Nevil Shute Norway Foundation


Henry Warren

By: Dan Telfair

Henry Warren, like most of Nevil Shute's characters, appeared in only one book; Ruined City, aka Kindling. Unlike most of Nevil's major characters, Henry Warren was wealthy. It is interesting to note that all of Nevil's major characters after Henry Warren were ordinary people of ordinary, or less than ordinary means. Typically, their lack of means played some significant part in the story.

Henry Warren was a man of means, and that fact played significantly in the tale of Ruined City. It is the tale of Sharples, an English town during the world depression of the 'twenties and 'thirties; a town where there had been a thriving ship building industry, but where the industry had died, and where there was no work for the population; a town whose people were dispirited, without hope, and physically and psychologically ill.

Henry Warren, a wealthy banker with a failed marriage, goes on a walkabout in the English countryside to improve his health and clear his mind. In the process, he falls ill and is taken to a hospital in Sharples. There, he sees first hand how lack of work can destroy a city and how living on welfare can destroy men's souls, and he resolves to do something about it. The story unfolds as Warren goes on to risk his wealth, his good name, and even his freedom to put things right in Sharples.

I believe that Warren is based on two real life characters: the author himself, and Lord Grimthorpe, the wealthy English nobleman who risked his fortune to keep Airspeed, Ltd. afloat, while Nevil risked his own reputation and freedom toward the same end.

As Julian Smith remarked in his biography of Nevil Shute: Many of the motives and traits of Warren and Nevil Shute are interchangeable: Both are hard-working, imaginative men, who had great faith in English industry and in their mission to provide work. Neither was above cutting a few legal corners to do so. Henry Warren goes to prison for writing a falsely optimistic prospectus for his shipyard, and Shute, to keep Airspeed viable in 1934, had gained a reputation with his co-directors for reckless and unscrupulous optimism that came close to dishonesty. In Shute's own words about his time of fund raising and prospectus writing at Airspeed: "Many men drafting prospectus have taken a quick glance inside the prison door, and some of them have subsequently entered it." In real life, Nevil glanced inside the door. In Ruined City, Warren entered it.

Nevil had a great deal of admiration for Lord Grimthorpe, who continually came to the rescue when Airspeed, Ltd. found the wolf at the door. He must have wondered how he would have acted, and what he would have done, had he a personal fortune to risk, as well as his good name.

In Henry Warren, Nevil combined the personal wealth and commitment of Lord Grimthorpe, with his own willingness to court disaster in order to keep Airspeed afloat and guarantee the jobs of his employees. I believe that he created a character who behaved as he would have behaved, had he had the means to do so.

Who was Henry Warren? I think he was Nevil Shute with money.