Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Oral History

Shirley Norway part 1

First Presentation of "Growing Up With Nevil Shute Norway", by Nevil Shute's daughter, Shirley Norway, at the Nevil Shute Centennial Celebration in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 16th January 1999.

Transcribed by Jerre J. Schermerhorn

NOTE: This transcription was made possible through the courtesy of Fred Weiss of the Paper Tiger, who owns the sole copyright to the tapes transcribed. These tapes, and all the others from the Centennial, are available for sale through the Paper Tiger at:>

Transcript of Introductory comments:

My name is Shirley Norway, and I have come here to talk about my life with my father, Nevil Shute Norway.

Now, the rest of it is for the benefit of you. You've probably all just heard Heather, I want to add just a few things to what Heather said. I don't know if you've got book and pencil, I'll tell you what I want to tell you. I want to tell you three books that you might be interested in further reading:

One is called The Secret War, by Gerald Pawle, and that was about the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, which was colloquially called The Department of Wheezers and Dodgers (Audience Laughter).

It came into being because people would write in or call in, mostly write in, of course, in those days, and say, Look... I've got this wonderful idea for a weapon or a defense strategy and why don't you investigate it, and this is where many of the ideas came from. And my understanding, my untutored understanding, is that this is where radar came from, by putting microphones at the top of the mast. (I'm going to have to stand up because I can't see anybody).... Putting microphones up at the top of the masts and catching sound waves and tracing things in that rather primitive way.

The second book I want to mention, is called..., and it's about the what the ... what was it called? ­ The Millionth Chance by James Leasor, and this was a book was devoted entirely to the construction of the two airships, the private enterprise one and the publicly funded one.

One of the troubles with the publicly funded one was that Lord Thompson, who was the big shot who was going to India -- everybody else was told that they could have one small overnight suitcase, Lord Thompson had two and a half elevator loads because he had to take his own cutlery, and his own crockery, and his own linens and things and the whole thing was poorly constructed - they put in an additional bag and they made it longer and it wasn't stressed for it. This was part of the trouble. The other part of the trouble was that it was grossly overladened, mainly due to Lord Thompson and his little ways. (Audience laughter.)

What was the third book? The third book will come to me later.... I know what it was... The third book was called The Death of Neville Norway. I don't know who the author was ... Who? (Conversation off mike) John Froland. (How clever of you to know. John Froland was the author, (several giggles from audience) and this was about the murder which I'll tell you about later in our earlier family history. My father was enraged at the publication of this book. My father was actually quite frequently enraged (general audience laughter) and he went off to the publisher and demanded it's withdrawal and all this sort of thing, but it never happened, it didn't get withdrawn. It wasn't a wild success, it wasn't particularly accurate about it's facts, but it'a something you might like to add to your collections.... (off mike conversation) Which Book? ­ I think I've seen a different edition.... Yes, Yes, This one, D H Middleton, Airspeed, The Company and It's Aeroplanes. That's another one that might interest you. You're going to let me see it later, aren't you? Thank you.

You'll have to keep an eye on me for time... No don't mind about the clock, just keep an eye on me for time. Thank you.

Johan (Bakker) has been wonderfully helpful - he's a very scholarly gentleman and seems to know a lot more about my father's work than I could ever begin to, and I'm sure most of you here do.

I read my father's books when I was a teenager, you know, as they came out he'd give me a copy and sign it, and I wouldn't value them and I'd give them away to my friends (audience laughter), lend them to my friends and never get them back and so my stock of the books is sadly depleted, there are some of them out there.

Anyhow, what I really wanted to start talking about today was a little bit about the history of the family. You've probably seen from the display, and heard from Heather's talk that the family is quite an old one. I think the earliest records in the family go back to the 15th Century, when there was a Norway Bank in Cornwall, correct me if I'm wrong, I mean I really haven't studied this ... I'm working very much off the top of my head with you, and I'm really going to value your questions later.

It was a Cornish family. The name Norway came from, of course, the Norwegians. The Norwegians used to bring timber to Cornwall and trade it for tin. They brought the timbers for pit props and they would take tin away from Cornwall and we always assumed that it was when somebody jumped ship that, with an unpronounceable name, with apologizes to the various Scandinavians (Shirley giggles)... and this is where the Norway came from, from the trade between Cornwall and Norway, and to this day there is a Norway pub, which I used to frequent when I lived near that part of the world. A nice pub, a real nice pub.

There's a Norway house, still, and I'm not sure what it is called but there's an old family house in Loswithiel. Is anybody here from Loswithiel? (Audience laughs.) I wondered if you were here! Is it called Norway House? It is..., because there's another one isn't there? (Off mic conversation) Yeah. This gentleman lives in Norway House in Loswithiel in Cornwall, and what else, what else? Do I say umm too much? Heather was saying umm an awfully lot, wasn't she?

So the family, to my knowledge next came to prominence with the murder. (Audience laughter.) Now what happened with the murder was that Neville Norway was riding home from market, and William and James Lightfoot leapt out of the hedge and did him foully to death and stole his money. They shot him, and made off with his money and they were later caught and convicted, and hanged. And it was the day..., they were hanged in Bodmin, which is the capitol of Cornwall, and it was the day the railroad opened, and it was also the last public hanging in Cornwall, and the place was packed. (Audience laughter.) People coming in on the first train to see the last hanging! Now, William and James Lightfoot had shot Neville Norway and hidden the gun on a beam in a barn.

OK. Now.... Meanwhile, John Norway was at sea off the coast of South Africa, and he had a really vivid dream one night, that William and James Lightfoot had leapt out of a hedge and shot his brother as he was returning from market, and taken the gun and hidden it on a beam in the barn! And the dream was so vivid that he had his captain ... he wrote an account of it and had his captain sign it. And... When he got back to England, six months later, he found that this had indeed transpired and his brother was no longer there, but the authorities had never been able to find the gun and he led them straight to it! So that's what I was talking about at breakfast.

So, from there, of course, his widow, Jean Norway, of course back in those days we didn't mentioned ladies first names - it was quite improper to do so - and Jean Norway was in fact Georginna and Georginna started writing novels, and she was the first major one in the family, and she wrote a book which was really enchanting called The True Cornish Maid, which was a lovely little book, and some of them are out there on display, you've probably seen them, but that's why she started writing, to support her two boys.

Arthur Hamilton Norway, who was my grandfather, and his brother, Nevil Norway, who was a Doctor of Medicine, and traveled in his pony trap around Cornwall, ministering to the sick back in the olden days when house calls were the norm.

And then, Arthur Hamilton was a very learned gentleman and Heather talked some about something about the Postal Packet Service. Keith Jeffries is here who can tell you much more about it ..... Are you talking, are you a speaker? (Yes) Oh good, oh good, cause that was fascinating - the whole era. And my grandfather was the Deputy Head of the Post Packet Service at the time of the Black and Tan Rebellion, and the post office to this day bears bullet marks from when it was all shot up.

I think I've lead on really to where Heather started. I wanted to tell you also before I start asking for your questions, just a little about the daily routine at home which was ..., my father was a Victorian, let's face it, and breakfast was at 8:15, lunch was at 1:00, and dinner was at 7:30, and you had to be there. If you were at home you had to be there. That's the way it was. Not the way things are at all today, I don't think, anywhere in England. He got up quite early, I think he got up around about 6:00. I say I think he did, I mean I was never up at that time (audience laughs) so I have little knowledge of these things.

What else? Breakfast was always a hearty meal, as indeed were lunch and dinner. Part of the reason I think for this regimentation of time is, that we always had servants, apart from the war time years when breakfast was at 8:15, lunch was at 1:00, and dinner was at 7:30, we always had servants, and when we were still in England we had a married couple, and I grew up at dinner with someone coming and serving, you know. (Audience agrees.) I don't know if any private house does this any more. I suppose there are some. But this would account in large part to the regimentation of the hours and as Heather said, Dad would work in the morning, usually, let's face it - play in the afternoon, and if he were on a deadline with a publisher, he'd work again in the evening.

I think, as I was talking with Johan the other day, yesterday, we were talking about .. Dad seemed to have things that he did. And he wasn't "I am an artist", there was none of that about it. That's what he did in the morning, that's what he did in the afternoon, and that's what he did in the evening.

My most memorable and happy times spent with him were when I'd go into his metal workshop and just stand beside him, and he would have this bit of metal in the lath and he was making some intricate thing for some little engine he was working on and that's what he thought he was doing. I thought, when I was 10, 11, 12, whatever, that he was making those little curley metal bits for me. (Shirley laughs - joined by the audience.) He used to give me the best ones. (General laughter)

So I haven't done this sort of thing before, and I'm really now entirely in your hands. Ask me the questions. Help me with this.

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