Book Review

2004-11/Nov 1, 2004


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Regarding the Incident At Eucla article in the last newsletter that contained the sentences:

'Then a note says that the scientist has been working on immunity for radioactivity. He is going to betray something I can't make out. The scientist then kills himself at the moment the baby is born.'

Andy Banta writes:

You comment you can't make out what is written right before the scientist commits suicide; I'm reasonably sure it is 'his work'.
I pondered the 'selling lighthouses' for the longest time and finally found the answer in Shute's 'Flight Log' where he talks about meeting someone who sold light houses. It says he had to sell one every three years to maintain his contract.
I have a reasonable guess of what is being referred to by 'I saw it. I was actually in the room and I saw it myself' but I think I'll save this and some other things for my talk at Cape Cod in 2005.

Editor's Comment: If any of us needed an extra reason to get to Cape Cod 2005 we now have one.


John Anderson writes:

You mentioned the Australian election in your Newsletter and I just heard that John Howard had won a fourth term in office as your Prime Minister.
He wouldn't by any chance have a middle name Sydney making him John Sydney Howard and thus a latter-day 'Pied Piper' leading Australians to security and freedom?
I hope all Australian Shutists who voted used their Seventh Vote wisely!

Editor's Comment: At the risk of speaking about politics, I will mention that, in case you didn't notice, as this goes out the US Elections are underway. There is some expectation that more than the usual 50% of eligible voters will vote.

It may interest readers that Australia is one of only 3 countries with mandatory attendance of a polling place on polling day. Consequently we usually have a 97% voter turnout with a very low informal vote. Conservatives might fear that this would encourage the stupid and uneducated to make frivolous or uninformed choices but I believe it makes Australians relatively more involved as they generally can't cop out of responsibility for all government decisions by saying they just don't vote. Australia's election results are generally seen to reflect prevailing opinion and governments who don't perform are regularly ejected. Perhaps Shute might not have agreed with this system, as it seemed to enfranchise those who he believed shouldn't be voting. Possibly it was his learning of this system that partially encouraged him in his 7 votes idea. However, I believe the world would be better if all those who benefit from a society are not allowed to smugly abrogate their responsibility for it and to it by not voting. I believe voting is not just a right but also a social obligation.

However, when I am finally elected King I will install a 7-vote system anyway. I will get 7 votes. Others will get none.


Herb Friedman writes:

Having just reread Slide Rule, I have ordered the Smith Biography of NSN from the library. Is it considered authoritative?

Editor's Comment: In a rather pathetic fit of pique that has been welling up over many years I replied to Herb that Julian Smith's biography was worth reading but in spite of some very diligent research by Smith, the book also conveys the feeling that Smith was a frustrated and angry academic who seemed to have rather resented the ease with which Shute wrote novels and became successful and famous. Personally I don't think Smith related to or understood Shute much at all.

Worst of all, in the biography, which was published in 1976, Smith often judges Shute from an annoyingly hip 1970s perspective and in some cases completely misunderstands plot points and character attitudes.

Herb then replied:

Thanks. I am certainly glad that I opted for the library instead of ABEBooks!

Editor's Further Comment: I would still recommend that everyone read Smith's biography even if it occasionally rankles. Regardless of my outburst I still have to praise Smith for his hard work. I would also like to point out in Smith's defence that I have never written anything much over a few thousand words and am probably in no position at all to throw rocks. (signed Cranky Editor of Sydney)


Lesley Gagg writes:

My daughter was recently in Alice Springs and I asked her to buy me a copy of the book. The only place she could find a copy was on the shelf of a bookstore. I had thought there might be more interest in the book in Alice Springs. Was I wrong or did she miss it ?

Editor's Comment: Has anyone else been to Alice Springs recently ? Did you note many references to A Town Like Alice ?


Steph Gallagher writes:

This weekend I joined Andy and John at the National Archives. I had fun trawling through volumes of Airspeed records and made two significant discoveries. (I get excited by little things in life).
On 20th December 1939, Airspeed held their AGM at The Queens Hotel! Ok, so Shute had resigned by then, but I'm sure his spirit was at the hotel then, and again in the summer of 2003.
2nd fascinating fact, a certain Mr Terry 'Chocolate Manufacturer' had 250 shares in Airspeed. You may not know this company, but they are one of the oldest and biggest chocolate manufacturers in the UK. Have you ever tasted a 'Chocolate Orange'? I wonder if Nevil Shute really did have a weakness for Chocolate???
Both of these facts reinforce my belief in kismet and that I am a 'Shute Kid ' at heart.
Bye for now, Steph.
NB: Amy Johnston/Mollison also had shares in Airspeed, so Mr Terry was in good company.

Editor's Comment: For those who missed the UK2003 Conference, which Steph organized brilliantly, was held in the Queen's Hotel. Steph discovered that Amy Johnson was actually a founding shareholder of Airspeed. This fact further strengthens the claim that Shute based Brenda Marshall in The Rainbow and the Rose on Amy Johnson.

Regarding chocolate, when I scanned through all the books for recurring themes I didn't notice any particular chocolate theme like Shute's repeated references to Cherry cake. Doubtless, like Steph, he had a secret chocolate obsession but was reticent to divulge this innermost secret love and pretended to like Cherry Cake instead just to confuse chocolate-loving researchers 50 years in the future.


I found these 2 Airspeed-related items at the Aerofiles website

Not Your Everyday Accident (#1)

This happened in England in 1938. The nation had awakened and was preparing itself for war. Anti-aircraft gunners were trained, especially for night action. Private pilots were engaged to serve as aiming targets with their flying-club planes.

One of those brave and probably inexperienced pilots was flying around over Portsmouth in his Puss Moth on a dark autumn night. When he returned to land, he found that the airfield was covered with ground fog. Kerosene lamps that had been placed along the runway were nowhere to be seen; however, he could see the big electric sign, 'AIRSPEED,' on a roof at the edge the airfield, so he aimed at the sign and made a cautious descent through the thin fog. Still he undershot and thumped down with a loud crunch on a soccer ground adjacent to his airfield, clattered onto the landing field with the goal and its net in tow, and stepped out of the battered Moth unharmed. A pedestrian, who happened by, stopped when he heard all the racket from inside the fog. Greatly puzzled, he gripped the steel wire on top of the airfield fence and listened intently.

At the same time, airfield emergency people, who had also heard the noise, maneuvered their ambulance through the fog trying to locate the wreck. In so doing, they hit the foundation of the soccer goal and caromed into the fence just a few yards from where the pedestrian was hanging on. That innocent bystander was then catapulted by the recoil of the fence 'out against Langstone Harbour,' breaking his arm on landing. When the ambulance crew got out of their vehicle and heard groaning and curses, they scrambled over the fence to the source, thinking they had found an injured pilot. Despite his protests, they at least had a victim to take to the hospital. (- Aeroplane Monthly)

The First Superstall

The Airspeed Queen Wasp was a beautiful British cabin biplane, much too beautiful to be deliberately shot down. That was, however, the purpose for which it was designed - a radio-controlled target airplane. Two prototypes were built in 1937, and the first of them, K8887, had a singularly remarkable quality. Airspeed's test pilot, George Errington, took its designer, Hessell Tiltman, on a flight one day to show him.

'I would like you to look over the side,' he said. 'We are at 2,000 feet, heading into the wind over the leeward side of the field. I shall now close the throttle and pull the stick back until the angle of incidence is on the other side of the stall.'

Tiltman watched the airspeed indicator drop to 45 mph, then gradually to zero. The attitude of the airplane was normal, but they were losing height rapidly. Errington had full control all the time - he could even rock the wings with the ailerons. At the end of the near-vertical descent, he had to apply full throttle to reach the field, just skimming a hedge. Errington was probably the first test pilot to encounter a stabilized superstall. The angle of attack must have been close to 80 degrees. The funny thing is that none of the other Queen Wasps built could do this trick, and nobody knows why. (- Don Middleton: Test Pilots)


Dan Telfair writes:

Greetings Fellow Shutists:
Some time ago, I wrote to one of our regular contributors in Brazil, only to have his son answer with the sad news that the gentleman had passed away several months before. It was a bit late to send a sympathy card, and I really didn't have the necessary information to put an appropriate announcement in the Newsletter. It would have been nice to have done both.
As I advance into the 'golden years' (the only way I can still claim to be in my middle age is if I expect to live to 130), I worry every time I write to a contemporary and fail to receive a response. Particularly if a Shutist friend is no longer with us, I would like to send a sympathy card on behalf of the Foundation, and make an appropriate announcement in the Newsletter. The only way that can be done is if someone notifies Richard, Steph or me that one of our members/contributors has passed away.
In my own case, my wife Zia has instructions to notify Richard if anything happens to me (and to dump all of my Secretary/Treasurer duties into his capable hands). It would be helpful if our other members/contributors could make some sort of similar arrangements. We do not need to know the details, or even if such arrangements have been made. However, we would all be grateful if they were.
Regards from The Land of Enchantment


An article in the December 2003 Newsletter stated that:

'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.'

I have since been trying to locate the exact accident mentioned above and am having trouble.

I couldn't find a Boeing 247 crash in 1935 where the tail broke off. However, I did find a reference to the crash of a Boeing 307 on March 18 1939 where the tail fell off. This crash killed Boeing's Chief Engineer Jack Kylstra and 12 others. This would have received widespread publicity in the aviation world. Although Shute had left Airspeed by 1939 he may have still been in touch with Concord Morton. Can anyone do any more research and find more information ?


I am trying to resolve the ongoing discussion about Shute's yachts as some existing articles insist his yacht was called Skerdmore while we understand it was called Runagate. Possibly he had yachts with both names. Can anyone with a little spare time help by searching a Lloyds Yacht register and tracing both names. It is possible that one of Shute's yachts is still afloat under another name. The Lloyds Register will tell you this.

In Australia Shute had a sailing dinghy called Nicolette. You can see Nicolette in the 1954 section of the Photo Album at:


Dedicated Shutists are working hard on creating a glossary page for the website. The initial aim of the glossary is to provide a index to many of the more obscure terms used in Nevil Shute's novels. If this is something you are interested in getting involved with, please mail our website manager for more information on


Recently I discovered that Hessell Tiltman's papers are at the RAF Museum at Hendon. Celebrated Shute Research Fiend John Anderson has volunteered to check them out but I am sure he would love some help.


John Anderson writes:

Last week Steph Gallagher, Andy Burgess and I foregathered at the UK National Archives (Mike Meehan was due to come but couldn't make it in the end). The purpose of our visit was to pursue the document relating to R.100, Airspeed and the Toraplane gliding torpedo. Here is a summary of what we found:-


Andy became immersed in the monthly progress reports that were written by the Ministry Inspector at Howden for his boss in the Air Ministry. These cover from 1926 to 1929. They give a less rosy picture than Shute paints in 'Slide Rule'. Reports of shortage of material, delays, industrial relations problems, completion dates that kept slipping etc.

The files are from the UK Board of Trade and contain all the documents that Companies have to submit to Government and that are filed away when the Company is wound up. Of particular interest was the original shareholders list from 1931. For example Amy Johnson was an original shareholder Mr & Mrs Heaton (Frances' parents) had shares as did Mr & Mrs Norway senior and Mr Terry, Chocolate Manufacturer, of York.

The files contain a copy of the original 1931 Prospectus with the invitation to apply for Shares. Here is an extract from this Prospectus in the section on Profits

'... it is anticipated that the production of machines will rise rapidly to at least 150 per year. This production represents a turnover of about £112,000. It is estimated that such a production can be carried out on the capital now offered for subscription.
On this production the net profits of the Company are expected to exceed £10,000.
It is confidently anticipated that this production will be reached by the end of the second year of the Company's existence and thereupon substantial earnings should be available for dividends...'

In the event Airspeed's Trading Losses as recorded in the audited accounts were

31st December 1933 Loss of £6,846 (this included the cost of moving to Portsmouth)
31st July 1935 Loss of £7,538
31st July 1936 Loss of £26,143
31st July 1937 Loss of £58,650
31st July 1938 Profit of £21,155
31st July 1939 Profit of £105,918

The Board of Trade file records Shute's formal resignation from the Airspeed Board as 9th November 1938

Interestingly Frances Norway retained 455 shares in Airspeed even after Shute resigned and also the

Share register for 1941 records Shute as having 800 shares - he must have thought it a good idea to buy Shares when it was making profits.


The NA archives and Cherwell papers reveal a story of rival designs of gliding torpedo (Burney's private venture versus the RAE), Committee meetings with high ranking Naval and Air Force Officers, extensive sea trials which were filmed and an extraordinary scheme for a gigantic amphibian airborne aircraft carrier.


While researching The Toraplane, John Anderson discovered plans for a never-built large twin-hulled amphibian seaplane that would carry 4 small torpedo carrying fighter / bombers inside its wings. The design was by Burney and the drawing was by Sydney Hansel. As they were working on this at the same time (late 1939 - early 1940) as the Toraplane it seems inevitable that Shute was involved too. We hope to have the drawings on the website soon but no promises.


Anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott was very moved by reading On The Beach. On a website called the Shareguide you can find an interview that includes:

The Share Guide:
Tell us how you first became aware of the nuclear weapons problem and nuclear power.
Dr. Helen Caldicott:
I first became aware of the threat of nuclear war when I read Neville Shute's book On The Beach when I was 15 years old and living in Melbourne, where the book was set. The book was about an accidental nuclear war that triggers the end of human life. This scenario branded my soul.

Dr Caldicott doesn't mention anything more about Shute in the article.


Andy Burgess writes:

John Anderson advised last month of our trip to the National Archives last weekend. I spent about a day and a half looking into the files on the R.100 airship. They include a series of detailed reports on the project from the resident Air Ministry Inspector at Howden. These include details such as: how much Aluminium had been received on site; how many girders had been produced; where the gas bags were being sourced, and details of the assembly progress. I was interested to compare this project with current aircraft programmes and see worrying similarities. Lack of resource being applied, lack of funds, technical problems etc. The original flight date for R.100 was grossly optimistic and was late by a factor of about 3, another similarity to today's programmes.

Most people will not be interested in the detail of the manufacture of the airship, but I will mention a couple of points that came up:

The initial references to the R.100 were while the Conservative Government was in power. There is a clear change when the Labour Government came in with Lord Thompson as Minister for Air. There was increasing hostility towards the Airship Guarantee Company (AGC) and the move to build a Government ship (the R.101) comes through. The Air Ministry wanted the two teams to co-operate on the design of the airship, however Burney and Wallis clearly objected to this on commercial grounds (quite understandable to my mind). Hence the tension between the two teams is quite clear from before Shute joined the programme. The AGC took on the contract even though they knew it would overspend. I suspect this was because any increase in price by them would give Thompson the excuse to cancel the R.100 altogether.

In June 1929 an internal letter in the Air Ministry comments on the 'depressing atmosphere' at Howden as the workmen realise that once the airship is completed they will lose their 'cushy jobs'. Wallis (it says) is only interested in design matters and Burney has been occupied with the death of his father and his streamline car project. Watson, it further says, confirms our earlier impression that he is probably the world's worst Works Manager. It states that 'One really live man, particularly if he could import a little outside labour that was necessary could do a tremendous lot even at this stage.' I wonder whether Shute was chosen as the 'live man' to get the project moving.

Another informal note from July 1929 comments that the author had met Norway at Balliol 'this week'. Norway apparently commented that Wallis 'is taking the line' that they will not inflate the airship until everything is complete. He goes on to point out that more time will be lost if 'there is a hitch in the inflation'. This is the first reference to Shute in the files and may confirm my suspicion above. It also shows Shute disagreeing with his mentor and boss (Wallis), and to an Air Ministry official at that! Clearly Shute was showing an independence of thought that is obvious from his later work and his novels.

There are a number of further files that I would like to look at, but that will have to wait for another visit. I do not expect to find many (if any) direct references to Shute, but it should be possible to get a better idea of the environment in which Shute was working at that time, and also to compare the records (which were only opened in the 1970's) with Shute's own account.


Regular readers will know that on our website we have a favourite Nevil Shute Novel tally. At the time of writing, the top three novels were:

1st place Trustee From The Toolroom 204 votes
2nd place A Town Like Alice 196 votes
3rd place Round The Bend 194 votes

However you have the power to influence this. Click on to find out more and place your vote.


A US Shutist has asked if we know what were Shute's last words.

As I recall, Shute was discovered collapsed in his office and was taken to the hospital. I believe he didn't regain consciousness.


Neil Wynes Morse has discovered that Shute's document entitled 'A Memorandum about Creative Writers, Artist and Composers in Australia with Legislative and Financial Recommendations' that he wrote to The Prime Minister of Australia (later Sir) Robert Menzies is available online at

This document of 44 pages was sent to the Prime Minister and dated 20 October 1959. The previous day, in a telegram advising Menzies of his submission, NSN wrote ' A considered memorandum based on my experience for the encouragement of writers in Australia will be in airmail to you Thursday 22nd. My views are entirely adverse to further subsidies or fellowships to writers and recommend the establishment of a branch of an international literary agency in this country under Federal guarantee of income from commissions.


The inexhaustible John Anderson is planning to interview Bert Judge who worked with Shute on his Target Glider.

John is also trying to track down and interview Sydney Hansel who was still alive last year, aged 99, and living somewhere in the USA. We have lost contact with the reader who knows Mr Hansel and wish to contact him again.

Although John is inexhaustible, he still may appreciate any offer of help on either of these and other research projects.


What more can I say ?

I am sitting here on a beautiful day and I have just had lunch and had 3 cups of tea and life continues to be interesting.

Have a great Autumn or Spring whichever the case may be.

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