Book Review

2005-04/Apr 1, 2005


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During February the website was down for a bit but these problems have now been solved. We apologise if your fix of Nevil Shute information was interrupted.


I have just read part one of a draft compilation of the memoirs of Sydney Hansel who worked with Shute at Airspeed and later on special weapons during the war.
This document is only in the early stages of being lovingly transcribed by Sydney's dedicated relatives.
Sydney Hansel was born in middle class Sydney, Australia in 1904 but also lived his early years in North America, England and Europe. He began in aeronautical engineering in England and worked at Westlands in Somerset in The UK, Curtis at Long Island in The USA, Boulton and Paul in Norwich in The UK before settling at Airspeed at Portsmouth in The UK in 1934.
Sydney was very active and successful in design, test flying and sales.
In spite of describing him as a good friend, Sydney has, so far, provided few details about Shute and life at Airspeed but hopefully part two holds more information.
Sydney was clearly a very interesting man with considerable talent and is of great interest in his own right.
If the complete memoir eventually becomes available for general distribution in some form I will let you know.


Mike Blamey of The UK teaches engineering and wrote me a long email in which he noted that:

Authors like NSN were of that rare breed who could manipulate both metal and words to the benefit of mankind and clearly did much to explain our professional skills to the public.
I have been guided by Shute's approach to life: the mundane made magnificent by the poetry of words describing actions.

Editor's Further Comment: Mike also remarked that the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) was written, during his off-duty hours, by an engineer in Napoleon's army. Are there additional successful engineer-authors out there?


Lawrence Polmateer of Bothell, Washington, U.S.A. writes:

I have been reading Nevil Shute for about 30 years and have all but two of his books most in hardback with dust covers.
For those out there who can't find the book that they are looking for or are in a remote area without a great selection of used book stores try
A couple of months ago someone talked about The Secret War 1939-45 with a forward by NS, I found a copy in England through bookfinder, hardback with a dust cover for a reasonable price, found it to be a invaluable source and I hope that those who use it still e-mail in about the books that they have read or have heard about.


Gail Field who recently moved from The UK to Brisbane, Australia has written that the DVD of the 1956 movie of A Town Like Alice with Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch has been released in Australia.


Steph Gallagher writes:

A question has been raised as to why the UK rate for Cape Cod 2005 has been set above the current exchange rate. There are a couple of reasons for this and it is not the intention to make a profit. The rate was set at the start of 2005 to take into account $/ exchange rate fluctuations that may occur during the year and currency conversion fees. Banks can charge up to 30.00 for either sending a telegraphic transfer or generating a cheque in a foreign currency, depending on which bank/source you use. The option of sending a cheque directly to a UK Board Member was also offered as a service to busy UK Shutists, to ease registration and minimise the amount of time and hassle they spend dealing with banks and post offices. In that, all they have to do is send a standard cheque as opposed to taking the time and energy to sort out a foreign money cheque or transfer with a bank (bit of a pain if you are working full time). The plan is to send $350 per person to Art, then if anything is left after exchange rate fluctuations and currency conversion fees, the surplus would be offered that back to individuals. For UK2003, the small surplus was offered back to individuals at the end of the conference (about 10 per person), but everyone asked suggested the small amount be donated to foundation funds and actually went towards setting up a UK Shute Lending Library. I hope this helps you to understand the difference in rates. However, at the end of the day, Art and Joan would embrace a cheque from you, either directly to them in $$$ or via the UK in . Full details of the conference and payment methods can be found on the foundation website at:

Editor's Comment: Wherever you travel from, if you decide to pay Art directly, remember that you can only send him a US Dollar check drawn on a US bank. You can easily get one of these from your local bank for a fee.


C. John Hill of Devon in The UK writes:

Here in the UK, Sue Townsend is a respected author and is also probably well-known down under.
This quirky little gem was rescued from the July 2003 edition of The Sainsbury's Magazine prior to a house move (Cullompton to Tiverton). In her article, Sue bemoaned the fact that junior school did very little to help her in her confusion of maths (we're talking about the late 1950s/early 1960s here) and this led to a later irrational fear of numbers. (I know what she means, as I had a very unsympathetic maths teacher and the problems she set seemed to make no sense at all.)
Anyway, Sue goes on to quote one problem which obviously perplexed her by its absurdity:
Mrs Brown mounts her bicycle at 8.30am. There is a novel by Nevil Shute in her saddlebag. She cycles to the village where she buys 20 Senior Service cigarettes, a box of Swan Vestas matches, a bag of sherbet lemons and a bottle of Tizer. She does not return home until 4.30pm. Mrs Brown spends the day sitting in the churchyard reading and smoking; she reads two chapters an hour and lights a cigarette every 30 minutes.
Your questions are:
  1. how many cigarettes are left in the packet when she returns home?
  2. how many chapters did she read?
  3. Here the quote ends, but I'd like to ask you another question:
  4. what novel by Nevil Shute was Mrs Brown reading?
  5. (answers at the end)
Ok - you'll be able to answer the first and maybe the second without much bother, but when the full impact of the second answer hits you, the relevance of the third question becomes clear.
I dashed to my Shute collection to find that Ruined City has lots of chapters and then discovered that Lonely Road very nearly qualified. But the truth of it is that none of Shute's single works have enough chapters to qualify for the maths problem.
And then we have to ask: if Mrs Brown mounted her bike at 8.30am, was she in fact reading the Shute novel whilst riding, negotiating traffic, buying sweets, cigarettes, matches and her beloved Tizer (in a glass bottle!)? But hang on a minute - wasn't the novel supposed to be in the saddlebag? And how long did it take for her to ride to the churchyard? Did she also read the novel whilst riding home to get there by 4.30pm? How did she light her cigarettes (with matches, remember) whilst on the bike? And what on earth did Mr Brown say when he found that his bone-idle wife had spent the day smoking and reading in the churchyard? (But why the churchyard - was Mrs Brown the gravedigger?) But at least she had finished the book. One can only hope that they didn't have any children (or maybe they did)
Confused, are we?
  1. 4 cigarettes
  2. 16 chapters
  3. The only way Mrs Brown could have read through 16 chapters in a Nevil Shute novel was by reading the combined Stephen Morris (7 chapters) and Pilotage (9 chapters) - first published as a single volume in 1961, after Shute's death. ( Ruined City has 13 chapters and Lonely Road has 15.)

Editor's Comment:
The smoking reference has reminded me that I had always thought that, from a Western perspective at least, it was rather quaint how much people smoked in older novels. For example, in What Happened to The Corbetts they puff away incessantly.
However, I recently attended a festival of excellent current French films and it seems that in all French Films it is still mandatory that the female leads chain-smoke in every scene.
It seems that those wishing to time travel back to the 1930s need only go to France.
Internet research revealed that Tizer is a red coloured soft drink first introduced in Manchester England in 1924. (now available in 3 flavours all coloured red)


John Anderson has passed on a letter he has received from a Mr Cobham:

Dear Sir,
A group of Nevil Shute enthusiasts are anxious to get to the Cape Cod gathering in October as economically as possible. So much so that we are going to restore an old Airspeed Ferry aircraft found abandoned and rotting in a barn in northern England some time ago.
The Ferry is a 10-seater aircraft and we are offering the remaining seven seats to those who may wish to join us for the trip. Seats for the one way trip (we are uncertain whether the old bus would make it back again) are being offered for a hundred pounds each, less than half the price of a normal airline ticket.
We have a volunteer pilot who is both brave and foolish enough to fly the aircraft.
In flight entertainment will consist of assisting with in-flight refuelling, passing jerry cans up to some poor individual filling the tank by hose.
Participation in this activity will be compulsory.
Baggage allowance will be strictly limited to one very small item per person, weighing less than 2 pounds.
Again due to weight considerations, in flight catering will not be provided. Passengers may bring their own supply of scones and jam, but this will be strictly limited to 2 per passenger.
We regret that flight insurance will be unobtainable.
The departure date is not yet fixed but we plan to leave some time in September and to arrive hopefully by 2nd October. The Conference hotel has assured us that there is a suitable field nearby for landing.
It promises to be an interesting trip. If successful we will have "done for five bob what any bloody fool can do for a quid"

Mike Meehan then wrote:

I'm just a bit worried that the bloody Air Ministry will make us take out 2 seats and put radio in, as we'll certainly be more than 20 minute's flight from our take off point. As long as they don't reduce the scone ration I think we'll survive.

Editor's Comment: As a safety measure, and to avoid losing 2 seats to a radio set, a series of floating platforms could be anchored at 19 minute flying time intervals across the Atlantic. These should be planted with grass and stocked with sheep that can be herded off before each landing. As well as emergency fuel, scones and tea, each platform should have buckets, mops and a hose for cleaning the interior of the plane after each flight.

Suggestion from your WebMeister: You don't need no stinkin' radio! Just take along a flock of carrier pigeons for your enroute communications. If you keep them agitated enough they will be in continuous flight inside the aircraft and thereby add nothing to your weight/balance equation.
Furthermore, the methane emanating from their droppings could be used to augment your fuel supply, thus extending your flight range.


Chris Phillips writes:

In the quest for other reading matter that might appeal to Shutists I would suggest some of the works of John Masters.
If you've never heard of him, you might remember the 1956 film Bhowani Junction, with Stewart Granger, Ava Gardner, Bill Travers and Francis Matthews, about the fate of the Anglo-Indians after the British withdrew from India. His best books are about cultural conflict, and while he never touches the inspiration of some of NS's themes, he knows how to make his books difficult to put down at bedtime!
He was born in 1914 in India and became a British officer in the Indian Army (rising to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Chindits in Burma during WW2) who turned to writing after moving to the US after the war. He died in 1983. His excellent early books are rooted in his Indian family background, and include Nightrunners of Bengal (about the Indian Mutiny), The Deceivers (about the cult of thuggee, and also made into a film with Pierce Brosnan and Saeed Jaffrey), and Bhowani Junction, but I think my favourite is Fandango Rock, which tells how love grows between an emancipated American girl and a conservative Spanish bullfighter from a noble family, and also about the conflict between the high-tech American air base and the near-peasant existence of the rural Spanish.
His later books tend to reveal a successful author going through the motions, although his WW1 trilogy gives a fascinating picture of life at all levels of society before and during those four bitter years.


Keith Delarue wrote during the month alerting me to a sale of production photos from the 1959 filming of On The Beach.
As of today, Saturday April 2nd, the photos are still on view at the following address although the auction might be over:
Those interested might want to bid if the auction has been extended.
Those seeking Nevil Shute memorabilia might want to visit the website Discussion Board where they will find an Items For Sale thread.


Tammy Dickson of Florida, The USA writes:

I am a college student working on my bachelor's degree in history at the University of Central Florida. For a Cold War class I am taking we were required to read Nevil Shute's On the Beach. Once I started in on it I couldn't put it down. I was brought to tears in the last chapter. What a marvelous writer he was! I hope to purchase more of his books while I'm on break from school.

Editor's Comment: I directed Tammy to our Lending Library and Resources pages on our website.


Laura Schneider writes:

I am currently rereading On the Beach, which I haven't read in ages. I'm still in the early part of the book but I've discovered some very funny and sly lines in the book. One that surprised me was towards the end of Chapter 2.
Dwight and Moira are having drinks after he's shown her around Scorpion. They're discussing how much time they have together that evening and Moira tells Dwight the last train leaves Flinders Street at eleven-fifteen. Moira says she'd better be on that train because her Mummy would never forgive her if she spent the night with him.
Moira says: 'We left a bicycle at the station this morning. If you do the right thing by me I won't be able to ride it, but it's there anyway.' Scandalous stuff! Funny, too!


Gail Field wrote again to let us know that there is an autographed copy of The Legacy for sale on . It has a personal inscription to Marcus Clarke "With gratitude for help in getting out this book" from Nevil Shute.

Editor's Comment: The first prominent Marcus Clarke was a famous early Australian novelist who wrote For the Term of his Natural Life, which has been described as a ripping yarn set in colonial times. This early Marcus Clarke was born in 1846 and died in 1881 so he clearly never met Shute. However, a different Marcus Clarke is mentioned in the Flight Log, which is a record of Shute and Riddell's flight from the UK to Australia and back. This more modern Marcus Clarke was a 35-year-old doctor based, I think, in Cairns. In 1948 Shute volunteered to fly Dr Marcus Clarke on his rounds of the outback stations in the Gulf Country.
It was on these flights that Shute saw the towns that inspired Willstown in A Town Like Alice, and where he met Jimmie Ringer Edwards who was the prototype for Joe Harman.


An article last month referred to a prediction of the end of the world on the 21st of September 1994 that was mentioned in No Highway. At the time I was unable to find the reference quickly but have now discovered it in chapter 4. The article last month referred to members of a supposed cult in the aerospace industry who all stayed home on the predicted doomsday. I wonder what it was like for them waking up the next day and just going off to work again? Had they spent up big on their credit cards in anticipation of the end of the world?


Autumn is here in Sydney with warm sunny blue-sky days with low humidity and cool nights that are perfect for sleeping.
Having only read Shute for research for a couple of years I have started reading No Highway just for pleasure.
Rather absurdly, I find myself amazed at the complexity of emotions and detailed information and the clear skill Shute displays in laying them all out. The essence of the entire story is exposed in the first 14 pages and is then explored from every angle. He starts it at a run and just gets faster and denser and deeper on every page. It's masterful.
A belated Happy Equinox to you all.

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