Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

UK 2009

Airships to Airspeed
6th Biennial Nevil Shute Norway Foundation Conference
York, United Kingdom
26th to 31st July 2009

By John Anderson, Organiser of UK 2009


Planning for UK2009 may be said to have started at the close of the Alice Springs Conference in April 2007. I indicated then that it was not question of whether there would be a Conference in the UK in two years time, it was a question of where it would be held.

In September 2007 a group of us met in Oxford for the weekend to share our experience of Alice Springs with those who hadn't been, and to begin planning for UK2009. This group comprised John Anderson, Laura Schneider, David Dawson-Taylor, Andy Burgess, Alison Jenner, Mike Meehan and Phil Nixon and we became the UK2009 planning group. We decided that York would be the location but suggestions of dates ranged from April to October 2009. Various duties were also allocated. Phil and Alison would take care of Sponsorship requests and publicity, Laura would be Conference advisor, drawing on her experience of arranging the Alice Springs Conference. I would be Conference Manager with others contributing as required. We also decided that we would actively seek sponsorship for the event to keep costs down and not ask for seed money from the Foundation.

On the Sunday of that weekend we met Gay Sturt at the Dragon School who showed us the Shute artefacts in their museum, his Star Globe and his sextant which had not been on view before.

The following week Laura and I travelled to York to meet Ian Reed, Director of the Yorkshire Air Museum, to put forward the idea of a permanent display there about the life and work of Nevil Shute. This idea was well received and Ian asked us to write up the "story" we wanted to tell and he would provide costs for display boards etc.

Over the following months the outline of the programme took shape. We would follow the pattern of previous Conferences with the mix of presentations, excursions, a Conference Banquet with Guest Speaker. A provisional date of the last week in July 2009 was set and in January 2008 I sent a specification of the Conference to Ann James at the York Conference office. She set up meetings with 3 venues who were interested in hosting our event. Mike, Laura, Phil and I visited them and favoured the Novotel. Although the lobby was being refurbished, and resembled a construction site when we visited, their Conference manager was keen and enthusiastic to help. It had the following advantages. It was a modern hotel within walking distance of the centre of town, had a good Conference room and a large car park. An alternative venue visited was the Hilton. We obtained quotes from both and a provisional contract with the Novotel was signed a couple of months later.

Also on that January trip we visited Yorkshire Air Museum to progress the Nevil Shute display and tell them about our planned Conference. We also went to the Sherburn Aero Club to discuss Aviation Scholarships for 2008.

Mike designed the Conference Logo and I set up a dedicated website. Meanwhile Alison and Phil produced a professional "shopping list" to send to potential sponsors giving various options with sponsorship amounts. Alison sent this out to numerous companies and organisations from BAE Systems, Cobham PLC, the Virgin Group, British Airways to other local organisations. In parallel Phil produced a very professional Press release which he issued to well over 50 press and media offices.I designed a poster and David produced and had bookmarks printed

With regard to a Guest Speaker for the Banquet I initially approached Adam Hart-Davies and Sir Martin Gilbert. Both declined for different reasons. In June 2008 I went to the Barnes Wallis Trust public meeting where I met Mary Stopes-Roe, elder daughter of Barnes Wallis. I subsequently invited her to be our Guest Speaker and she accepted.

In December 2008 I submitted a budget to the Foundation Board which was accepted after some modification. A Pastoral Party for the Tuesday evening, organised by Phil and Jill Nixon, was made an optional extra. The budget was based on 35 people attending full time and 6 attending part time. The option to attend on a daily basis was to cater for people who might want to hear particular presentations and to give flexibility to the Conference.

By the end of 2008 it was clear that, despite great efforts made by Alison and Phil, we would not have any external sponsorship. Only a private donation of $400 towards the cost of the Conference materials had been received.

There was no difficulty in obtaining speakers for presentations. In addition to speakers who volunteered, I invited Ken Deacon, a local historian, to talk about Howden's Airship Station and Colin Cruddas to talk about aviation between the wars, both topics relevant to Shute's work in York. In September 2007 I went to the Howden Heritage weekend where the Barnes Wallis Trust were showing an archive film of the building of R.100 with a commentary by Wallis himself. Since the Trust would only show this unique film by arrangement, I decided to invite them to show it at the Conference which they agreed to do.

By the end of 2008 we had a venue, a date, a budget, a website and a provisional programme. For Conference registration I used the Regonline service. With this I built the event registration online with a link to the uk2009 website. Also the Regonline merchant gateway handled credit card payments thus removing a problem that occurred with previous Conference - collecting and handling payments in different currencies. Regonline charged £2.50 per registration but 5% for credit card payments. In addition to credit card payments I provided the option for payments by cheque and by Internet banking. After initial testing and refining, event registration went live in mid January 2009. Virtually all registrations went through regonline; only one or two local people registered at York in person.

In April Victoria, my original contact at Novotel, left suddenly and her place was taken by Cynthia Walsh. A couple of meetings were necessary, together with detailed briefing notes on our requirements, to ensure that she appreciated our needs. I combined visits to the Novotel with meetings at Yorkshire Air Museum to plan for our day visit and mainly to assess progress with their new "Pioneers in Aviation" exhibition. Originally it was hoped that the complete exhibition, with displays on Nevil Shute and Airspeed, would be open before our visit. I worked with the designer, providing pictures and other information, correcting proofs etc. For various reasons, including the fact that the Museum's officer looking after the project went on maternity leave, the scheduled opening slipped to September 2009. However on the day of our visit we were able to get a preview with the Shute and Airspeed panels in place.

By early July we had 38 full time people registered with 13 registered to attend for part of the Conference. For the displays I concentrated on letters and photographs that attendees would not have seen before. We also had original documents on loan from BAE Systems and Cobham PLC and model engineering exhibits provided by Andy Burgess and Cobham memorabilia from Phil Nixon. The initial payment to Novotel had been made. Laura had brought the Conference tote bags etc to the UK. A week before the start my garage at home was full of Conference items including purpose made display boards and podium!

The Conference.

Saturday 25th July

Jan & I arrived in the van at lunchtime, checked in and unpacked. Laura arrived in the afternoon as did some others. Despite the hotel being fully booked, the staff were accommodating regarding late arrivals. In the evening I checked that my laptop would connect to the hotel's computer projector. It did and I thought that IT should give no further problems - that proved not to be the case later on.

Sunday 26th July.

The morning was spent setting up the display boards, filling conference bags and generally getting organised. Phil arrived and we set up and tested the PA system and the recording equipment. After lunch people started arriving and Laura did an excellent job on the registration desk welcoming and checking people in and giving out the Conference bags. We had printed Conference postcards which sold well and a number of people bought phone cards to call home at low rates. I was particularly pleased to welcome Heather and Keith Mayfield who arrived by train with Dan Telfair.

At 7pm there was a Welcome Reception with a generous buffet giving everyone the chance to meet, greet, chat and have a look at the displays on view.

We were pleased to welcome Adrian White and Richard Maxted from the Sherburn Aero Club who would be our hosts on our Tuesday excursion.

Monday 27th July.

This was the first full day of presentations. I began by welcoming everyone and giving some background to these Conferences. Heather as President of the Nevil Shute Foundation spoke about the Foundation and its Board Members and added her welcome.

David Weir give his usual masterly presentation on "Science and Weird Science in Nevil Shute's novels". After tea break Allison Jenner treated us to a visual photographic feast, "Journey to Brittany" tracing the route followed in Pied Piper from the Jura mountains to Brittany. I followed with a talk entitled "Swallows on the Beaulieu" which told the story of DMWD's project on a pilotless aircraft.

Lunch was taken in the dining area with a self-service selection of hot and cold dishes. From 1:30 Peter Willis, Editor of "Classic Boat" magazine, gave an informative talk on Nevil Shute's yacht "Runagate" and the plans for its restoration by the present owner. He kindly brought along copies of the current edition of the magazine which features his article on Runagate.

After lunch Andy Banta gave an informative talk entitled "The Great Panjandrum and other War Stories". This was based on his analysis of Shute's unpublished Second Front and India-Burma articles. Although the start was delayed due to computer problems, he was able to show his visual aids and he finished on time.

The last presentation of the day was by Shoshana Milgram Knapp entitled "Justice and the Whole Truth". She gave a masterly analysis of this with reference to Ruined City, Landfall and The Chequer Board.

We ended the day with showings of films, first "Lonely Road" followed, after a break for dinner, by "No Highway"

Tuesday 28th July.

To my relief the coach arrived dead on 9:45 to take us on our excursion day. First stop was the Sherburn Aero Club, now one of the leading flying clubs in the north of England, but which has historic links with Nevil Shute. The same airfield was home to the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club in the 1920's. where he was a Director.

Morning tea and coffee were served and they had provided displays on the Club's history. Two of the Nevil Shute Aviation Scholarship recipients were present, but the highlight was a spectacular solo aerobatic display.

There was just time to view the Tiger Moth in the Club's hangar before boarding the coach to go on to the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Here we were greeted by Ian Reed the Museum Director and after a buffet lunch were taken for a preview of the new "Pioneers in Aviation" exhibition. This is very much as work in progress and not yet open to the public. However the display panels for Nevil Shute and Airspeed had just been delivered and mounted so were able to view them.

For the rest of the afternoon we explored the rest of the Museum with its fine collection of aircraft, wartime Control Tower and all the other displays and exhibits. The new Flight Simulator also proved very popular. At 4:30 it was time to board the coach for the return to the Novotel.

In the evening we returned to Elvington for the Pastoral Party hosted by Flt. Lt. Marshall and Section Officer Robertson (a.k.a Phil and Jill Nixon). The NAAFI produced an excellent wartime meal, though not wartime quantities. The raffle for donated prizes raised over £70 with the first prize, a Cassel first edition of "So Disdained" being won by Andy Banta. To get us in the party mood Paul Harper, our entertainer, laid on '40s style music, comedy and dancing.

So enthusiastic was he that it was after 10:30 that we finally broke up the party and headed back to the hotel.

Wednesday 29th July.

Our second full day of presentations. Laura Schneider began with "Through the Looking Glass" the result of her researches at Canberra and Syracuse Libraries showing how Shute's novels evolved through re-writes into their final form.

Andy Burgess followed with "Nevil Shute and the R 100" Like Laura's talk, this was the product of much research over the years and gave a detailed account of Shute's involvement on the project with a good deal of new information.

After lunch Ken Deacon, a Howden resident and local historian presented "Howden's Airship Station" Although this overlapped to some extent with Andy's talk, he provided local detail.

Ken Deacon

This was followed by Chris Henderson showing the Banes Wallis Trust's archive film of the building of R 100 which has a commentary by Barnes Wallis.Chris also brought along a section of R100 tubular spar showing the riveted construction.

Chris Henderson

After the tea break another visitor brought in a press cutting with a photograph.

This turned out to be a photo of the Airspeed Ferry about to be towed from the bus garage to Sherburn for its maiden flight in 1932. Also present was Jim Hodsman, a York resident who as a youngster remembered seeing the R100 flying over the city.

After tea Beall Fowler, a veteran of previous Conferences, presented "The Role of Children in the novels of Nevil Shute".

Beall Fowler

With many examples he showed how children provide key elements in the structure of the novels.

In the evening the films of "Pied Piper" and "On the Beach" were shown.

Thursday 30th July.

Prompt at 10am Ivan, Mike & Chris, our guides from the Association of Voluntary Guides of York arrived for our guided walking tour of York. We divided into 3 groups, one of which accommodated the slower walkers, and set off equipped with umbrellas and waterproofs. We took in the old bus garage,

Bus Garage St Leonards Club

St Leonard's Club and other Airspeed related sites with the Guides taking us to, and pointing out, numerous historic places en route. In my group we did go to 16 Clifton, the Norway's first married home before retracing our steps back to the Minster. The afternoon was free for people to do their own thing. Some went to the National Railway Museum, others to the Yorvik centre and other places of interest.

Back at the Novotel I was very pleased to welcome Mary Stopes-Roe, Barnes Wallis' daughter, who was to be our Guest Speaker at the Conference Dinner that evening. When she arrived the Foundation Board was holding a meeting so I had the opportunity to introduce her to Board Members.

At 8 o'clock 52 people sat down to the Conference dinner.

David and Kate Dawson-Taylor Beall and Linny Fowler
Gary and Mary Ann Swinson Tommy and Polly Thomas

Ian Reed and his wife were invited guests. I proposed a toast to Nevil Shute and Barnes Wallis and then Mary gave a wonderful account of life on the Airship station quoting extracts from her mother's letters.

I announced the 6 winners of the Quiz, two of them being first timers at the Conference.

Friday 31st July.

The was the final day and the last day of presentations. Phil Nixon began with "Nevil Shute b'aht 'at" tracing the Yorkshire locations used in many of his books and bringing them to life with pictures and maps.

Colin Cruddas, a writer and aviation historian, presented "The Development of Aviation between the Wars" tracing the development of aircraft at the time when Shute was involved, joyriding and the influence of Sir Alan Cobham on both Government and making the public "air minded".

After lunch Laura presented "Reading Nevil Shute" where people read favourite passages from the novels and explaining why they are favourites. This popular feature, begun at the Cape Cod gathering, brought 11 readers lead off by Heather reading a passage from "Landfall".

With further fortification from tea and more scones, it was time to wind up proceedings with volunteers to organise the next Conference in Seattle in 2011, and I handed over a symbolic baton to Laura.

Post Conference.

I wrote letters of thanks to Adrian and Richard at Sherburn Aero Club, Ian Reed and staff at the Yorkshire Air Museum. The Association of Voluntary Guides of York and Mary Stopes-Roe. I devised and posted up an online Post Conference Survey form and have received completed forms from many who attended.

An analysis of this Survey can be found here

The accounting for the Conference has been completed and is covered in a separate financial report.

All the presentations were recorded and these will be made available to those who were there at York.

Many people took lots of photographs, in particular our "official" photographer Joost Meulenbroek. A selection of these will be posted on the website in due course.

Final thoughts.

Once again I want to express my grateful thanks to everyone who participated in the planning, preparation and execution of UK2009 - and that includes everyone, the UK2009 team for their vital input and support, staff at the Novotel, Sherburn Aero Club and Yorkshire Air Museum, everyone who attended and made it memorable, especially those who were there for the first time. The week passed in something of a blur for me. "You'll realise how much you enjoyed it when it is all over" Laura said. She was right. I look back on a week when everything went more or less according to plan There were a few hitches to be sure, but on balance everything worked out as envisaged. My highlight was introducing Heather and Mary, two daughters of famous fathers who had never met before, I'm sure you have your own highlights and that you feel as Richard Michalak put it, that it was "like coming home to somewhere you've never been before".