Book Review

2005-08/August 1, 2005


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Richard Michalak


Art Cornell writes:

The Gathering on Cape Cod is now only two months away. We have about sixty people coming for sure. There are seven from Great Britain, two from Australia, one from the Netherlands and the rest are from the States. We are hoping for about twenty more.
Plans are progressing well for the Gathering but we need to have a better grasp of how many are coming. If you plan to attend but have not contacted us yet, please do so soon. We have many surprises in store for you. So whether you have attended all the gatherings or this is your first, you will have a marvelous time.
Many of you have expressed an interest in bringing items to exhibit. Please send me an E-mail ( listing the items that you plan to bring. That will help us plan the displays.
For our Program Book we would like to show a variety of Dust Covers. If you have a scanner, we would appreciate receiving some examples; maybe some nice rare ones.
Do not forget that you must make your hotel reservations by September 2 to receive the discounted room rate.
We hope to see many new faces in October as we have a fantastic gathering of Nevil Shute fans wanting to renew old friendships and start new ones.


Ann Menhinick has sent me more information on the comparison of the real lives of Alec and Spiffy Menhinick with the characters and events in The Seafarers.
She has also sent me some great photos, including one of Spiffy cooking dinner aboard Herga, which will eventually be on the website.
Ann has informed me that:

  • The meeting of Jean Porter and Donald Wolfe described in The Seafarers is a mirror image of Alec and Spiffy's first meeting.
  • Spiffy was a boats crew wren who did some training for radar but gave it up for the boats.
  • Spiffy did not bring a motorboat across the channel.
  • Spiffy was based at HMS Tormentor at Warsash where Alec and Nevil Shute were often based for their DMWD work.
  • Alec didn't serve in coastal forces but he did once deliver a coastal minesweeper along the South Coast.
  • Alec and Spiffy's pilot cutter Herga was raised from the mud in the Lymington River and had her woodwork done at Lukes yard on the Hamble.
  • Alec and Spiffy lived in Herga for most of 1945 and 1946. Their first child came aboard to live there in September 1945 at 2 weeks of age.
  • The Newfoundland idea came from Alec's visit to Newfoundland when he was working for the Colonial Development Corporation exploring the possibility of shipping salt cod to Jamaica.
  • Apparently many of Shute's descriptions of Newfoundland came from Alec.
  • In Newfoundland Alec saw a derelict double-ended sailing boat that was basically sound. Alec initially wanted to buy, restore and sail her to England as Donald Wolfe does in the book but although he could see the possibility of doingthis with several boats he finally decided not to go ahead this plan.
  • Part of Jean Porter's character may have been borrowed from Spiffy's superior Wren PO
  • "Jimmy" Edwards. Edwards never married. After the war she bought a shipyard on the Clyde and ran it almost as a charity to give young people a chance to fit out and repair boats.
  • Edwards was an accomplished sailor. She owned an 8-meter racing yacht and sailed it around Britain.

Editor's Comment: Luke's Yard at Hamble featured in Shute's books almost from the beginning to the end. Sadly, the remains of Lukes Yard are now under a parking lot at Hamble. I am still looking for a photo of Luke's Yard for the website Photo Album.
I suspect Wren PO 'Jimmy' Edwards acquired her nickname after the war as comedian Jimmy Edwards only seems to have become famous from around 1947. Non-Commonwealth country readers are reminded that Jimmie Edwards was a post war English comedian with a big handlebar moustache. It is also curious that this makes at least two Jimmie Edwards influences on character created by Shute. Joe Harman in Alice was modelled on the real life Jimmie 'Ringer' Edwards.


Discussions have occurred about a possible Green Plaque to mark Nevil Shute's birthplace at 16 Somerset Rd, Ealing, London but currently it doesn't seem likely that this will go ahead any time soon.
Green Plaques are historical and cultural markers placed by the Ealing Civic Society. Sadly it has already been decided by those responsible for the better-known Blue Plaque historical markers that the house, which also featured as Keith Stewart's house in Trustee From The Toolroom, does not qualify for their scheme.
Luckily I have an alternate plan.
From a cardboard beer carton I have made a Brown Plaque. Hand crafted and with extra-strong double-sided sticky tape already attached, I am hoping that Steph Gallagher will sneak over there late one night, run into the front yard at 4am, slap it firmly onto the side of the house and then run like the Dickens. For Steph's sake I hope they don't have a really big dog. I am still peeved that Dickens (Charles), a nobody who never even came near writing about aviation or motoring or nuclear war, has 10 Blue Plaques while Shute, who covered the lot and still managed to mention cherry cake several times along the way, has been callously disregarded.
However, long after the Brown Plaque has dissolved in the rain I suspect that Slide Rule and Trustee will remain the house's true memorials and that those who care will have searched the address on our website and will make their pilgrimages regardless.


Readers recalling that Nevil Shute headed a team of human computers on R100, will be interested that Jack Calaway has written to alert us to a book called When Computers Were Human. Here are some excerpts from an interesting, longer review at which explains a lot: When Computers Were Human By David Alan Grier

In the not-so-distant past, engineers scientists and mathematicians routinely consulted tables of numbers for the answers to questions that they could not solve analytically.
Sin(0.4)? No problem: look it up in the Sine table.
These tables were prepared by teams of people called computers (no, really -- that's where the term comes from) who typically had only rudimentary math skills.
The computers were overseen by more knowledgeable mathematicians, who designed the algorithms and supervised their work.

Much of this calculation was performed under the Work Projects Administration in the United States during the Great Depression. WPA rules required the hiring of people with virtually no skills, so much of the definitive work of the Mathematical Tables Project was computed by people who had mastered only addition. They were not authorized to subtract, Perhaps the most memorable fact from the early years of human computing is that the very first team of French computers, assembled by Gaspard Clair Francois Marie Riche de Prony in the early 1790s, was composed entirely of wig-makers left unemployed by the French Revolution. They created trigonometric tables required by France's experiments with the decimalization of trigonometry (an abandoned effort to do for angle measure what the metric system was doing for the measurement of mass, length, and so forth).
Women emerged as the most important computers. Demand for computing spiked in wartime, when young men were off fighting and therefore unavailable, and the economics of hiring women was compelling even in peacetime. They would work for half of what similarly skilled men would.
By World War II, in the United States, computing power was measured not in megahertz or teraflops, but in kilogirls.

Editor's Comment: On the website, one of the readers of this review had added this comment:

My mother was one of those computers - she worked in England during WWII, using a 'comptometer' and had no idea what she was computing, despite hearing random roaring noises from elsewhere in the facility, until one fine day she was introduced to a Mr. Whittle, who had designed one of the first jet engines for Great Britain.


Robert Edwards has written appreciating the contributors and researchers who add so greatly to the newsletter and to our understanding of Nevil Shute. Robert regretted that often he wished he could write to thank those authors who have given him pleasure but can't because they are now dead. Robert writes:

Alas, so many that I have taken for granted have died. So authors like Nevil Shute, Patrick O'Brian and J B Priestley cannot be told by a reader of the pleasure given on a first reading and the continual pleasure of re-reading their work.

Editor's Comment: I agree with Robert that, if possible, we should appreciate people while they are around and similarly regret I am unable to express my appreciation to many long dead great authors.
Like Robert, I am also a fan of Patrick O'Brian and I once almost got to see him at a book signing but I just missed the event. O'Brian sadly passed away soon after. At the time I never suspected that his disappointment at not meeting me might have been a factor in his death.
However, later I also just missed meeting Bob Hope at a similar event and then he also died soon after. This made me start to worry. For the sake of authors in general I don't even consider attending book signings any more.
I haven't yet got to reading JB Priestley (1894 1984) but I am already a fan of his because I recall that Priestley was a considerable fan of Shute's and wrote more than one flattering review of his books.


John Anderson and his fellow archive pirate Andy Burgess visited Cambridge University Library recently to look at the Vickers (Airship Guarantee Company) archive stored in their Manuscripts Department. John's daughter's friend Jaqui had advised them about navigating the through the archive. John writes:

There are over 30 microfilms containing thousands of documents. In addition there was the Minute Book of Board Meetings from 1923 to 1927.
We will prepare a detailed report of what we discovered, but in the meantime here are a few highlights:-
  • The Board Meeting Minutes show that one N.S.Norway was taken on as a"calculator" in September 1924 at a wage of 6 10 shillings (6.50) a week.
    He was promoted to Chief Calculator after the later resignation of J.E.Temple.
  • Shute was informed by Burney in May 1930 that he would be going on the Canadian trip. However Shute was " ... a little concerned about the possibility of landing in for heavier expenses than I could afford easily if the trip was extended. In the present state of the Company I should not propose to put in for expenses above those which I incur in my ordinary standard of living, that is to say about 35 a month". (May 19th 1930)
  • It is clear from the correspondence between Shute and Burney from late 1929 onwards that Burney regarded Shute as his right hand man. From this time Shute begins signing letters as "Chief Engineer"
  • One microfilm had a section labelled 'NORWAY 1926 to 1930'. This turned out to be over 350 pages of memos and letters written or received by Shute during this period!
  • It is not strictly true to say there was a lack of communication between Cardington and Howden. One large file was microfilmed that contains masses of correspondence between the two. We suspect that Wallis' attitude might have been the stumbling block and that relations between Cardington and Howden improved after Wallis left the scene.
  • There is a formal letter from Vickers requesting tickets for the Memorial Service for the victims of R-101 that was held at St.Paul's Cathedral London. Listed to attend were Sir Trevor Dawson, Sir Dennis and Lady Burney, Mr & Mrs Wallis, and Mr N.S. Norway and fiancée.
  • Of particular interest is this verbatim transcript of a memo written by Shute to Burney about an incident that occurred on the evening of R100's return from Canada.
    FROM MR.NORWAY                                                DATE 23/8/30
    Dear Sir Dennis,
    I have had a further and more highly coloured account of the
    Cardington affair from Cyril Watson who is up here on leave from R.100.
    Some allowance must be made for his exaggeration but I think the following
    account is substantially correct.
    The alcohol which the R.101 crew got hold of was in Steff's
    cabin; he brought over 16 bottles of Canadian whiskey, presumably for his
    own use. As soon as the R.101 crew got on board they commenced to rifle the
    cabins, and discovered this amongst other souvenirs. They also rifled
    Johnson's cabin which produced a further incident later on.
    Up till midnight Atherstone and Hunt were in charge of this crew
    and it was during this time that the drink was consumed and the tanks
    At 3 o'clock in the morning the handling party arrived from
    Henlow to put the ship into the shed. This process is normally carried out
    by Johnson and Steff one being in charge of the bow of the ship and one the
    stern. It was soon apparent that Steff had been celebrating the safe return
    of the ship to England, a circumstance which was indicated by the fact that
    he found it more suitable go about his duty on his hand and knees, and
    having attained this position was unable to assume the erect position
    without assistance. In this condition he was not very much use in helping
    the ship into the shed and finally retired from the field. He was
    subsequently reported to the Air Ministry by the Henlow officers.
    I cannot find out whether there was any incident in getting the
    ship into the shed, but she seems to have gone in smoothly. As soon as he
    was safely berthed Johnson went on board and found that his cabin had been
    rifled and all his personal property and souvenirs stolen. He came out into
    the shed extremely angry and said exactly what he thought of the conduct of
    the R.101 crew to those members of the crew who were standing about. These
    men were still in a partially intoxicated condition and one of them started
    to take his coat off to Johnson, whereupon Johnson gave him a straight left
    and knocked him down, dislocating his jaw. I think you will agree that this
    incident is true to the tradition of the Merchant Service.
    The Court of Enquiry is still sitting. Steff seems likely to get
    the most severe treatment as the charges against him are, first, smuggling
    alcohol into this country and secondly conduct unbefitting to an officer and
    gentleman. R.101 crew are likely to escape without much action against them
    as they are making great play with the fact that they were struck by an
    officer. The man who Johnson hit is still in bed.
    The above seems like something from a cinema, but I believe it
    to be substantially correct.
    Yours sincerely,
    (signed)   N.S.Norway

Notes from John Anderson:
Johnson was Squadron Leader E.L. Johnston, Navigating Officer of R.100.
Steff was Flying Officer M.H. Steff, Second Officer of R.100
Both were aboard the R.101 flight to India and died in the crash.

Shute says in Slide Rule that the crews needed a lot of keeping in check particularly when there was not much work for them to do he may have been thinking of this incident when he wrote that.
At this time The R 100 was already Government property having been formally handed over to Cardington at the end of January 1930.

Editor's Comment: Call me crazy but I think the letter's author could have a career in writing ahead of him. I suspect there are some gems amongst the 350 pages of normally dry day-to-day business letters in those files. I would just love to read them all.

Andy Burgess made copies of a correspondence between Shute and Barnes Wallis that started when Shute sent Barnes Wallis a copy of Slide Rule in 1954.


This year's Nevil Shute Flying Scholarship will be awarded to this year's winner, Jeannie Campbell, at the Dawn Patrol Breakfast on Sunday 18th September 2005.
The Dawn Patrol is a major General Aviation event in Melbourne, Australia commemorating the Battle of Britain and all those aircrew who made the supreme sacrifice in all theatres of War.
Approximately 50 aircraft of all shapes and sizes depart Moorabbin airport at dawn and fly over the Shrine of Remembrance and then around Port Phillip Bay before returning for a formal breakfast in the Club's maintenance hangar where the Shute Scholarship and other scholarships sponsored by Mobil will be awarded.


Arnold Hawk writes:

A Town Like Alice (Helen Morse, Bryan Brown) also appeared on LASER VIDEO DISC, at least here in the US.
Laser discs are not region-encoded, but they are NTSC or PAL encoded. The copy I have is NTSC. They require a unique player, which are still available.
Multiple VHS sets are available regularily on eBay.
I would expect the best bet for a public performance of ATLA would be cable TV / BRAVO / PBS in The USA or BBC in The UK or ABC in Australia.

Editor's Comment: I was going to say that younger readers may need reminding that Laser Discs were an LP-sized earlier version of DVDs that came out in the late 70s and 80s but never really caught on. But then I realised that younger readers wouldn't even know what LP-sized meant anyway so I don't think I will bother. (would 'medium-pizza-sized' work?)


Katie Cochrane of Takeaway Media, London England writes:

I am contacting you from a television production company in the UK called Takeaway Media. We are currently working on a programme for the BBC about the origin of words.
In fact we are part of a nationwide word hunt that was launched earlier this year which aims to find out where some of our commonly used phrases come from and when they were first used.
I am looking for the first use of the word Boffin and I have been informed that it might have been used in a Nevil Shute novel about engineers or experimental scientists.
I wondered if you knew whether the word boffin had been used in one of his novels.

Editor's Comment: I replied that Boffin is certainly used in No Highway (1948).
I also speculated that it just might also be found in Landfall (1940) as Professor Legge would rate as a Boffin.
I suspect that Boffin was seen as a sometimes-affectionate term by some of those who used it but was mostly seen as a pejorative by the Boffins themselves who, being Boffins, were apt to be testy at being called Boffins. Shute had much to do with Boffins of all types in his profession of aeronautical engineer and at the DMWD.
So far the earliest known printing of the word Boffin is from 1941.
Can someone read Landfall (1940) with a fine tooth comb to see if it is there? (make sure you wash it before combing your teeth again)
If Boffin is found in Landfall, this would currently make Shute the first user of the word Boffin in print. This may go some way to getting him a Blue Plaque after all.

For more info on the BBC and Oxford English Dictionary word hunt go to: or You will find some fascinating expressions and words.

A note from your Web Lackey: A quick search with dug up this web site, which should be interesting to most NSNF members.


As you may know, all VHS tapes eventually degrade and stop working. Anyone with VHS tapes should soon burn them to DVDs before they decompose completely or their VHS player dies. VHS players will eventually be phased out as DVD recorders become cheaper.
While I would never suggest you infringe copyright, you may decide that to make a safety copy of any favourite tapes you own that allow you to copy them.
Any 12 year old relative will be able to do this for you and anyway, if caught, the 12 year old will get a lighter sentence if you infringe copyright along the way. If they get caught, you should visit the 12 year old in prison at least once a year.
One reader who, to protect her identity, we will call The Mysterious Mrs X of Somewhere, The USA, writes explaining how she surprisingly was able to burn a safety copy of the copyrighted VHS of A Town Like Alice. The Mysterious Mrs X writes:

Most home-recorded videocassettes should transfer to a DVD, but A Town Like Alice is the only commercial video that we have been able to transfer. The commercial movies of today are all encoded with protection against copies.
However, if you record your own videotape from a television broadcast, you should be able to transfer that video to DVD.
We used a Mitsubishi Tape Player and a Magnavox DVD Burner. We used the three wire cables that came with the DVD Burner to connect the tape player directly to the DVD burner. The cables were supplied specifically for the purpose of burning home video tapes to DVD's to save them in a longer lasting medium.
Since our video copy of A Town Like Alice is so poor and very very grainy (the entire movie is on a single cassette), we made a copy to a more stable medium for our own personal use. This did not improve the quality in any way at all, much to our disappointment, and some areas of the movie are so bad they are almost impossible to see anything at all. We recorded the entire video cassette onto a single DVD which did nothing to improve the quality either.
By the way, we are not experts at this. We just followed the instructions that came with the DVD burner.
(signed) The Mysterious Mrs X.

Another note from your Web Lackey: I have recently developed an interest in video production and audio transcribing (LP/audio tape/VHS to CD/DVD). I have many friends who are lawyers, and the advice I get from them is this: US Copyright laws allow the legitimate owner of a medium (tape, record, DVD, CD) to make one archival copy of the medium for personal use, so no one is going to run afoul of US law by transcribing a VHS tape to DVD. I have been doing this for friends for some time now (using my computer), and I make a point of prefacing the transaction with two caveats:

  1. You must sign an affidavit affirming that you are the rightful owner of the item you would like copied.
  2. If the product is available commercially as a CD or DVD, it would be cheaper for you to just go buy it. Furthermore, the quality will most likely be better than I can give you, and there are often additional bonus tracks on the disk that I cannot add.


Joost Meulenbroek, who has been trying to find Shute's yacht Runagate, writes:

Tonight I finally spoke to Mr. Henderson, who owned Runagate.
He sold her about 2 years ago. He doesn't know the name of the buyer. Mr. Henderson has recently moved, and all of his things are still in storage. He promised me that he would look up the name and address of the buyer.
As far as he knows Runagate is still on the river Tyne, in the north of England. Two years ago she wasn't in a very good state.
Mr. Henderson said that he would give me all the info that he can get.
I told him about CC2005, and that it would be very nice if we could show something there. He said that he made some photos of Runagate, just before she was sold.
As soon as I have more information, I will let you know.

Editor's Comment: Joost has since sent me photos and details of a forlorn looking Runagate in storage out of the water in 2003. These will eventually find their way onto on the website.
Runagate was a 1939, 18 ton Hillyard Schooner. She was 40 foot long and had 3 cabins with a total of 7 berths. She was made of Larch on Oak. The height of the cabin was 5 feet 9 inches so she was reasonably comfortable.


I have heard on the grapevine that major British film producer Marc Samuelson currently holds the film rights for Trustee From The Toolroom. Anyone finding themselves at a swanky Hollywood-style cocktail party with Marc Samuelson should sidle up and casually remind him that there are over 500 newsletter readers out there who very well might consider renting the DVD if he makes the film. At 1 Pound profit per rental he could then count on receiving anywhere up to 500 Pounds back on his investment.
That should encourage him to risk 20 or 30 million pounds of his own money immediately.
Sadly, the vast majority of books that are optioned never get made into films.
16 years ago when Bob Hoskins was still in his 40s I heard his name suggested to play Keith Stewart. He would have been great. Even now, at 63, he would work with barely any alteration to the plot.
Would anyone like to suggest the cast if they made a film of Trustee or any other Shute novel today?


Karen Liminton of Bristol, The UK writes:

I have twenty-two of Nevil Shute' books which belonged to my late father. They are all in excellent condition and in hard back. Is there a place where I could sell these books and if would like to buy them what price would you be prepared to pay?
The books are in such good condition that I don't think they have been read.
Yours faithfully
Karen Liminton

Editor's Comment: It sounds like Karen has the famous matched set in new condition. Karen lives in Bristol, England. Is anyone interested in making Karen an offer? If so, please contact her directly at:


Gerard Martin of The UK writes:

My leaving present from a colleague at my last school was a first edition of On The Beach and a curious poster. It is poster for John Bull magazine [every Wednesday - fourpence] announcing the great new serial The Far Country by Nevil Shute.

Editor's Comment: An internet search revealed that John Bull magazine was an English magazine very similar to The Saturday Evening Post. If you go to: you can see copies of several Norman Rockwell-esque covers which convey the feeling of the magazine.
The website explains:
John Bull Magazine was published in the UK from the late 1940s until the early 1960s. The cover artwork epitomizes British life of the time and forms a visual social history of the way we lived. It mirrored, in many ways, the famous Saturday Evening Post in America, with its themes of everyday family life, and no other magazine captured so beautifully the essence of 1950s middle England.


Janic Geelen of New Zealand who is working on a history of the de Havilland Aircraft Company writes:

I checked through the web page and found that some folk in your organisation have done research on Airspeed. Since this comes into the de Havilland Aircraft story it will be included in the two volumes that cover the 1940-1975 period. I have experienced a lot of problems trying to integrate the Airspeed side into the overall de Havilland story and would appreciate help from anybody who was working for the factory at Portsmouth or Christchurch.
They can contact me at: (postal address: P.O. BOX 129, Waiuku, New Zealand)
I know this has little reference to Nevil Shute and those references are included in volumes 1 and 2 of MAGNIFICENT ENTEPRISE. So far only volume two has been published. It is called MOTHS, MAJORS & MINORS and there are a few references to Nevil Shute in that. One about him designing the propeller for the DH 53 Hummingbird and there is a photo of Hesell Tiltman helping with the DH 71 Tiger Moth.

Editor's Comment: I have replied to Janic offering assistance. I also eagerly asked about the photo of Tiltman as photos of him are as rare as hen's teeth. I will keep you all posted.


Grady Jensen writes: My wife and I have just finished listening (again) to Recorded Books' In The Wet, one of our favorites, which we've read a number of times in the past.
Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince Charles play important if minor parts in the story - Charles "pre-Diana."
We wonder if Elizabeth, Philip or Charles ever read "In The Wet." Is there any way to determine this?

Editor's Comment: I have also always wondered. I doubt there is a publicised list of The Queen's bedside reading but does anyone know?


The last newsletter carried an item about Andy Banta's call for assistance researching 1930s British aircraft carriers but I forgot to attach Andy Banta's email address.
Others with information for Andy Banta can email him at:
Lee Holmes of Louisiana in the USA kindly wrote to offer help to Andy from his extensive library on Royal Navy 1930's aircraft and carriers.

Grady Jensen also assisted with a comprehensive website he found at


I still can't believe that some mutt, an unknown hack like Dickens, gets 10 Blue Plaques and Shute gets none! They'll be handing them out to Shakespeare next!
I have just returned from three weeks in the tropics to Sydney's unbeatable mid-Winter weather. The days are sunny with a high of 20°c (68°f). The cold crisp nights are great for sleeping and this morning I had my first Winter swim in a month. The water was a brisk 16.5°c (61.7°f) but it was incredibly refreshing and invigorating.
Having rather heroically had a cold-water swim I now feel morally justified in doing nothing useful or productive for the next 24 hours. After 24 hours I will repeat the process.

Still another note from your Web Lackey: As the rest of the world knows, we Yanks cannot seem to get in step with the rest of the world and use the metric system. My personal opinion is that the problem is partially caused by a need to relate metric units to the Other (dare I say British?) system, and the confusion caused by constantly converting back and forth.
I think the whole process would be much easier if we converted cold-turkey: We'd wake up one morning and find all the signs and labels showing only metric measures.
After that long-winded prelude, here is my point: Several years ago on a ski trip in Canada I picked up a very helpful ditty that said:
"Thirty is Hot
Twenty is Nice
Ten is Cold
and Zero is Ice"
With that you can relate a number to the way it feels, and who needs Fahrenheit?

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