Book Review

2003-12/December 1, 2003

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Once again, the Newsletter is being distributed by Dan Telfair, as Richard is still having trouble figuring out how to create a group mailing list. However, be assured that the following comes straight from the keyboard of The Mad Australian.


Happy Holidays. For many of us the last month has been very hectic so I hope you all can force yourselves to relax over the holiday season. It is a shorter newsletter this month but I hope you still find it interesting reading.



Trainee pilot Ben Lawrence who was a recipient of a Nevil Shute Norway Foundation Scholarship to assist his pilot studies has now passed his Commercial Pilot License flight test. I am sure you all join me in congratulating Ben. Ben's scholarship was successfully administered through the excellent work of Joe Ferlazzo who is the training manager of the Royal Victorian Aero Club at Moorabbin Airport in Mentone, Victoria, Australia.


R100 Flying Model
Click for larger image
James Fricker of Melbourne, Australia has reported that he has witnessed the flight of a working scale model of Shute's R100 airship. The model was flown in a gymnasium. James says that it is very realistic, flies gently under control and is almost silent. The model airship is filled with helium, is radio controlled and uses very tiny electric motors. From the photo, the model appears to be about 5 feet long and beautifully made with very fine detailing.


When I first read Shute's autobiography, "Slide Rule", I was naturally very interested to see the pictures. However, these illustrations seemed to have been collected by the tea boy at the publishers as a rushed, very last minute idea. For the most part the limited photos were dull and many were almost irrelevant.

At the OZ 2001 conference in Australia, Derek Hill showed, as part of a very fine and densely illustrated talk, a fantastic photo of an excited young Nevil Shute in the navigator's cockpit above the nose of R100. I suddenly realized then that earning a living and paying rent were mere nothings compared to dedicating my life to collecting images and relevant information about Nevil Shute. I can accurately date my decline from that day.

Those of you who liked the old Timeline and the old Photo Album on the website should enjoy the new combined document with many new Timeline entries and about 70 new photos. The old Timeline without photos still remains on the website as a quick opening, easy reference document.


E & R Shanahan recently wrote to Dan Telfair about a famous Viking Explorer who returned home from "Vinland The Good" to find his name missing from the town register. His wife complained to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying: I must have taken Leif off my census.



Does anyone out there have access to a website with a list of the comparative value of current money to earlier times. I believe these are called Constant Dollars in econom-ese. I want some guide of the Constant Dollar values for the cost of living or house prices or other things over the last century. I am after a document like this for Australia, The UK and The USA.

When researching history, it is frustrating to report, for example, that Nevil Shute earned over 40,000 Australian Pounds per year in the 1950s without being able to supply a reasonably accurate explanation of what that amount might be worth today. If we have an economist amongst our members I hope they can help. At worst, some of you could write telling what you or your parents paid for Houses or cars or were paid each week as far back as you can remember. I could then build some kind of mini database of this sort of information and use it as an example when I come across references to prices in the good old days.


John Anderson of the UK, one of our band of prolific and unstoppable researchers, wrote to me recently:

I have been looking at a copy of a book entitled Admiralty Brief by Edward Terrell who served with Shute at the DMWD. The book is an account of Terrell's work at the DMWD which was mainly concerned with plastic armour -his invention- and for which he was awarded 10,000 pounds at the end of the war. There are a few mentions of Shute in the book as follows:

There was one other officer newly joined in our coterie and this was Norway. His broad, benign beam made him my friend and I found that he was an experienced aeronautical engineer. Later I also found that he wrote novels, writing under the celebrated name of Nevil Shute.

Terrell joined DMWD at the same time as Shute in June 1940. Terrell refers to himself, Richardson and Norway being promoted to Lieutenant Commanders at the same time in March 1941. Richardson was later promoted to Commander and Terrell to Captain. Shute achieved no further promotion, although some of those who originally worked for him (for example Williamson) were promoted to higher rank than Shute. Perhaps the arguments with the Admiralty over publication of Most Secret scuppered his chances of promotion?

Terrell also writes:

Rockets were his magnet ....Norway devised a weapon firing some fourteen rockets for the defence of a ship against attacking aircraft. This weapon produced serious trouble with the fuses, and whenever I saw him, he was engaged in much highly technical discussion. He was learning by painful experience a lesson that we all had to learn - namely that it was one thing to produce a prototype that functioned on land, but an entirely different thing to make it, with all the varied movements of the ship, work at sea.... Nevertheless with dogged determination, as soon as one rocket weapon failed to show enough promise, he started designing and developing another and went, from projectors based on land for defence against invasion, to yet another system of rockets for the defence of ships. Although at first promising, once again the result was failure. Still he went on testing, trying and failing. But the result of the groundwork of research was the Rocket Landing Craft which was ultimately used in the Normandy landings.


I have recently discovered a news article stating that in June 1952 Shute visited Alice Springs with Alan Moorehead (1910-1983). Alan Moorehead was a Melbourne born, international journalist and author. Has anyone read any of Moorehead's books?

Shute indicated in the article that his target audience were in their 40s. This group, he explained, was less sex obsessed and more interested in how things worked than the younger sex-mad crowd. (I am paraphrasing loosely here in case you wondered) Shute seemed not to mind the general necessity of having some romance in popular novels as he felt that love was something that often motivated people to very positive and practical actions.


Andy Burgess wrote to several people including me about the Airspeed AS 31 and also about the tailplane failures in "No Highway". I have condensed the correspondence below.

Andy writes:

Browsing through back numbers of Aeroplane Monthly this weekend I came across a couple of articles by Don Middleton about Airspeed projects that never left the drawing board. In the second article in the January 1982 edition he refers to the A.S.31 project, which was for a very high speed fighter for the RAF. It had a cockpit positioned on twin booms separate to and behind the main fuselage. The following is an extract from the article describing how the concept came about:

The late Arnold G. Wilson, chairman of a Leeds motor firm, told of a conversation with Norway at the Yorkshire Aero Club in 1933. Wilson said Norway, What would you think of an aeroplane in which the pilot sat above and behind the machine? He would never make a bad landing would he? They discussed the idea, which, to Wilson, seemed utterly impractical. Norway talked to Tiltman and the revolutionary A.S.31 design resulted.

Editor's Comment: A picture of a model of an AS 31 is in the new Photo Album on the website.

Andy continues:

The company worked on the design, but it did not proceed beyond wind tunnel testing, however Middleton continued as follows:

Norway continued to think about this concept and rationalised it thus: If you could divorce your mind from your cockpit and imagine you were 10ft above and 20ft behind it being towed along on a cable, you could observe exactly what the machine was doing and looked like in its evolutions and would be able instinctively to correct by the look of the machine instead of being in the cockpit. He even included it in his novels. "In The Wet", published in 1953, related an incident aboard an aircraft carrying the Queen from Britain to Australia. An explosive device was found and the crew decided that the only way to dispose of it was to lower the undercarriage at low altitude, remove a wheel well inspection panel and jettison the bomb through the hole. The rush of air through the hole was too powerful so the aircraft was stalled to reduce the velocity of the air. At the critical moment, the pilot had an experience which had occurred before in difficult test flying. He saw his instruments and controls with only a small part of his mind. The rest of him seemed to be seated in mid air, 40 or 50ft above and behind the machine. Norway (or Nevil Shute, in this context) gave a vivid account of the manoeuvring of this large airliner in difficult circumstances at low altitude, The pilot saw it poised at a very steep stalled angle -like a fish rising to a fly- before entering a violent spin. Seated behind the aeroplane, however, it was easy to correct.

Norway had this facility of developing an idea of this type over a period of several years and then introducing it in one of his books. Concord Morton, who worked with Norway on Airspeed's publicity, told of a railway journey from Portsmouth to London in 1935. At this time Boeing were having structural trouble with the model 247 twin engine metal airliner. Norway took from his briefcase a cutting from The Times reporting a case of the tail falling off one of these machines. They discussed the implications of this for the whole of the journey. Years later his famous novel "No Highway" was published and produced as a film. The book describes the problems of a new airliner, the Reindeer, which had structural weakness in the tail, and is an uncanny prediction of the difficulties which befell de Havillands at the time of the Comet tragedies which were caused by fatigue in the airframe.

This gives an alternative source for Shute's idea on the fatigue plot for No Highway and one which we should be able to verify as I am sure the development history of the Boeing 247 is well documented, to say nothing of the alleged article in The Times.

Andy then had various replies and wrote again:
Thanks everyone for the feedback. .... The aircraft was designed around the RR Kestrel engine and the concept was patented. It might be interesting to see if it is in Shute's name.

David Vaughn hit on the main problem quoted in the article - the gyroscopic forces on the pilot in high speed manoeuvres. Also Middleton points out that the drawings do not show any rudder!

Shute's idea about seeing the aircraft from outside seems very like the modern thinking about visualization, particularly in sport. Our eyes are just sensors that produce signals that the brain processes and interprets. If we can reprocess that information into a more useful visualization we should be able to improve our performance in a lot of areas. Easy to say, not so easy to do I guess. 'Nigger' Anderson might nowadays be described as -in the zone- when he was flying the Ceres in the stalled condition. So maybe Shute was ahead of his time again.

David Weir then wrote:
... this whole issue of where the pilot sits had for some time been interesting to me for quite other reasons, to do with disaster studies and following up some research into air crashes, for example, the Kegworth 737 crash in which the physical location of the flight deck was a factor and relating these thoughts to the way we visualize physical space in relation to control mechanisms and organisational structures. So in the mid-90s I had an article published in -Disaster Prevention and Management- called: -Why does the pilot sit at the front?-. As usual, Uncle Nevil was there first...!!!
David Vaughn then wrote:
.... It's possible that Shute had been working on "No Highway" before the war. .... I would be curious to know if the 247 tail plane problem was similar to that I described (at UK 2003) for Barnes Wallis' Vickers Warwick.
And about the pictures of the AS 31:
Maybe it would be easier to land (one wonders about Shute's confidence in that area), but I would hate to pull more than 1.3 Gs in it--that pilot ball would come hurtling out of the sky like a pumpkin.
Andy Burgess then replied with:
Last (frivolous) thought, David W - The pilot is at the front of the aircraft so he arrives at the accident first! Concentrates the mind. ..... Seriously, it is well known that we would all be safer sitting facing the rear in aircraft, but no airline has so far done it. I believe military transports have seats facing rearward. This is similar to the point that Mr Honey identifies in the Reindeer when he was advising Monica Teasdale and Marjorie Corder."


The US Library has a new Librarian. Bruce McKenzie from Woodside, California, has agreed to take over library responsibilities. As this issue of the Newsletter goes to press (or electrons, as the case may be), Ed Yess is transferring library assets to Bruce, and Bruce is gearing up to open for business. By the first of the year, thanks to their efforts, we should have the US branch of the NSN Library up and running again. Consult the Web Site and/or the January Newsletter for progress reports.


HREM Steph Gallagher is gearing up to open the UK Branch of the Foundation Library. She already has all the recorded books, and is in the process of obtaining a complete set of Stratus editions to use as loaners. Due to copyright restrictions, it is unlikely that the UK Branch will offer videotapes of films based on Nevil's books. Most of them have not been produced in PAL format (the UK and Continent video tape format), and we do not have permission to make PAL copies. However, with luck, and a lot of work on Steph's part, the UK Library will soon be up and running with other Nevil Shute reading and listening assets..


The Foundation has recently sent six copies each of "A Town Like Alice", "Landfall", Round the Bend", and "Trustee from the Toolroom" to Dr. Marjie Bloy, an English Professor at the Beijing Language and Culture University, for use with her English language students. We will be following up shortly with audio books of each, and at least one video set - the 1980 "A Town Like Alice". Dr. Bloy has agreed to act as our "Librarian" in Beijing, and has assured us that her students are excited about reading the preeminent English novelist. Who knows, this may start another cultural revolution!?!

Many thanks are due to Eunice and Ron Shanahan in Australia, for bringing Dr. Bloy's needs to our attention, and to Fiona Foster, of Stratus Books, for the special discounts, and for her extra efforts in processing our order for the University in Beijing.


Donations to the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation, either through the PayPal button on the web site home page, or through are always appreciated. Also, anyone interested in leaving a bequest to the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation is encouraged to contact the Foundation Secretary at We promise to keep your planned bequest secret in case public-spirited but less morally burdened Shutists are tempted to hasten you off this mortal coil so the Foundation can get the money more promptly.


Jack Calaway writes:

Bookfellows is a high class place, the books are always in very good condition, and they have a fair number of NSN's.

238 N. Brand
Glendale, CA 91203
Tel: (818) 545-0121

Note: Correspondents' letters may be edited. To give our readers some idea of the areas of the world covered by the Web Site and the Newsletter, please include your name and country/state/region. If you are tempted, as I would be, to say you are in a blizzard-swept tent in Antarctica when you are really eating crumpets by the fire in your apartment in East Cheam, remember that I will hunt you down like a dog when I find out.

of the UK writes:

I have just returned to reading Nevil Shute. I first read him in my teens in the late forties and fifties. My great aunt Nell Williams was companion housekeeper to his godmother a Mrs Heath who lived near the Fairmile in Cobham Surrey. Have just finished Round the Bend and realize just how influenced I have been in my life by his writing. I have a great interest in world religions and had forgotten where perhaps that interest stemmed.
Editor's Comment: I love that we keep unearthing people with a connection to Shute. It seems quite true that we are all connected by a maximum of 6 degrees of separation.

of Cape Cod writes:

I sent you my attempt to find information about Nevil Shute's visit to Cape Cod in 1939. I was not successful in that regard but now have three new members for the Nevil Shute Society Cape Cod Chapter. Here was a typical response:

I read in your column the letter from the man from the Cape Cod Chapter of the Nevil Shute Society, and would be very interested in knowing more about it. I thought I was the only person in the world who still reads Nevil Shute! Can you please give me an address or an email address where I can get in touch with them?

I highly recommend more Shutists starting a chapter. You cannot imagine the enjoyment of meeting more Nevil Shute readers.

of the UK writes:
I have been researching my genealogy, and I have been told that I am somehow related to Nevil Shute Norway. I believe my ancestors name was Shute, which would mean that the relation is to Mr. Norway's grandmother's family. What is the history of the Shute part of his name? I believe the tie in to my family would be by the name Coe.

Any help you could provide would be appreciated! Thanks!!

Editor's Comment: I referred Michelle to who lives in Cornwall in the UK. Bruce is researching the Shute family history.


Have been looking for a (PAL) copy of the "A Town Like Alice" video - with Bryan Brown - and you suggest 'Critics Choice Video'.

They don't seem to have it listed - could you suggest anywhere else please.

Editor's Comment: I searched too but had no luck. Does anyone know of a s ource for PAL copies of Shute videos ?


My name is Simon Belfer and I have been an avid advocate for Nevil Shute's work since I was introduced to them some 23 years ago. After rereading "In The Wet", I did a search on the net and discovered that there is a complete world around Nevil Shute and his works. Please add my name to your news letter subscription list and I will look forward to reading them.
That completes this month's newsletter.

I live in the very beautiful city of Sydney, Australia, which was once described by a delayed, frustrated and Customs-infuriated Nevil Shute as An Ugly Town, Full Of Drunks or AUTFOD.

All the best from AUTFOD
Richard Michalak
Nevil Shute Norway Foundation Historian and Newsletter Editor
Please write to:

Nevil Shute Norway