Living up to Biggles

Meet Nevil Whiting, who plays Biggles in the Granada TV series

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 8 May 1960

NEVIL WHITING, the 35-year-old actor who plays Biggles, in Granada’s Friday series of that name, has been asking himself many questions during the past few weeks. And he has been giving himself all the right answers.

“I feel that I’m so much like Biggles that I think of him as my twin, rather than as a fictional character,” says Nevil.

The questions?

Well” says Nevil, “as a result of playing this part, I find that whenever I’m intent to do something or go somewhere I ask myself whether it is the sort of thing Biggles would do or the type of place that he would be likely to go to… I find that the answer is ‘Yes’ every time, so I’m quite satisfied.”

From the beginning Nevil set out to “get inside” Biggles and to compare the character, personality and interests of Capt W. E. Johns’ famous air ace with his own.

How has it worked out?

Nevil Whiting
Nevil Whiting

“Very well indeed,” replied Nevil as we relaxed between rehearsals at the Manchester studios. He stroked his fair, wavy hair and added: “I think Biggles and I have a great deal in common.

“I see him much as his creator sees him – a man with a strong sense of justice and a clear picture of the difference between right and wrong.

“I hate injustice, and when I see someone trying to ‘put one over’ or ‘pull a fast one’ I immediately want to fight it. I can’t stand cheats.”

The 6ft-tall actor, who as a youngster, like millions of other schoolboys, read about and hero-worshipped Biggles, brings to his television role the sincerity and enthusiasm he applies to all his interests.

Like Biggles, Nevil would never consider using physical force unless it were absolutely necessary, though he once battled his way to the semi-finals of inter-unit boxing tournaments while in the Army.

“Biggles can be tough when the situation demands it,” said Nevil. “But he’s not a brutal man by any means.”

Like Biggles, Nevil is greatly interested in flying. He is currently impressed by his first trip in a helicopter.

To add emphasis to his description of the experience, Nevil shot his arms upwards. “Whoosh,” he said. “You go up just like that. It’s marvellous! They’re very manoeuvrable machines. You can almost turn them round on a sixpence.”

Like Biggles, Nevil loves the outdoor life. “I like swimming, and I go sailing on the Thames whenever I can,” he said.

Nevil became interested in “messing about in boats” when he was in Germany during the war, and now, when on holiday, he likes to go dinghy sailing off the Cornish coast.

Nevil looks back on his days in the Army with some affection. For it was then that his acting career took shape.

Said Nevil: “I produced gramophone recitals and little variety shows and out of that grew my leaning towards the theatre.

“I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Perhaps become a sleuth like Biggles.”

A man in a flying jacket leans out of a cockpit
Nevil, as Biggles, gives a “thumbs up” sign in the cockpit

He added: “When I was demobbed in 1947 the Government gave me a gratuity and paid for my theatrical training in London.”

After that, Nevil spent five years in repertory at Northampton, doing “almost every job in the theatre except that of box-office cashier.”

Then Whiting the baritone emerged, and with Biggles-like determination Nevil “burnt his boats” in repertory, went to London and landed a part in the Drury-lane production of South Pacific.

He spent several years playing in musical shows in the West End and in touring productions before taking over his own television children’s programme two years ago.

Nevil’s current problem is to find a second car.

“My wife has the family car at home in London and I need one to run around in while I’m in Manchester,” he said.

What sort of car has he in mind?

“Oh, a Biggles-type, of course,” he replied unhesitatingly. “An old drophead sports two-seater is the sort of thing that Biggles would probably go for… and that’s just what I have in mind.”

And with that Nevil said he was sorry but he just had to fly…

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