Book Review

2004-7/July 1, 2004

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J.B. Robert of North Carolina, The USA writes: Just wondering.........has anyone ever read The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth (1938 - ) and detected a Shute-like flavor?


Allan LeBaron writes:
Concerning On The Beach I remember that not long after the first A-bomb tests at Bikini in 1946, the U.S. Navy concluded that if a ship were exposed to extreme radiation from a nearby atomic explosion, the crew would be able to continue to function for some time and so save their ship before radiation sickness did them all in. As a white hat at the time, that news wasn't as reassuring to me as it was apparently supposed to be.


Gerard Martin writes: The discussion about Harpic reminded me of another Shute joke that may be lost even on UK readers. At the end of Landfall, Mona takes elocution lessons in Fratton. Fratton is a working class suburb of Portsmouth and most residents speak with a very strong 'Pompey' accent. My new job is as Head of Economics at Downside School near Bath. Although it doesn't start until September, Rosemary and I had to go down there to discuss various matters the weekend of the York meeting. It goes without saying that I was very sorry not to have been (at the UK 2004 Reunion). At the interview, I was asked what I enjoyed reading, so naturally I launched into a diatribe on the brilliance of Nevil Shute. I think I have persuaded The Head (a Benedictine monk) to read Round the Bend. I can't think of any Shute connections with Somerset. Can You? Do you have any info on the color scheme for Shute's Proctor 'Item Willie'?

Editor's Comment: Gerard is making a model of 'Item Willie', the Percival Proctor aeroplane that Shute flew to Australia. He wants the colour scheme for that.

Research of Shute's books has shown the following colour preferences.
Shute's Percival Proctor plane in 1948, Item Willie, was, according to James Riddell, Silver with Green registration letters. Riddell doesn't mention the colour of the fuselage stripe which is evident in photos. To confuse things, later colour photos of Item Willie, after it was sold, show it as silver with a red stripe but you can't see the registration letters.
Shute's taste in bathing suits, dancing dresses and aeroplanes seems much the same: simple but a bit flashy.
He seems to have particularly liked silver and green and also liked white or silver with red.
In Lonely Road Mollie's dancing dress is green and silver and her bathing suit is apple green.
In Pied Piper Nicole Rougeron's bathing suit is green and silver.
In Round The Bend Tom's Fox Moth is silver with a green stripe.
In Rainbow and The Rose the long party dress Peggy Dawson gets made in Fiji is pastel green.
In Pied Piper the plane that John and Nicole flew in had red leather seats and chrome steps.
In Rainbow and The Rose Brenda Marshall's Tiger Moth is white with a red stripe.

It seems very unlikely to me that Item Willie would have had a red stripe mixed with green letters so I would go for silver with green letters and a green stripe. As Tom Cutter's Fox Moth had green letters and much of Round The Bend is based on Item Willie's flight it seems a safe bet.
A search of locations used in Shute did not reveal any significant Somerset Shute Locations.
Even so, I think Gerard should still take the job even though it is geographically Shute-starved, especially as I get the impression they are actually offering to pay him money.


Although I usually edit out most praise and all the usual violent damning of the newsletter, I am including the following praise from Mike Marsh of Australia for reasons explained below. Mike writes:
Congratulations on the newsletter, again. Another most enjoyable read...
Did you notice the three dots I just used? It is a habit I have, especially in email, and I've never really taken any particular notice of it. Nor wondered where it came from.
Being a bit of a stickler for grammar, I was rendered helpless the other day when I discovered a wonderful little volume called 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss. I was compelled to purchase it.
But apart from the grammatical wisdom contained in it, there was another hidden treasure: the jacket notes contained the quote '... from George Orwell shunning the semicolon to Peter Cook saying Nevil Shute's three dots made him feel 'all funny'...'
What a gem! What is the context in which Peter Cook made this remarkable revelation?

Editor's Comment: I replied that the line was from a comedy sketch from the 1960s BBC TV show called 'Not Only But Also' starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Mike then wrote again having googled the text of a truncated version of the sketch in this transcript of an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) Radio National language program called Lingua Franca.
Now we'll finish with an example that attests to the power of punctuation not only to elucidate meaning, but also to imply meaning. The ellipsis is a device long favoured by romance writers: three dots at the end of a sentence that say it all, as this old comedy sketch shows. It's Peter Cook, explaining to Dudley Moore the plot of Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice. Pete explains that Jean is standing on the runway in a wet dress as Joe's plane lands.
Dud: What happens after that, Pete?
Pete: Well the bronzed pilot goes up to her and they walk away, and the chapter ends in three dots.
Dud: What do the three dots mean, Pete?
Pete: Well in Shute's hands, three dots can mean anything. But -
Dud: How's your father, perhaps?
Pete: It usually means a bit of that, but Shute always uses three dots. It means 'Use your own imagination', that's what it means. 'Conjure the scene up yourself'. Whenever I see dots, I feel all funny.

Editor's Further Comment: The longer version of this sketch had Pete describing Jeans tropical-rain-soaked dress being blown by the propellers and clinging sexily to her firm young body and clearly outlining her, to quote Pete and Dud, 'busty substances'.
Before you start thinking you must have missed a few pages when you read Alice, let me assure you there is no such scene in the book and Joe was not a pilot but there is a tame and completely non-sexy scene at an airport in the 1956 Virginia McKenna movie ... but even in the film those provocative 3 dots are not visible anywhere.
The entire 9½-minute sketch is called Pete & Dud On Sex. You can listen to an mp3 of it on the Peter Cook website called The Establishment. Go to: then go to the Discography and find the Once Moore With Cook album about 1/3 down the page. There are other old favourite sketches there to listen to as well.


Keith De La Rue of Australia writes:
I support the comments on abebooks - I have bought many books through this site. It perhaps should be noted that when one purchases through abe, you are actually dealing with a bookshop directly, not via abe, so the results are totally up to the actual shop. Nevertheless, I have had satisfactory results in every case.
Regarding the spanners - I was brought up in a family of amateur mechanics (motorcycle enthusiasts). We always called them just 'shifters', or quite often 'crescent wrenches'.
This presumably would have come from the Crescent Tool company, which so far as I know was a US company. We did actually have one or two tools from Crescent, but I never did see any shifters made by them. I once imagined the name came from the slightly crescent-shaped head.
The reference to gremlins also interests me, as another area of my interest is the fact that Roald Dahl's first book was a cartoon called The Gremlins, written during WW II. This was, I believe, written as part of the British effort to bring the USA into the war.
Read more on my Web site. Dahl claimed that he coined the term 'gremlins', but I believe that there is evidence of it being in use - in the RAF - much earlier.

Editor's Comment:
Keith's website mentions that Roald Dahl was encouraged to write his first book by CS Forester when they met in the USA early in WW2. Forester was active in the Washington-based pro-British propaganda circle. Forester wrote The African Queen and The Hornblower series. I asked John Forester who is CS Forester's son and biographer for more information.
John Forester replies:
Yes, CSF was part of the British propaganda effort to keep American public opinion favorable to the British cause.
He promised to work about half the time, without pay, in New York for the British Information Service, the rest of the time in Hollywood, or wherever, writing stories that paid.
As he remarked to me, the most effective propaganda in the world is that which people will pay to read or to see.
This is all written up in my biography of him, Novelist and Storyteller: The Life of C. S. Forester. Published by me in a small edition.
I know that there is some parallelism between NSN and CSF, and greater differences.
CSF did nothing technical, although he did learn some technical information rather before the public announcements; airborne radar and the proximity fuse being the prime examples.
He was the first person from whom I learned, very soon after the first atom bombs, the prediction that the ballistic rocket with atomic warhead would be a terrible weapon.


Johan Bakker writes:
Regarding Jim Wells' comments about the operating altitudes of airships:
The Germans did indeed operate Zeppelins in the first war at altitudes of 20,000 feet and more. But these were very special birds indeed. Known as 'height-climbers', they were stripped versions of their earlier airships, with every last bit of fixed weight removed to enable them to reach those altitudes and stay there. As Mr. Wells surmised, they were heavily ballasted and somewhat under-gassed at 'up-ship', to allow for the expansion of the gas cells with reducing atmospheric pressure.
These ships were built or modified that way to enable them to evade Allied fighter aircraft, which typically had operational height limits in the 15,000 - 17,500 ft. range. Before the advent or turbo-and supercharging, higher-octane fuels and the like, these aircraft were severely handicapped by reduction in engine power at those altitudes, not to mention the dreadful privations of cold and oxygen depletion suffered by the pilots. However, the Germans had no options - their ships were much slower than the aircraft chasing them, and a few bullets in a target almost impossible to miss would bring them down. Hence the 'height-climbers'.
These ships were right in the hairy edge of structural integrity and their airworthiness was similarly compromised. Their ballasting and gassing was such that they could only ascend to those altitudes and then stay there until it was time to come down, valving off their limited gas constantly to compensate for the lost weight of fuel burned and bombs dropped. Their descent was fraught with danger, since to descend, they had to valve off gas, and as they descended, the lifting gas would be compressed and its lifting capacity reduced still further. Unless, of course, it was a sunny day, in which case, the lifting gas would be expanded as it warmed, causing the ship to rise. The only control mechanism they had to reduce altitude was to use the elevators to fly the thing down under engine power. Many height-climbers crashed during descent or lost control and landed prematurely, having misjudged the descent and having no means left (ballast) to stop it.

Here's a decent link describing the height-climbers:
Such measures would not be tolerable for airships designed for regular passenger service. As noted by others, the regular practice of the large passenger airships was to fly at an altitude between 1.5 and 2.5 times the ship's length, or 1000 to 3000 feet. At this altitude, the problems of maintaining altitude were much reduced and they could be safely flown over large distances while retaining a margin of safety for changing weather and the variations caused by the cycle between day and nighttime temperatures.

Editor's Comment: Further reading has revealed the suggestion that the Post-WW1 US and British failures with collapsing airships were possibly caused because the Allies blindly copied captured German Height Climbers which were already weakened as much as possible to enable height climbing. While these already weakened post-WW1 US and British airships kept folding up, the German post war commercial Zeppelins, using safer designs, few regularly to South America and even circled the globe.


At the Quotes To Live By website most quotes are very short but Shute gets a long paragraph about Architects.

'He was a very great artist at the business of designing aeroplanes, and like all great designers in the aircraft industry he was a perfect swine to deal with. There is, of course, a good deal of explanation in the psychology for this universal characteristic of the greatest aeroplane designers. A beautiful aircraft is the expression of the genius of a great engineer who is also a great artist. It is impossible for that man to carry out the whole of the design himself; he works through a design office staffed by a hundred draugthsman or more. A hundred minds, each with their own less competent ideas, are striving to modify the chief designer's original conception. If the design is to appear in the end as a great artistic unity, the chief designer must be a man of immensely powerful will, capable of imposing his idea and way of doing things on each of his hundred draughtsman, so that each one is too terrified to insert any of his own ideas. If the chief designer has not got this personality and strength of will, his original conception will be distorted in the design office and will appear as just another, not-so-good aeroplane. He will not then be ranked as a good chief designer. All really first class designers, for this reason, are both artists, engineers, and men of a powerful and intolerant temper, quick to resist the least modification of the plans, energetic in fighting the least infringement upon what they regard as their own sphere of action. If they were not so, they could not produce good aeroplanes.'

Editor's Comment: On this website I also found Hanlon's Razor: 'Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity'.


Elton Ellis writes:
In 'The Times' on 2nd June 2004 was the obituary of Sally Gilmour, the 'Lady into fox' referred to by Squadron Leader Chesterton when he ribs Peter Marshall about his meeting with Elliot to see a badger and a fox within a quarter of an hour. Sally Gilmour was a talented Ballet Rambert dancer who played the part of a woman turning into a vixen, hence 'Lady into Fox', in 1939, when she was 17. She died in Australia on May 23, aged 82.

Editor's Comment: I had always wondered about Lady Into Fox. I really enjoy these insights into Shute's world. Were he writing now I wonder which parts of our culture he would comment on and which he would studiously ignore? Had he survived into the late 1960s I dread to think what he would have made of the Hippy movement and my own (shudder) short-lived shoulder length hair.


Arden Jensen's paper called Gremlins and Demons: The Decline of Britain as seen in Nevil Shute's Novels can now be read in the Etcetera section of the website.

John Forester's paper on some of the real life characters behind The Trustee From The Toolroom can now be read in the Characters section of the website.


Tom King of Tennesee in The USA writes:
Several years ago I read a book by N.S. about airlines in which he put forth the idea that any nation that could run and repair an airline would have the ability to grow with tech stuff.
The idea was that third world nations would get on a level field with the rest of the world having technical ability to propel them along. Can you help with the name of said book?

Editor's Comment: I replied to Tom that he had almost certainly read Round The Bend.
I had not initially had Tom's larger scale understanding that the book was really about nation building but I am certain Shute would have agreed with Tom.
I am now struck that I had never noticed the now obvious similarity of the themes of A Town Like Alice and Round The Bend in that both were about how less successful towns, industries or countries could all be helped along by a civilizing effect. In one case the civilizing effect is women and in another it is religion.


Alison Jenner of The UK is writing a review of the Smeeton's book 'Once is Enough' for which Shute wrote a foreword. In the meantime, Alison writes:
Incidentally, while fogbound in Plymouth (actually in the Cattewater where John Howard ends up in Pied Piper, and Stevenson anchors in Lonely Road) I was able to check the charts: the reef on which Stevenson puts the bawley at the end of Lonely Road is no longer off Dodman Point.
The mad Cambridge don must have arranged for it to be relocated!! I'm checking some other charts to make sure. There are loads of genuine Shute locations of course all round this coast.
Have you ever identified the location of Port House, the place with the fuzzy at Dartmouth?

Editor's Comment:
I have been to the Dartmouth area and seen Slapton Sands, which is the location where Commander Stevenson is hit on the head in Lonely Road. I could not quite nail down the exact spot but I still have a hunch where it is.
I never had a chance to attempt to find Port House. There are few clear directions for it in the book.
Dartmouth is really beautiful and well worth a visit. It also features in Most Secret.
I believe I saw The Fuzzy along the coast at the back of a Bed and Breakfast in the seaside town of Beer in the 1970s. When I read Lonely Road years later I was amazed to see my favourite place in the UK described so vividly. Shute relocated geographical features in later books so this might have been it though perhaps the same geographical feature occurs in Dartmouth. Anyone going to Dartmouth or Beer is strongly encouraged to do a bit of research and report back.


Richard Harcourt from Melbourne, Australia visited me in Sydney recently and over lunch at my favourite beachside cafe Richard remarked that he had experienced trouble finding information on the poet James Elroy Flecker who is quoted so prominently in Round The Bend.
I suddenly had high hopes that Shute had made up the name and that we might discover that Flecker was really Shute in disguise. My hopes were dashed when I discovered that Flecker was real and reasonably famous. Flecker was born in 1884. In 1902 he entered Trinity College, Oxford and later enrolled in the Consular Service. He went to Constantinople in 1910. He died of tuberculosis in 1915 aged only 31. As a poet he was linked with Rupert Brooke. One review said 'he had a talent for lush, heavily romanticised depictions of the orient.'
'And some to Meccah turn to pray, and I toward thy bed, Yasmin.'
'For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.'

I suspect that my revised plan of suppressing Flecker's existence and attributing his elegant poetry to Shute is unlikely to succeed.


James Fricker writes:
Being a long-time fan of Nevil Shute, watched racing on the Phillip Island circuit (as a young boy I might even have seen Nevil racing his Jag!), and found identification with so many Shute characters.
I have camped in the Outback and the Howqua and am a model engineer and love gliding.
As an engineer, I am inclined to be a skeptic, however when the so-called impossible was experienced first-hand more than once, I had to shuffle my belief system and acknowledge that science as we know it, is at kindergarten level compared with the true depth of reality.


Stephen C. Farrand writes:
I would very much like to hear from Shutists with a sense of the impact of the publication of What Happened to the Corbetts (AKA Ordeal) upon British public opinion in 1939. I am wondering to what extent this novel contributed to the Chamberlain Government's essential abrogation of its treaty agreements with Poland in their fear of Nazi retaliation against the British civilian population.

Editor's Comment: I suspect a few of our British members may want to point out that having finally been disillusioned with Appeasement, Chamberlain did launch an unprepared Britain into WW2 in a belated defense of Poland. On the other hand, Stephen's point is reasonable as the Appeasement camp were obviously paralyzed by their fear of Hitler and should have, years before, listened to my other favourite author, Winston Churchill.


US Library users take note that The Foundation Librarian, Bruce McKenzie, is relocating.
His new address and telephone number are:

Nevil Shute Norway Foundation Library
C/O Bruce McKenzie
2325 Camino del Sol
Fullerton, CA 92833 USA
Telephone: 714-626-0900

Any Shutists having library materials due should return them to the new address.
Any questions regarding the US Library may be directed to Bruce at, or at the new telephone number. Due to the disruption of the move, there may be some slight delay in responding to requests. However, as soon as Bruce is settled in to his new digs, normal service will resume.


John Anderson has written that he and Mike Meehan hope to soon begin their search of the Airspeed archives which are now held by British Aerospace.
I have my fingers crossed that these files, which cover 8 years of Shute's business life, will uncover some interesting facts about his time there. It's probably too much to expect to find photos of Shute having a cup of tea with Dogs Brunton but we can always hope.


By now you will all have received your email from Dan Telfair about the 2005 conference and you are probably all fired up and volunteering as an organizer and suggesting Antarctica as a venue.
Roger & Ginny Stark in Hot and Humid Orlando, Florida, USA write:
There was some conversation at R2004 about where to go next year.
The US is apparently the choice. Two locations were mentioned, one in Rhode Island, to view the ancient writing on the rocks, supposed proof of the visits of the Norsemen, (see An Old Captivity) and there was Seattle, mentioned in Trustee from the Toolroom.
Timing is important and if it is to be May again, that is probably fine for both locations.
The choice of location might include what else there is which might attract a Shutist for a week's holiday, for instance. Yorkshire was a wonderful choice for us for that reason.
In the east, Old Mystic Seaport, full of sailing ships, would have warmed the heart of the old fellow, and it is in New London, quite close by. Old Sturbridge Village, just over the border in Massachusetts, is an absorbing example of 18th and 19th century American life. All of this is easily reached by expressway.
Seattle includes the delights of the city, Puget Sound, Vancouver, just over the border, and perfectly lovely forested lands in easy reach. The Columbia River Valley is full of quaint little villages, nearby Mount Hood and what is left of Mount St. Helen, just to mention a few of the attractions. I was just in Portland, Oregon on business and the weather was perfectly delightful. I was warned that it is not always that way. Green as it is, I can believe it.
These are just some thoughts, intended to kick off discussion and perhaps get an early decision on where we want to go. My worry at this point would be how to find scones and clotted cream. I'm addicted!

Editor's Comment: Currently the other North American conference location suggestion is Montreal in Canada.
It's time for any last minute would-be organizers and location suggestions to enter the ring.
Personally I have always loved the Cape Cod area and find it a desirable option.
However, I must warn those who might be coming a long way specifically to see Art Cornell's carved stone proof of the Viking visits that finicky archeologists may find them a little fresh and may quibble about ancient stone carvings bearing electric drill marks.

Webmeister's Note: I think that Washington DC would be a good choice too, because of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the new Udvar-Hazy section at Dulles Airport, and the Garber Restoration Facility in nearby Suitland, MD.
There is also excellent sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. Shutist could fantasize about two of NSN's favorite passions.


Janelle Holmes of Dripping Springs, Texas,
The USA writes:
I volunteer at a Thrift Shop in Texas and have come across a hardback copy, with dustcover, of On the Beach, 1957, which I would say is in Very good condition. The dustjacket has a little wear on top and bottom of spine and is stained along back edges. Some staining (spots) on page edges. But otherwise in extremely good condition. I can't seem to find this edition on ebay or Amazon, so have no idea as to its value, but I'm sure it must be considerable. Could you give me some idea as to its value?

Editor's Comment: Sadly I have no idea of book values but if anyone wants to write to Janet I am sure she would like to hear from you. Please include a copy to me, as I am sure everyone would love to have a rundown of current Nevil Shute First Edition values. The only problem is that, as I understand it, if you sell a prized and loved Nevil Shute First Edition, the buyer won't give you the money unless you actually give them the book.


It's perfect late autumn / early winter weather here in Sydney with blue skies and 20c / 70f temperatures.
I've been swimming at the beach most mornings in the wonderfully cold, clear seawater which gets down to about 16c / 64f in winter. In this I am only imitating Shute who was not against a dip over the side in the hardly tropical waters of The English Channel.
Winter is also a good time for sleeping and the thought of sleep always makes me think of an exhausted Ronnie Clarke wearing Johnnie Pascoe's pyjamas and sleeping in his warm bed down there in a little wooden house by a grass airstrip in cold and wet Tasmania. Since reading The Rainbow and The Rose I don't think that image will ever leave me.

That completes this month's newsletter.
All the best from AUTFOD
Richard Michalak
Nevil Shute Foundation Historian and Newsletter Editor
Please write to:

Nevil Shute Norway