Book Review

2005-05/May 1, 2005


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Clive Ford of Reading, Berkshire, The UK writes:

Came across your site the other day and was surprised and, at the same time pleased, to see that a Foundation had been set up to this great writer. As a young man (I'm looking back some 30 plus years ago now) I purchased through a monthly book club (Heron Books) what I thought was the entire collection of all his books and became hooked. It's difficult to say how many times I've gone back to them over the years to re-read them. I thought I had the entire collection until I read your March Newsletter and discovered I don't have the "entire" collection and that seemingly two books, namely, VINLAND and SEAFARERS were not included in my collection, (despite being given information to the contrary) which I'll need to hunt down to add to my collection ...this raises the question; are there others?.

Editor's Comment: I explained to Clive that The Seafarers was only a recent publication. Written in 1947, it had lain amongst Shute's papers till his death and was only about 100 pages long. I suspect Shute had thought it would turn out as a full novel at first and then found it was only a 100-page novel as he wrote it out. Shute then made 2 further attempts at the general idea of a drama centred around D-Day. He finally published this idea as Requiem For A Wren.
Vinland The Good was written and published as a screenplay in 1947 but nobody liked it very much and perhaps as it was a screenplay and not a ³proper² book it has always been kind of ignored. It may have made a good film but screenplays are a difficult form to read whatever sort of film they may produce. Copies of Vinland The Good are rare and can be quite valuable. As far as we know there are no other novels that could be published.
Amongst Shute's papers in the National Library at Canberra, Australia are some short stories, manuscripts of most of his later published novels, one chapter of The Lame Ducks Fly which was a novel he attempted early in WW2, several Ministry of Information articles from late in WW2, an abandoned manuscript called Blind Understanding which was a novel written between The Seafarers and Requiem For A Wren that used many of the same elements, a film script of Pastoral which was never made and 40 pages of Incident At Eucla which he was writing when he died in 1960.
Also included are a screenplay adaptation of Farewell Miss Julie Logan by J. M. Barrie, Shute's Flight Log of his journey from The UK to Australia and back and a copy of Shute's letter to Prime Minister Robert Menzies advising against arts grants for writers.
To me, the most interesting material that might eventually merit small-scale publication for enthusiasts is the Flight Log and the Ministry of Information articles.
I would be tempted to send the article advising against grants to writers to the Society of Authors but I somehow doubt they would publish that. Currently there are no plans to publish any of these works and I believe that copyright claims are on all these items for a long time yet.


Mike Meehan of The UK writes:

I've been trawling through some of your past newsletters for an aviation reference I thought was there. Someone seemed to have pinned down exactly the actual type of aircraft which Donald Ross flew in Captivity and referred to as the Cosmos with a Wasp engine. Do you have any recollection where I might find this article?
As you probably know Australian wines have become very popular outside of your country. In fact they are among the best good value wines we can buy in the UK. Quite recently two very interesting (and excellent) reds have come my way. Their names are 'Harman's Range' and 'The Black Stump'. Can this be more than coincidence? I wonder what other Shute related names they will come up with next.
I must admit when I saw them I immediately thought of you and wondered if you had used some influence with the marketing guys there! However, knowing that The Black Stump is your least favourite book it seems unlikely, but it's a good name for a wine for sure.

Editor's Comment: Mike was remembering the information in Jim Schermerhorn's detailed and densely researched Aviation section, which has since been withdrawn for technical reasons.
I passed Mike's question onto Dan Telfair who emailed back like lightning with this extensive information from his copy of Jim's files:

The AOC Cosmos floatplane has been variously identified as a Fairchild 71, a Noordyn Norseman, and a Bellanca CH300.
In this, Jim Schermerhorn's last entry on the subject, he came down in favor of the Bellanca.
The Cosmos appears to be a 6 or 7 seat, single engine, monoplane on twin floats converted to arctic flying by paint scheme, extra petrol tanks and wireless radio (Morse). Also contains cutout for aerial camera for photo-mosaic work. This plane closely resembles the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker, a standout bush plane, used extensively in Canada from 1929 probably until the present time.
A mild controversy arose among a few Shutists about which airplane Nevil Shute had in mind when he devised the Cosmos. Until May of 2003 The Fairchild 71 was considered the role model. However, a cursory inspection of the pilot's duties in the book show him closely inspecting the engine cylinders and then replacing the cowling. Unfortunately the Fairchild 71 does not have engine cowling.
Another favorite put forward was the Noordyn Norseman, another incredible bush plane certainly flying to this date. Unfortunately for the voters for the Norseman, they failed, as I first did, to consider the time line. Our pilot, Ross, left the RAF in 1929 and spent four years flying in Canada (on the fictional Cosmos). He returned to England no later than 1934 and was soon hired to fly the expedition. In reading the story there is great importance put on rushing the expedition to start in late Spring. No matter how one views this, the expedition could not have started later than early 1935. Unfortunately the Norseman first flew in late Autumn of 1935, and went into production the next year. A research craftsman such as Nevil Shute Norway would hardly have ignored the fact that Ross flew an airplane in Canada for four years which hadn't been invented until well after the Greenland expedition left.
Of the three planes, the Fairchild 71, the Noorduyn Norseman, and the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker, we're left with the third by default. For those eagle-eyed aviation enthusiasts who will rush to point out that the Bellanca also didn't have engine cowling, they would be correct for the initial production model with an unfortunate underpowered engine. Within a year or so the plane was re-engined with the U.S. Wasp Junior and that required a cowling.

Editor's Further Comments: Evocative pictures of each of these 3 planes can be found at these pages:

Fairchild 71
Noorduyn Norseman gif
Bellanca CH-300 (you will have to imagine the floats on this one)

From long before Shute wrote the book, the expression ' Beyond The Black Stump ' has been a popular Australian expression for a very remote place.
In A Town Like Alice the male lead's name is Joe Harman; hence the reference to Harman's Range. Although I don't have a detailed map of Central Australia I seem to remember that there is some kind of geographical feature named Harman near Alice Springs and had suspected that this may have had a name influence on Shute.
However, although as Nevil Shute Newsletter Editor I automatically have a place in the Prime Minister's Cabinet and have great sway with the government here, I find that those winemakers just name wines as they please and rarely ask my advice.


Art Cornell has written to John Anderson:

I read in the April Newsletter about the plans to fly the Airspeed Ferry to the Cape Cod Gathering in October. I am reluctant to get involved but feel that with my experience as a mathematician, in my previous life, and the fact that I worked on aircraft for many years, I should let you know that it is not a good idea.
I have made some quick calculations and have found that there will be some structural fatigue problems with an aircraft of this age. I have found that U M is equal to 2.863 X 10 -7. That constant, when it goes into the theory, means that the time to reach fatigue failure will be directly proportional to it. The time to nuclear separation is directly proportional to U M.
It means that something is going to happen in two thousand eight hundred and sixty-three hours. Because of its age I believe there should be some evidence of nuclear separation in about 15 hours taking that value of U M. In other words they will get about three-fourths of the way across the Atlantic.
As a result, I recommend that they do not attempt this flight. If they are still determined, I will be forced to fly to the UK and retract the undercarriage.

Editor's Comment: I suspect that Art's wife Joan is not pleased about the prospect of Art returning from retracting the Ferry's firmly fixed undercarriage, presumably with an axe, and then being simultaneously courted by an aging, though still glamorous, movie star and a young, pretty airline stewardess.
However, Art might be hoping to mollify Joan with a new water heater and a little mop to make it easier for her to do the washing up.


I have recently received a series of highly detailed emails from the family of Alec and Spiffy Menhinick. These have confirmed to me that Alec and Spiffy were the inspiration for the characters in Shute's The Seafarers and, to some extent, Requiem For A Wren.
Here are some basic facts about them.
Born in 1909, Alec Menhinick left school at 14 and went through a series of jobs before joining the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) at the age of 16.
Born in 1920, Dorothy Elspeth Jackson (called Spiffy because as a young girl she could not enunciate "th" and consequently pronounced her name "Elspiff") came from an upper middle class family in North London. She had four sisters and one brother, Robert, a tail gunner in a Lancaster who was shot down and killed over Holland in WW2.
All four girls were first class swimmers but Spiffy excelled as a diver, for which she was chosen for the British Olympic Team scheduled to compete in Helsinki in 1940. These games were abandoned due to the war.
When war was declared Spiffy volunteered for the Land Army and was sent to work on a farm in Suffolk. From here she went on to join the WRENs in 1940. She was first selected to be a Radar Technician and was sent for training at Cheltenham ladies college in Gloucestershire. However she wanted to be a boats crew wren, and was sent back to The Hamble where she met Alec.
In early 1941 Alec had joined the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD). Alec's commanding officer (in a very loose and unorthodox hierarchy) was Lieutenant Commander Nevil Shute Norway RNVR.
Alec met Spiffy in early 1944 and they married in June 1944.
On January 16th 1945 they bought Herga, a bombed out sailing pilot cutter sunk to her gunwhales in the mud of the Lymington River. They raised her and rebuilt her to make their first home.
In September 1945 Robert, the first of their 4 children was born and taken onto Herga at two weeks of age.
Alec was demobilized and in December 1946 Herga was sold and the family moved aboard a decommissioned MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat). They later moved to a cottage on dry land.
In 1948 their 2nd child Angela Rosemary Menhinick was born and Nevil Shute became her Godfather.
With Shute's encouragement and help, Alec went to Australia in 1956 and the family emigrated in 1957. They lived in Frankston, only a couple of miles from Shute's home.
Alec works for Repco, an auto parts maker, and in 1959 he was a stunt driver for Fred Astaire in the filming of On The Beach.
In 1962 the family returned to England.
Alec died in 1979.

Editor's Further Comment: We are looking forward to some photos including Alec with Fred Astaire at the shooting of On The Beach.
I have located a copy of an article from the Australian People magazine from Jan 6th 1960 with photos of Alec and Spiffy entitled "Their Panjandrum fell over and out". I am still looking for an article about Alec's driving in On The Beach, which may have appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald or The Melbourne Age. The family may be able to supply copies of these.
I am told there has always been some family discussion about Alec working for British Intelligence and apparently, when he was dying and under the effect of pain killing drugs, he talked about this but I have no real details.
This has led some family members to speculate that, given British Intelligence's penchant for recruiting novelist-types, maybe Shute was also involved. However, to date there has never been any other indication that this might have been the case.


Allan LeBaron writes about Richard P. Feynman who was another engineer who could write:

Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 and was a fine writer - I have Reasonably Perfect Deviations From The Beaten Track, compiled and edited by his daughter Michelle who is, if her book photo isn't heavily retouched, a world-class beauty.
Feynman would correspond with anyone but he didn't suffer fools gladly and wasn't above telling someone to go to Hell.
Feynman had received an undergraduate degree from MIT and his doctorate from Princeton. When he was proposed for a Honorary Degree from his alma mater, he turned it down with a letter to President Boheen with: "...I remember watching the honorary degrees being conferred and feeling that an 'honorary' degree was a debasement of the idea of a degree that confirms that a certain work has been accomplished."

A Comment from your webmeister: I am somewhat familiar with Dr. Feynman's life and work. He was a Physicist, not an engineer. He was instrumental in the development of the first atom bomb, was an accomplished safecracker, and dramatized the cause of the Challenger disaster in a way that NASA managers could not sweep under the rug.
While he did write several books, to my knowledge he wrote no fiction.
He was also a competent Bongo drummer. Did NSN play any musical instruments?
If we want to extend this category to include techies and scientists in general, let's not leave out Isaac Asimov, who wrote prolifically in fiction and nonfiction.


Gene Scribner a retired high school science, math and computer teacher writes:

My grandson gave me ³The Engines of Our Ingenuity³, by John Lienhard, copyright 2000 for Christmas two years ago. In it on pages 226 to 228, he writes about Nevil Shute (Norway) and describes beautifully about his skill as an author and really gives a very good description of his work. He also writes about No Highway and how its story was repeated in the de Havilland Comet and the Boeing 727 several years after publication of the book! That sounded interesting and lead to my introduction to Nevil Shute. Our seven county public library has 22 Nevil Shute items including a video tape of A TownLike Alice.
When I had read what the library had I bought others from It seemed a shame to have these marvelous books idle on the shelves, so I have started a one-man campaign to increase their circulation.
I have succeeded in getting several library staff members started reading some of them.
I am not one who is a literary professional or anything like that, but I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that an author who died so long ago, still has most of his books in print or at least available for purchase somewhere. The biggest fascination of all is that so many people on three continents are still so interested that the newsletter exists and there is to be an international meeting like the one in Cape Cod.
To me it seems almost like a crime to have his books ³lying dormant² in our library!

Editor's Comment: Gene is doing a great thing. Just as environmentalists say 'Think Globally But Act Locally' we have our greatest impact spreading the pleasure of reading Nevil Shute by telling friends, family and associates to give him a go. (that is, if they still listen to us anymore)
Unless Shute is published in Penguin-ese, I am not sure if we have any readers in Antarctica but I think we can safely claim our readers cover 6 out of 7 continents.


Lil Fehr of Canada writes:

Thank-you for maintaining the history of Nevil Shute.
I was introduced to his writing by my Dad, who is now 86 years old. It is a source of wonderful discussion for both of us - as we both age, we can't remember the stories so well, so re-read them frequently!!! Each time they are new again.
It is good to grow old, isn't it!!!!
I have no question for you, just a comment, that I have appreciated your website, and to say thank-you for your hard work and thought put into this. It is very interesting to read through the biography etc.
Is there a book with the Nevil Shute Norway history and picture album. This would be a wonderful gift to give my Dad for Fathers Day.
If there is, could you please tell me the name, author and publisher, so I can begin to look for it.

Editor's Comment: I explained to Lil that there is no book of the Photo Album but that she could easily print the album out from the website and bind the pages herself.
If she printed it on plain paper this would be quite cheap.
If she used photo paper it would cost a lot and the quality won't be that much better.
On my computer, when I right click on the photo page it asks me if I want to print the page.
Whatever computer you have there should be the option to print the page somewhere.
If anyone does this, please remember that it should only be done for personal use.
Don't open a chain of Shute-Albums-R-Us shops at the mall and try to make your fortune.
You might quickly find yourself both broke and in trouble with the copyright police.


While recently re-reading No Highway I was thrilled to note that Cherry Cake is also mentioned in this novel.
Cherry cake first appears in Ruined City (1938) and then reappears in "The Chequer Board" (1947) and "Trustee From the Toolroom" (1960) but till now I hadn't realized it was also in No Highway (1948).
The Great Cherry Cake Debate has previously raged because it was not quite clear if the repeated appearance of cherry cake was because it defined, in Shute's mind, a typical working class delicacy or just because it may have been Shute's favourite cake.
As I recall, in No Highway Dr Scott eats the Cherry Cake and as he is clearly neither unsophisticated nor could he be possibly be called Working Class I am swinging towards the theory that Shute just liked Cherry Cake himself and it had no particular class association with him.
Another of Shute's themes that he mentions in No Highway is the degradation of the world's religions and how they all need a cleanup. This later became a central theme in Round The Bend.
Also mentioned as a possible course of action for Dr Scott if Mr Honey is not vindicated is leaving England and starting a new life in Australia or New Zealand. Clearly this was an issue already on Shute's mind in 1947. He finally left for Australia in 1950.


Ian Yeoell recently wrote to the Discussion Board asking:

The 'suburb' of Falmouth is central to the story in On the Beach. All other locations are easy to identify, from Macedon to Williamstown and Berwick.
However, as a resident of Melbourne, I'm having trouble working out where Falmouth really is, or was. Is it a fictitious location? I can't find any record of an area in or around Melbourne that may have previously borne this name, but has since changed. It seems incredible that all other locations are easily identified, that Falmouth would have been made up. I'm sure someone out there will know the answer to this.

Editor's Comment: Falmouth was very clearly a simple renaming of Frankston. All the major landmarks mentioned in On The Beach are in Frankston including the illuminated Christmas Tree at the Town Hall, the Pier Hotel under its real name, the sailing club with the red cliffs behind and the church down the hill that Dwight attends.
I traced the street that Peter and Mary Holmes lived in as best I could. I laughed when I discovered that Shute appeared to have placed their house, in a book about the end of the world, in a real street called Hopes Rise.


Alison Jenner posted a question on the Discussion Page last year asking:

Is it only coincidence that Shute's own boat was called Runagate, as well as Malcolm Stevenson's in "Lonely Road?" Perhaps he bought it with the proceeds of the book or film. Does anyone know?

Editor's Comment: There doesn't seem to be any direct, immediate connection but he obviously liked the name. Lonely Road was published in 1932. It was made into a film in 1936. Shute was paid out of Airspeed in 1938 and soon after sold the film rights to Ruined City. He purchased his 40-foot yacht Runagate in 1939. The chronology suggests he bought Runagate with the payout from Airspeed and the film rights money from Ruined City. His previous yacht was called Skerdmore.


John Wilcox has noted a forthcoming exhibition on aviation at the Allen Gallery in Alton Hampshire, in The UK. This exhibition features Flora Tworts 1937 portrait of Shute and runs from the 10th to the 24th of September 2005. Please see the notice at:


Kirk Miller writes:

I recently aquired a gold/brass? coin with the head of Nevil Shute and his name and the dates 1899 -1960. Would you have any information pertaining to this item? When produced, for what purpose and possible availability?

Editor's Comment: I have asked around and nobody, not even Shute's daughter Heather, had any knowledge of this coin. Apparently it is blank on the back and has only Shute's likeness, name and dates. This is a complete mystery.
Can anyone help ?


I have heard from Judy Hoch who has a book club in Colorado. They are currently reading Trustee From the Toolroom. Judy writes:

The book group is a collection of folks ranging from an astrophysicists to a couple of academics, some artists, a magazine editor, to a retired piping contractor. What we read is equally as eclectic - ranging from Jane Austin to Thomas Friedman to Joe Esterhaz. We have never agreed on a name for the bunch so we call it Group X.
We have maintained a group of about 25 for 18 years.
(At the next meeting) we will have as a guest, Bob Wester, who is a good friend of one of the Group X members.
I believe that Bob is fairly active in the Nevil Shute group.

Editor's Comment: Judy had been unaware of the Colorado Nevil Shute book group, our most active Shute book club. Bob Wester is a member of the Colorado Nevil Shute book group.
Judy is an accomplished professional jewelry maker and writes that she is a tool junkie having at least 5 lathes, 2 vertical mills, one horizontal mill, and more. Her favorites are her 20-ton hydraulic press, her pneumatic engraving and highspeed handpiece, and her tumblers so Trustee From TheToolroom was a logical book club choice.
I see Bob Wester's visit to Judy's book club as the perfect opportunity to plant Bob Wester as a mole into Judy's group and eventually, using his karate skills if necessary, take it over and make them a Shute-Only book club.
Once we have taken over all of Colorado we can move on to our chief territorial claim: Antarctica!


Alison Jenner has written suggesting we create a Shute Bumper Sticker to celebrate the 75th anniversary of R100s flight to Canada.
My feeling is that designs could be placed on the website with instructions how to print and make a sticker yourself.
My first thought was to make a simple design, print it and then laminate it and stick it on your car. Does anyone have any experience of this process ? Will it work ?
Making a large number of bumper stickers through one of the many commercial bumper sticker concerns involves a large outlay of money and the high risk of a financial loss whereas individuals printing from the website would be virtually free for all and more fun.
Does anyone have any designs, design suggestions or practical advice?


Trish Lovell of the UK sent me a cutting of a 1994 article in the Portsmouth 'News' Saturday April 30 1994 about stories of German bodies being washed up on The Isle of Wight in 1940-41 and even the rumour of a repelled invasion attempt at that time. She then related it to passages in Most Secret. Has anyone seen any factual data about any of these events however minor?
In Most Secret Shute says that heavy attacks including fire-bombing were made on invasion barges on September 16 1940 and that hundreds of bodies were washed onto the coast of France.

Trish writes:

Was Shute making use of what he knew from his experience?
Note the Royal Clarence Hotel and Haslar hospital are also mentioned in this book, pp 76 and 77 et al of the 1973 Pan version - just to add to your various Pompey and district areas!
I have read, and loved, Nevil Shute's books for the last 40 years - as a Portsmouth girl I have enjoyed trying to trace the places mentioned.
It makes it more real - and the knowledge that Shute was one of the group of inventors who helped our war effort is interesting. People make fiction largely of what they know to be fact - names changed to protect the innocent - and I wonder just what occurrences will prove to be based on actual events, not permitted to be released as yet.


Steph Gallagher writes:

Dear friends, there has been talk lately about re-organising sections of the website to make information easier to find. I already have some ideas as to how this would work, however, before we undertake such a task, your thoughts and opinions are appreciated. Therefore if you would like to drop me a line with your thoughts surrounding the following questions, I would be most grateful.
  1. When searching for specific information, how easy is it to find what youare looking for?
  2. Would you prefer fewer main headings with lots of sub headingsunderneath, or a longer list of main headings?
  3. Are there any sections you would like to see added or deleted?
  4. Are there any sections would you like to see combined?
  5. Do you have any further comments about the site you would like to add?
Please send your thoughts to me directly at adding "Website Suggestions" to the subject line of your e-mail. Many thanks, Steph


Laura Scneider writes that she was alerted that On The Beach has been referred to in a book called The FIve Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes. Showing great dedication to Shute research Laura read all the way to page 280 to find the mention of On The Beach and wrote:
I think the book was good but my goal was to find the passage.


Someone has a recording of the St Hubert Songs celebrating R100. I was sent copies but have moved a couple of times since and now can't find them. Can anyone help ?


Roger Simmonds of The UK writes:

I was most interested to learn that Shute had featured the target drone in one of his stories, so thank you for this!
For more accurate information on this aeroplane, have a look at the website. Go into the archives and look at the 'Jet (X) Files' for Nov 2004. There is an interview with Bert Judge (who is very much alive!) about the target drone (see the section called 'the Orange Peril'). Shute worked with Joe Mansour and a rocket motor was developed (with ICI) for the drone.
This lead to the 'Jetex motors' used for model aircraft just after WW2. The target drone as such was not 'Jetex' powered - see the article.

Editor's Comment: I thanked Roger for his input and for alerting us to the Jetex site.
The Jetex site is a well designed, good looking and informative site with some very nostalgic photos for anyone who ever had a model aeroplane. You can find the site at:


Shaund Usher writes:

In fairness to the wartime Admiralty "Wheezes and Dodges" section, I doubt if the lighthearted version of the acronym identified the infirm and the timid ...
"Wheeze" and "Dodge" were Edwardian slang terms, still very much around in the 1930s (see PG Wodehouse novels of the time), meaning an idea, a stratagem, a project or the solution to a problem. "Good wheeze," meant "Good idea," for instance.
Similarly, a "dodge" implied not evasion, but ingenuity -- "He's thought up a good dodge to fix that leaky carburettor."
I think if your suggestion were right, then the words would have been WheezERS and DodgERS, rather than wheezes and dodges, suggesting abstract matters/qualities.
Sorry to be pedantic and nitpicking, but it seems a shame that those long-dead boffins should be tarred with the wrong brush!

Editor's Comment: I thanked Shaund for his comments. I always assumed this was another example of English self-deprecating humour and so I felt no possible tarring of those long dead boffins as I thought they were already mocking themselves.
However, I really appreciate his point and his translation seems correct. I didn't, and still don't have a copy of the book to refer to the original spelling which I have seen in many forms.


The weather is great here in Sydney.
Hope you are all well.

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