Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

January Newsletter

2007-01/January, 2007


Tom Wenham of Buckingham in The UK has written a long and fascinating email. I am printing it in full. You will understand why I have not done my usual savage editing when you read it.
Tom writes:

I made a welcome return to Nevil Shute a couple of years ago having first read them as a schoolboy in the sixties.
I am enjoying revisiting each and every one and so far as I am concerned there is no such thing as a poor Shute novel.
I am an amateur aviation historian with an interest in post-war British aviation and in one company in particular, Beagle Aircraft, which was Britain's last and ill-fated attempt to keep alive its light aircraft industry, an industry that had led the world before the war. Beagle only survived for a decade, from 1960 to 1970, but its impact was considerable and the company history has never been comprehensively written, an omission I strive to rectify.
The force behind Beagle was Sir Peter Masefield, who died earlier this year aged 91.
A short while before his death he moved with his wife from their lifelong home in Reigate, Surrey, to Lewes in Sussex so that they could be near one of their sons.
In his long career in aviation Sir Peter had accumulated an enormous archive and this was stored in the basement of the Reigate house.
There was no question of this amount of material being accommodated in the bungalow at Lewes and so Sir Peter donated his entire archive, and it was estimated to be eight tons of paper, to the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge, Surrey,of which he was President.
The archive covered Sir Peter's career from its start in the drawing office at Fairey Aviation, followed by stints as a journalist and war correspondent, civil servant and diplomat, becoming managing director of Bristol Aircraft, then managing director and subsequently chairman of Beagle, to be followed by his appointment as Chairman of the British Airports Authority, Chief Executive of British European Airways, Chairman of the London Transport Executive, director of the British Caledonian airline, and many other positions in public and corporate life.
Sir Peter was probably one of the best connected people in post-war Britain, and he had the confidence of senior politicians and civil servants, the military top brass, captains of industry, journalists, and others of influence.
He was immensely proud of being a kinsman of John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, and he was himself the author of many books, notably To Ride the Storm, the story of the R101. His passion was for balloons and rigid airships.
In connection with my researches for the Beagle history I am fortunate to have access to Sir Peter's archive at Brooklands and it is a veritable treasure trove of post-war aviation history. After his "retirement" one of Sir Peter's occupations was the writing of obituaries for the Times for all aviation-connected subjects. Recently, amongst the mountains of boxes and files that form the archive, I came across the drafts and research papers for very many of these obituaries, written throughout the eighties and nineties. A very quick delve into some of these files was enough to show that there would be much to be learnt from a more detailed investigation.
By chance, amongst them I came across a paper entitled "Neville Shute Norway - An Aide Memoir" which was dated 7th January 1997.
I have no idea why Sir Peter felt it necessary to write himself an aide memoir on the subject of NSN at that time nor why it was lodged with the obituary files.
I reproduce it here verbatim for its interest.
Nevil Shute Norway - An Aide Memoir
7th January 1997
Nevil Shute Norway - as I knew him - was a sensitive, cultured, introspective man - much influenced by his early life in England and Ireland before the First World War (in which, in June of 1915, his elder and only brother Fred, who he had admired greatly, was killed), by his own persistent stammer (which caused him to be somewhat withdrawn in company), by his devotion to aviation and (from all this background) by his difficulties in later life in handling those who had to report to him and, likewise, his problems in maintaining close relations with his colleagues.
These facts led Norway to be somewhat of a "loner" during the years when he had to work in an industrial atmosphere - starting as a Drawing Office Assistant at the de Havilland Aircraft Company in the 1920s and moving on to the, Vickers owned, "Airship Guarantee Company" at remote Howden in Yorkshire - and then at the small Airspeed Limited in York and at Portsmouth Airport, between 1931 and 1938.
From all of this he retreated gratefully into a detached, individual authorship, of which he made a brilliant success in the writing of 22 books in 34 years.
During his time at Howden he had been much influenced - not for the better - by Barnes Wallis. He inherited from him a massive "chip on his shoulder" about the rival airship R101 and its professional team - an antipathy increased by the fact that when the R100 was complete and he applied for a job in the design of the prospective R102 and R103 at Cardington, he was turned down by Vincent Richmond as of not sufficient experience. The part of Norway's autobiographical book Slide Rule about his five airship years, is marred by a bitter, and in many ways, inaccurate tirade against the Royal Airship Works and its personnel at Cardington.
I had met Norway first at Portsmouth and Airspeed in 1937 at a time when that un-capitalised company was struggling to survive. It was a time when Norway was - in his individualistic way - not getting on well with a number of his colleagues of the management, largely because of their mutual financial problems at Airspeed. Consequently he left Airspeed in 1938 to become a full-time author.
I next saw him in Whitehall during the War when I was Secretary of Lord Beaverbrook's War Cabinet Committee and with the Brabazon Committee on future British aircraft.
At that time I enlisted Norway's help on a project analysis of a possible future long-range rigid airship - R104 - for Atlantic air services in comparison with the projected Brabazon 1 airliner. Our survey of the possibilities of R104 showed that it could in no way compete with the post-war generation of long-range fixed-wing aircraft.
I met Norway again in Australia late in 1953 when I led a BEA team flying the Vickers Viscount V700 prototype in the England-Christchurch Centenary Air Race. When we returned with the Viscount through Australia I had an opportunity to spend a little time with Norway at his home in Melbourne.
There we had enjoyable discussions about World aviation in general, about our own flight from Heathrow to Christchurch, New Zealand, in the Viscount (covered in just five stages) and about Norway's own multi-sector England-Australia flights, there and back, in his Percival Proctor four-seat aircraft with his family - and about his various writings of that date.
Perhaps his most famous book, "No Highway", written in 1948, took my old friend, Percy Walker, of Farnborough, as a somewhat over-painted central figure as the prototype boffin, Mr Honey. Norway based part of the plot of that story on his discussions with Percy Walker about the increasing recognition, at that time, of problems of metal fatigue. In part they became the cause of the subsequent disasters to the early jet-powered DH Comet aircraft and gave Norway a reputation as a far-sighted prophet.
Nevil Shute Norway was certainly a nice man (a gentle man in every sense of those words) who it was a pleasure to know but whose introspective nature, exacerbated by his stammer, made him shy of spoken communications except with those who he knew well and liked. Undoubtedly his stammer caused him to turn increasingly to the written word at which he was outstandingly inventive, articulate and adept.
With considerable ambitions to make a name in aviation, he was frustrated by his inability to communicate clearly his ideas in speech. He would be wholly articulate, however, by writing down his concepts and he used this to effect in turning increasingly to his writings.
As he told me, his early regard for the writings of my kinsman, John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, warmed him towards me, as did our common interest in aviation generally.
He became a good light aeroplane pilot and for a time the enthusiastic owner of a four-seat Percival Proctor in which we shared a common interest and separate ownership, and joint flying enjoyment.
I was saddened by Norway's relatively early death in Australia in June of 1960 at the age of 61 when, obviously, he still had within him the prospect of a number of further books of merit.
Aide Memoir ends.
Tom Wenham Continues:
It is obvious that Sir Peter's and NSN's views about the R101 and the team behind it could not be further apart.
Sir Peter felt very strongly that the R101 was a well designed and well constructed airship and that the R101 team was competent and professional. He had a great deal of time for Lord Thomson of Cardington and indeed had written a biography of him, which was to be called "Catch the Sunlight", but which was never published although the drafts are among his papers at Brooklands. If Sir Peter had a fault it was that he was a romantic and, what is more, he set great store by position and titles and it is easy to see why he would be seduced by the likes of Thomson. It is interesting to speculate whose account, NSN's in Slide Rule or Sir Peter's in To Ride the Storm, is the more accurate, the one written on the spot, so to speak, by somebody actually taking part or the one written many years later from archive research and interviews with surviving members of the team.
Sir Peter did not commit his own life to words until a few years ago and his autobiography, Flight Path, co-written with Bill Gunston, sadly turned out to be a hurried attempt to summarise a long and intense career. Despite the differing views on the airship programme his interests would have aligned very closely with Norways though in personality they would have been very different. Masefield was a very confident, social, clubbable sort of man who was always keen to promote his business interests to the utmost by constantly upholding a high profile in the industry.


The US Library is fully up and running again under the dedicated management of Shutist Susan Batross.
Potential borrowers should check out the USA Library Page on the Foundation Web Site (, e-mail Susan at USLibrary@Nevilshute,org, or write to her at: Susan Batross, US Librarian Nevil Shute Norway Foundation P.O. Box 66 Hitchcock, S.D. 57348


Some "bucket shop" (See Ruined City ) stock peddler has been mailing out stock advice using the address.
These letters do not come from anyone in or approved by the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation.
Once again: Our policy does not permit the selling or advertisement of anything other than legitimate Foundation sponsored events.
WE DO NOT sell or advise on stocks, Nigerian bank accounts, personal enhancement products, dating services for lonely Russian ladies, or anything else.


Several readers have asked what were Shute's best selling books.
Currently we don't have that very interesting information and have no knowledge of how to find it out. Can anyone help us discover if such statistics are publicly available anywhere?


Bev Clarke has now sent me some fascinating photos of Shute and Dr Marcus Clarke from their flight around the Gulf Country in 1948.
These will hopefully be up on the website in the next months when I complete my Photo Album update soon(ish).


Fans of The Far Country will be interested to note that the area featured in The Far Country has been recently threatened by the same types of fires that were noted in the novel.
Nearly all the towns mentioned in the book including those which were threatened or damaged in the very real and dangerous 1939 blaze, were again threatened this week.
Shute's descriptions of fires that jump long distances at tremendous speed and gum trees that explode in flames are a very real occurrence and are regularly reproduced in the Australian bush.
I had already intended to put a note about this in the newsletter when life really started to imitate art in a dangerous manner. A news bulletin reported that a bulldozer driver in this very area was injured when his bulldozer overturned while clearing trees to create a firebreak.
However the news bulletin didn't mention a Czech doctor or the young English girl who assisted him in his illegal but life-saving operation nor anything about the doctor finding his own grave or any gold.
Reporters these days leave a lot to be desired.


Charles D. writes that you can read everything you ever wanted to know about barrage balloons at
It's a really fascinating site.
You can justify wasting an hour or two by knowing that Nevil Shute would also have thought at length about barrage balloons in his work at the DMWD.


Bill Momsen has written bringing to our attention a fabulous website with a detailed reminiscence of a trip on The airship Graf Zeppelin from Rio to Akron. Click here to see it.


Last month I mentioned that I was reading John Buchan's Greenmantle and that Shute's early work was quite Buchan-esque.
Imagine my surprise when I got to the end of Greenmantle to discover that the narrator's enigmatic secret service army officer friend is about to become an inspirational religious leader.
Naturally the rest of the book is nothing like Round The Bend but I do wonder if this charming idea percolated around the back of Shute's brain for about 34 years until he found himself in the East and similarly inspired to write about religion?


Rob Laurent wrote last month that he had a first Australian edition of Most Secret with an inscription by the author reading: "For Arthur Wordsworth with thanks for so much help, at Cairns, from Nevil Shute Norway. January 1949."
Rob and I have been trying to find out about Arthur.
I finally discovered Arthur in Shute's Flight, which was the first place I should have looked.
Arthur was the Shell Agent in Cairns and kindly took Shute sightseeing around Cairns and up to the Atherton Tablelands.
Not noticing that it was an Australian first edition, I had foolishly suggested that the book would be one of the novels Shute bought along as gifts. Obviously Shute would be carrying English first editions from England and Arthur purchased the book in Cairns.


Jim MacDougald has written that he has bought the November 1937 issue of Blackwood's Magazine in which is printed the Nevil Shute short story called Air Circus. The publication date was October 27 1937.
Till now our website has shown a guessed date of 1934 and said the story has never been published. These will now be amended.
Air Circus is interesting because it has an early appearance of a character called Schafter who developed into Dwight Schafter in Round The Bend, and a sub plot reminiscent of Johnnie and Brenda in The Rainbow and The Rose.
Air Circus is about 53 pages long.
It would be great if one day we could have all Shutes short stories, articles and interesting letters collected and published in one volume for all to read.


John Anderson has reminded me that we also need a photo of 23 Oakwood Court Kensington W14 8JU in London, which was Shute's family home in 1918-19.
Arthur Norway's letters about Nevil's admission to Balliol were addressed from there and also one of Nevil's letters to Balliol when he was on leave.
The street is close to Kensington Olympia station.
You can print a map from this internet address.
The arrow points to Oakwood Court in the centre square of the map.


David Dawson Taylor has asked that those who want to be included in the Shute Database respond again with the words NSN DATABASE in the subject area.
David may have lost some respondents amongst spam and naturally can't email back.
This reprint below of the same item from last newsletter explains:

In response to a number of requests from readers to find fellow Shutists in their local areas, we have initiated a Shutist/Location data base.
David Dawson-Taylor, Board Member and UK Librarian, will create and manage the data base.
To the extent we have the information, the data base will include names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
All this information is stored in a single computer, and is password protected.
The system will work as follows:
If a Shutist requests information on other Shutists in his or her local area, David will do one of two things. He will send a letter to Shutists in that area informing them of the request, and asking if their names and e-addresses may be provided to the person requesting them. Alternatively, if the requester sends him a letter announcing intent to form a reading club, or whatever (assuming it is strictly Shute-related), David may just forward the letter to the Shutists in that area and let them decide if they wish to respond.
The information in the data base will not be used for any purpose, other than forwarding mail that has already been checked for content (no attachments), without the express permission of the Shutist to whom the information pertains. To assist in the creation of the data base, all readers who wish to have their information included should write to David at: It is not necessary to provide all the information that may be listed for a Shutist in the data base. However, each letter should contain the Shutist's name, general location, and e-mail address. The data base is already up and running, although far from complete. Anyone wishing to contact Shutists in their local area should write to David at: (Remember to put NSN Database in the subject area)


Happy New Year.
I hope you are all enjoying a relaxing and happy holiday season.
Richard Michalak


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
Ruth Pearson lives in Adelaide
Neil Wynes Morse lives in Canberra


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
Bill McCandless lives in Joliet near Chicago.
Joy Hogg, Harrietta Michigan (northern lower Michigan, near Traverse City and Cadillac)
David B. Horvath, dhorvath in the domain, near Philadelphia Pennsylvania, USA.
Al Benkelman Warrenton, Virginia