Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

May Newsletter

2006-05/May, 2006


Dan Telfair writes:

Andre Lanouette, from Appleton WI, recently wrote to me recommending the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" as a very Nevil Shute/Trustee From the Toolroom-like story.
Not being able to imagine any possible resemblance, Zia and I went to the movie today.
Our conclusion: It could very well have been written by Nevil Shute!
The film is based on the true story of Burt Monroe, an aging New Zealander, who sets out with very little money to take his highly modified 1920 Indian motorcycle to the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US, and attempts to set a world speed record.
His journey parallels Trustee in many respects, and as in Trustee, every time he comes to a barrier, he overcomes it. He usually does so with the help of a cast of characters that could well inhabit any Nevil Shute book.
There is an essential goodness about the lead character, played very well by Anthony Hopkins that brings out the best in everyone he meets.
At the end of the film, as with the closing words of many Nevil Shute stories, it took a while to dry my eyes.
This film is very highly recommended for any Shutist wishing to recapture the essential goodness that Nevil saw in common people, and that he portrayed so well in his novels.


Jonathan Kent, a big fan of The Rainbow and the Rose, has written of an obituary from the UK paper The Telegraph from December 24th 2005, of captain Vic Spencer: a pilot who escaped beheading while a POW and made a Christmas rescue in the Falkland Islands.
Until Spencer arrived on the islands in November 1948, the Falklanders, living in scattered and remote settlements, were vulnerable at times of serious illness or injury, since hospital could be reached only by a long and uncomfortable journey by land and sea.
He and an engineer, John Biscoe, landed with two crated Austers aboard the research ship to establish the Falkland Islands Government Air Service.
After a rudimentary airstrip had been set up on the racecourse at Stanley, the first aircraft was reassembled in a weather-exposed hangar for its inaugural flight on December 19th.
The islanders, unused to aircraft, were sceptical about their usefulness but on Christmas Eve Sandra Short, a little girl living at North Arm in southern East Falkland, contracted peritonitis, needing urgent hospital treatment.
Although test flying had been suspended for the holidays, Spencer agreed to go, after asking that a landing strip be pegged out with sheepskins and a fire lit to indicate wind direction.
In appalling weather, he collected the girl, whose life was saved.
(there is a photograph included in the obituary of Spencer carrying the little girl to the Auster.)
In 1952, by then a highly respected figure and having established the Air Service, his achievement was celebrated in a BBC radio play, The Good Tidings.
A road in Stanley is now named Auster way.
Jonathan continues:

I feel sure Shute must have known of this man, who flew in the Middle East for many years, aviation then being a small community. If so, perhaps Shute heard of the rescue and perhaps gained some inspiration for his Auster rescue flight in the book?

Editor's Comment:
Clearly, Shute had 10 years between these events and the publication of Rainbow in 1958 to hear stories of this rescue as well as the mercy flights that he knew were happening in Tasmania.
Escaping a beheading in WW2 makes Vic Spencer seem like both Joe Harman in Alice as well as Johnny Pascoe and Ronnie Clarke.
You can read the whole fascinating obituary, which also has deep shades of Round The Bend, at:


James Fricker has written suggesting that we should have a section of the website about Australian get togethers etc. Naturally this would be dependent on the number of active or interested members in Australia, which I think is quite small.
This leads to the inevitable question: Exactly how many active or interested Shutists are there in Australia or The USA or The UK or wherever?
The answer is that we really don't know.
Our newsletter subscription records are only a list of email addresses with no J. Edgar Hoover type comprehensive files attached so we have no names, addresses, countries or phone numbers.
As a Shutist you are anonymous unless you choose not to be and you can participate or not as you choose. We will never hound you. Hounding you would be un-Shute-like.
All I know about our readership is that I currently send out 598 newsletters a month and about 60 get returned because the addresses are old or defective. This happens because I am too lazy to cull the dead addresses out of my address list.
That means about 540 of people read the newsletter worldwide and they are in most continents except I haven't received an email from anyone in Antarctica... yet.


Larry Freeman has written that he flies a virtual plane called Airspeed One on a Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network.
Larry's plane is named in honour of Shute's aeroplane manufacturing company, Airspeed, which, swallowed up by deHavillands and then by British Aerospace, has since ceased to exist.
See what Virtual Air Traffic Simulation is all about at:
Those interested in the fun and relative safety of Virtual Flying might also look into Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane.
While Microsoft Flight Simulator works well only on a PC, I am assured that X-Plane should work on both a PC and a Mac.
I did some checking and should you take up virtual flying you should be able to experience flying many of the planes featured in Shute's books including the Airspeed Oxford, the Avro Lancaster, the Percival Proctor and even the Avro Anson featured in Landfall.


There were several helpful responses to Mike Berliner's questions about visiting the real Willstown area.

Ken England wrote:

Burketown in the Gulf of Carpentaria region of Queensland, Australia is the original of Willstown. Shute's description of the place with the hot water emerging from an artesian bore is identifiably Burketown.
I grew up in Emerald, a town then of 1200 people a few hundred miles to the south of Burketown though it is still in Queensland.
While "Willstown" in 1948 was considerably a worse place than Emerald was in the 1950s I recognise some of the material in Shute's book as applying to both places.
The news from Burketown is not good. From what I gather it is not a place to stay.
It seems that if anything Burketown in the early 21st century is worse than "Willstown" was in 1948.
The drift to the cities has accelerated since Shute's time. Many of the smaller towns in the region, which is far bigger than most US states, are dying for lack of resources and consequent lack of employment.
Virtually the only industry is cattle rearing on very large ranches. They are very large because of soil infertility and long dry seasons.
Rainfall is too irregular for arable farming, either a flood or a drought, mostly the latter.
There are no forests and no minerals.
There are no roads because virtually no-one lives there.
Access would be by large 4-wheel drive, probably a Toyota Land Cruiser with an off-road camping trailer behind. The area is all but impassable in the wet season, which runs from about September to March.
I travelled through from Hughenden to Townsville in April - May 2004. Hughenden, once a fair sort of a place, populated by many railwaymen, lost most of its drivers, firemen and track maintenance men 25 to 30 years ago and is now falling apart.
So is Richmond, though Julia Creek seems to be holding on, or at least it was in 1980 when I spent a few days there.
If you want to see what "Willstown" might have become I suggest you look at Cloncurry, which is much further west. You may recall Jean Paget stayed in the Post Office Hotel which still exists, I ate many meals in the dining room there in 1969.

Penny Morton wrote:

Be advised Mike, this area IS off the beaten track.
If you haven't driven in Outback Australia before, this will be unlike anything you'd find in the U.S. (we lived in S.E. Kansas for over 20 years) and would require diligent research.
The Burke Development Road, a remote gravel/dirt one, on which you'd need to carry emergency fuel, spare parts, water and food supplies, goes northeast from Normanton about 50-75 miles before crossing the Gilbert River.
At that point you'd have to hike down the river about 50 miles to the Gulf (of Carpentaria) coast, through crocodile-infested terrain, to find the location you seek.
Richard is right in suggesting you'd probably have to go by small plane/seaplane, and you'd be lucky to find one any closer than Cloncurry, some 250 miles south of Normanton.

Editor's Comment: It all sounds like it is still very rugged and a little bit depressing.
Hopefully someone else will write in and cheer us up by telling us how great it is and why we should all move there.
After all, it must be fun igniting the bore gases in Burketown for the first few hundred times.


John Anderson writes:

In Slide Rule, Shute writes of hitting a fence in a Moth when coming in to land at Sherburn in Elmet and finishing up with the plane inverted.
In browsing the National Archive database I came across a reference to an Air Ministry file which is an accident investigation report into the crash of DH Moth G-EBRZ at Sherburn in September 1927. This might be a report on Nevil's crash but I won't know until I have a chance to visit the N.A. and look at the report. The date would certainly fit.

Editor's Comment:
However, John subsequently wrote again that while he discovered the crash wasn't Shute's it may be of relevance to The Rainbow and the Rose because it involved the death of a young woman who was a passenger in a Moth.
The inexperienced pilot, who was blamed for the crash, had stalled his aircraft low to the ground and crashed. The pilot was seriously injured.
It's a long shot to suggest direct inspiration for the book, but Shute must at least known of the tragic death of the young woman.
I checked the day of the week in case it had been weekend flying in which case Shute would likely have witnessed the wreck, but it was a Friday so he was more likely at work on R100 when the crash happened. The report indicates the pilot owned the plane and there is no indication whether they were club members or not.

Editor Continues:
John Anderson, who outwardly appears to be a restrained mature man, has become a relentless Shute research fiend.
While currently trying to locate Shute's 1927 Flight Log book he is simultaneously going through over 100 pages of Shute's R100 mail while he is also unearthing the reports of the pilot that attacked the enemy submarine that is now believed to have been HMS Snapper.
I don't doubt that he does all this while eating his breakfast and watering the garden at the same time.
Apparently the British power authorities are considering linking John into the power grid in case there is a shortage but fear he may blow the system if he hears the words "New Information Found About Nevil Shute" while he is connected up.

John Continues:

Regarding the report of the Anson attack on 3rd December 1939 on the submarine.
The pilot was obviously convinced at the time that he had attacked an enemy submarine. However the time, area and other factors all point to it being the Snapper that was attacked.
I notice that the description bears some similarities to the description of the Chamber's attack in Landfall. e.g. one bomb hitting the base of the conning tower etc.
I'm convinced the somehow NSN got to hear about this and adapted it for Landfall.

John continues:

Of course I blame my obsession entirely on you! (the Editor)
If you hadn't casually mentioned at Southsea about the DMWD papers at the National Archives I might still be a normal sort of bloke without a determination to find out everything I can about NSN.
However it is highly addictive and infectious, being frustrating and rewarding in equal measure.
Dan says Nevil Shute has changed his life... mine too.

Editor continues:
That about seals and closes the Snapper issue which may be a relief to those not obsessed with aeroplanes and submarines. Yes, it's amazing but my mother assures me that such people do exist!
I am pleased to have assisted in turning John from a civilized man into a slavering, obsessive researcher as now we benefit from his illness.
The fact that he will probably eventually turn to spirituous liquors, neglect his family and die in poverty need not bother us as long as he keeps sharing all his lovely his research to the end.


Fred Erisman, who has given some very enjoyable talks on Shute at several conferences, writes:

Scott Morelen was asking about writers like Shute.
I'd like to propose two possibilities: C.S. Forester (the Horatio Hornblower stories, at least) and Dick Francis.
Both give us well-crafted tales set against a well-developed but quietly introduced "technical" background -- 19th Century naval warfare for Forester, horse-racing and training for Francis, with other areas brought in as his work progressed.
The test for me is can they be re-read with pleasure, and both hold up exceptionally well to multiple re-readings.


Erda Hillmann writes:

I attended the wonderful 1999 Albuquerque meeting.
Somehow I later lost contact, and now I am discovering your website again.
Thank you for keeping us updated.


Neil Wiles of The UK writes:

Does Nevil Shute have any living relatives close or distant?

Editor's Comment:
Shute's daughters, Heather and Shirley, who are both in their 70s, are the last of Shute's direct bloodline which will end with them.
Shute's brother died in WW1 and he had no children.
There are some remote and distant cousins in The UK and also in Italy and some adopted children in The USA and about 540 ardent fans but there are no other close blood descendants.


Dan Telfair writes:

The Foundation wishes to acknowledge the book collection donated by the estate of Michel Hutin, a devoted Swiss Shutist who recently passed away.
Special thanks to Benoît Waridel, Michel's friend, who arranged to have the books shipped to our UK Library.
As a result of this thoughtful legacy, the Foundation now has a number of Shute's books in German and French to add to our English and Spanish editions.
These books will be housed in the Foundation archives, rather than in one of the libraries.
Shutists wishing to borrow any of the foreign language books, or to add to our foreign language collection, should contact Foundation Secretary Dan Telfair.


Sherill Anderson writes:

I live in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
Nevil Shute visited here several times, I heard.
Seattle is the setting in On The Beach.
San Francisco, California, was used in the movie because the skyline was more recognizable.
In Requiem For a Wren / The Breaking Wave Nevil Shute had Janet take the No. 17 Sunset bus to Ballard. It still runs.
I read that Nevil Shute had friends in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.
One of his last books had a setting in Tacoma, Washington, which is the next town south of us.
I have left my complete set of his works to my son-in-law. He will appreciate them.

Editor's Comment:
Without checking, I am pretty sure that Tacoma features in Trustee From The Toolroom.
The Pacific Northwest area also features in Beyond The Black Stump.
If anyone has any information on Shute's friends in Bellevue, Washington we would be very interested to contact them or their descendants.
It would be hard to imagine a better gift than an introduction to, and a full set of, Nevil Shute's books.


Kate Jones has written that she has received an email from The Muller Family / Recorded Books asking for donations for Frank Muller who apparently recorded Trustee From The Toolroom.
Although the results of an Internet search suggest that Frank Muller did record a version of Trustee and it does seem he may have been seriously injured in 2001, The Nevil Shute Foundation does not endorse any charitable appeals.
The Nevil Shute Foundation strongly disapproves of anyone using our mailing lists to solicit funds for any purpose.
We do not give out our mailing lists to anyone other than to announce our own events such as our international gatherings.


William Laing, who was responsible for the above tortuous title, has passed to me an obituary from the UK's Daily Telegraph. Here is an edited extract:
Sir Michael Cobham, who died on April 13 aged 79, was chairman and life president of Cobham plc, the aerospace and defence group founded by his father, the intrepid aviator Sir Alan Cobham.
Originally called Flight Refuelling Ltd, the Cobham family company was a pioneer of air-to-air refuelling, which Sir Alan saw as a potential boon to commercial airlines but which was later developed exclusively for military use. In the late 1940s he perfected the "probe and drogue" system (a rival to the "boom" system developed by Boeing) which enabled fighter planes to connect to refuelling hoses trailed from tanker aircraft.
Michael Cobham was chief executive of the company, in succession to his father, from 1969 to 1992, and chairman from 1969 to 1995. He oversaw its growth through acquisitions and joint ventures into a diversified aerospace group, with more than 10,000 employees and operations in North America, Europe, Malaysia and South Africa.
Michael John Cobham was born on February 22 1927, at the very height of his father's fame. Having made his name as the senior pilot of the de Havilland aircraft company and winner of numerous air races, Alan Cobham had completed a celebrated flight in 1926 from Rochester to London "by way of Australia", finally landing on the River Thames at Westminster in front of a crowd estimated at a million people; he received his knighthood, aged 32, from an admiring King George V.
Alan Cobham left de Havilland shortly after Michael was born to form his own aerobatic troupe and a small airline, and to pursue an ardent campaign to popularise, and win government support for, the then still novel idea of commercial air travel. He established Flight Refuelling at Ford Aerodrome in Sussex in 1934.
Sir Alan himself continued to play a vigorous role in the company until he was 75, notably in the planning of a new factory complex at Wimborne in Dorset, but retired to the West Indies in 1969.


Mike Hobart has written to alert us that Radio Mensa has been broadcasting a 1952 radio play of the film version of Shute's book No Highway.
You can see the wonderful Mensa radio play site at:
The radio play is from the Lux Radio Theatre and stars the film's original stars James Stewart as Theodore Honey and Marlene Dietrich as Monica Teasdale.
You can listen to No Highway at radiomensa.


Arne Reil has passed on a friend's letter about his experiences at Airspeed.
These are in the post-Shute era but are still make interesting reading.

When I started my apprenticeship with DeHavilland they didn't have an apprentice training school at Christchurch (nr. Bournemouth) so they sent me to Portsmouth for about a year and I rotated through several of the departments in the old Airspeed facility that you visited.
When I first started at DeH in 1951 (at the age of 17) at Airspeed they were finishing up the Airspeed Ambassador and then went on to assemble Sea Venoms and Sea Vampires.
They also did some design work on the DeHavilland Comet and DH110.
We used to go up in the Ambassador on test flights to record instrument data by hand - this was before the age of data recorders and telemetry.
The Christchurch facility has been converted into other businesses but they still have a full size DH110 Sea Vixen on display that is visible from the road.


Laura Scneider writes:

The next Nevil Shute Conference will be next year in Alice Springs. The dates of the Conference are April 22-27, 2007. Specific details will follow as soon as possible!


I am in Shanghai again and so not able to give you a first hand weather report from Sydney.
Being in Shanghai also means I am unable to do a bulk emailing of the newsletter so I have had to delay the emailing until I get home in mid May. In the meantime, I hope you have found it on the Internet.
I hope you are all well.
Richard Michalak
Nevil Shute Foundation Newsletter Editor and Historian


Write in if you want your name listed and would like to get together with other Shutists in your vicinity.


Jim Wells lives in Lindfield, Sydney
Richard Michalak lives in Paddington, Sydney


Julian Stargardt


Bruce A Clarke lives in Bangkok


Jim & Kristi Woodward live in Broken Arrow (east of Tulsa), Oklahoma, USA.
Priscilla Pruitt lives near Bellingham, Washington State
(Priscilla will move to Thousand Oaks near LA in 2006)
Bill McCandless lives in Joliet near Chicago.