for my fee for the publicity he got from my moment of fame.
It was a nice surprise to receive your letter and to stir up memories from so long ago. It would be interesting to know what would its value be today? If I can be of further help do not hesitate to contact me.
Ray Humberstone Tel. (supplied)
What a fantastic story! And fancy me finding Ray Humberstone after all these years! However, there is a sequel to this. Mr. Humberstone telling me that the signed book he received from W.E. Johns all those years ago was “GIMLET’S ORIENTAL QUEST” reminded me that I had been negotiating to buy a signed copy of “GIMLET’S ORIENTAL QUEST” back in October 2015. I was doing a talk on signed books by W. E. Johns in October 2015 and I had wanted to add that one to my collection. The book shop selling it was asking a significant amount of money. I had offered them half of their asking price. Negotiations got us no further and it came to nothing. However, I had been sent a photograph of the inscription (see below) where Bill Johns had written “With best wishes from the author, yours sincerely, W.E. Johns” (name underlined) and then on a separate line “May 1949”. Well, the letter from Peter Watt to Bill Johns giving him Ray Humberston’s address was 29th April 1949. This HAD to be the same book, didn’t it?! I sent the picture to Mr. Humberstone and asked him if this was the one he had received ……………… I wrote:-
This is a signed copy of Gimlet’s Oriental Quest – from May 1949 .................. it wouldn’t happen to be yours would it??
Mr. Humberstone’s reply was as follows:-
The plot thickens. As far as I was aware, the book bought at the on line auction went to New Zealand. That inscription in the book which you e-mailed, proves to me it is from the book I sold. So maybe it did not get to N Z, or did it and then did it come back?
It would be interesting to know the full story and how it came into your possession. Is it now in a collection and where is it? By all means, use my email to you, in any way you feel is appropriate and when you do you might let me have a copy to peruse. Very interested in a reply.
Regards Ray Humberstone
By the time I had received this reply, I had already purchased the signed copy of GIMLET’S ORIENTAL QUEST. After reading Mr. Humberstone’s original e-mail, that had spurred me on to much greater efforts to buy it so I had done the deal and purchased the signed book. Unless you watch W.E. Johns actually sign the book in front of you, that is about as good as the provenance of a signed book gets!
There is a brief sequel to this story – in March 2021 – when Ray Humberstone contacted me – having found the small photo of Johns that was sent to him – and I bought it off him to go with my signed book. It is not entirely clear if the signature is a genuine one or a pre-printed one but I like to think it is a genuine one. The card is 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. The photo is 1.25 by 1.25 inches. Here it is:-
Grateful thanks to Mr. Ray Humberstone for taking the time and trouble to respond to my query and giving me his permission to quote his e-mails.