Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter dated December 2010


From Jim MacDougald

A few months ago TIME/LIFE advertised a new video collection about WWII. The promo for the video began with a second or two film of the great panjandrum hurtling at the camera. If I see the ad again, I will buy the video, as I'm curious to learn if the full-length production shows more footage and what the narrator may say about one of NSN's most imaginative creations. Before I buy it and make myself watch 6 hours of horror, I'd like to know if perhaps another Shutist has already done so.

Jim sent the following link, which he found:

From Laura Schneider

A Town Like Alice

In two weeks, Oprah Winfrey is bringing her television show to Sydney, Australia. It would be fantastic if Oprah would read and promote A Town Like Alice to her worldwide audience. If Alice could become one of the Oprah's Book Club recommendations, a huge audience would discover Nevil Shute. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.

If you would like to see this happen, please send a brief (but thorough and compelling) letter to the folks at Oprah, ASAP. Her web site is and you can peruse the site but if you want to get directly to the contact information, click on

If there are any Australians on this newsletter list that would be willing to identify themselves as Aussies, please include that in your note to Oprah. Who knows ? Perhaps, Oprah would have YOU on her show !

This is a golden opportunity to introduce Nevil Shute to a worldwide audience. Who better than NSN Foundation newsletter readers to promote Nevil Shute and his timeless books !

From John Forester

So, the R-100/R-101 affair is again raised. I know that the partisans of the government's ship, R-101, are still active, re-issuing the original publicity, and, judging from the lecture heard by John Anderson at the Bedford Museum (copied below), still lecturing favorably about it and objecting to Nevil Shute Norway's account in Slide Rule. I suspect that none of the current partisans of R-101 has any actual connection with the ship, but only with the large amount of publicity that was produced as it was being built.

Shute is quite critical of the politically enforced design and construction policy that controlled R-101, as opposed to the rather different limitations (cost and performance requirements fixed but design free) imposed by the design and construction conditions of the ship he was associated with, R-100. I believe that Shute's comparison figures of lift, weight, and payload are accurate. R-101 originally had less lift, more weight, and hence much less payload than R-100. Shute's account of the rotting of R-101's covering material, the result of using rubber cement to attach tapes to the already doped fabric, is also credible, as is Shute's suggestion that this likely had some part in the tragedy. Indeed, the official crash report considers this as one of the factors leading to the crash.

What do I know about this subject ? On my father's bookshelves was the report of an unofficial accident investigation, The Tragedy of R-101, by E. F. Spanner, which I read, probably twice, in my late teens. Spanner was a naval architect or naval engineer, and an accident investigator for Lloyd's. This is not the kind of book that my father would buy, and I don't know what happened to it after his death. It has occurred to me that, Spanner being a maritime man, he might have admired my father's sea stories and sent CSF a signed copy of an unsold book. The book itself is rare: haven't heard of any for sale. And a rare book signed by its author to a famous author? That would be quite a find.

Spanner analyzes the official report in terms of the evidence, and concludes that it is whitewash. The ship was flying through a gusty storm, heavy from rain, a little nose-heavy from minor leakage of the first two gas bags, when the cover split over the nose, further disturbing the front gas bags and enlarging the leaks. She got her nose down, and then was hit by a heavy frontal gust, driving her down onto the ridge near Beauvais. Spanner uses the history, the wreckage on the ground, and the words of the few survivors to advance a different theory. Because R-101 was overweight and with insufficient lift, she had a new midsection inserted, a new bay (using bay in the structural sense). This increased length and lift. The increased length increased the bending moments applied by her control surfaces. Her designers allowed, in the lengthened condition, for the worst bending moment when the elevators were full up, a designed factor of safety of 1.0, or so the evidence was given. Designed with no spare strength, in other words. Insufficient flight tests were made in the hurry to make the flight to India. The wreckage on the ground was somewhat shorter than the original length, and almost all the shortening was in the new bay. The survivors (some from the rear engine car, one from the passenger compartment) indicated that the sequence was likely to have been: Structural failure, a wait of a minute or so, stopping the engines, final crash into the ground. Spanner concludes that, in the gusty conditions, with the helmsmen just relieved, 101 got her nose down a bit. She was flying only her own length above the ridge ahead (going higher would have cost hydrogen and later lower lift). The elevator coxswain used the power controls to put the elevator hard up, and the bending moment folded her at the new bay. The officers in the control car saw what had happened, and ordered the engines stopped, before the ship hit the ground at a slight angle. For whatever reason, a fire started and few got away.

What Shute knew of this he doesn't say, except the one remark about the rotten covering possibly being involved. I would suspect that he knew of Spanner's published argument, but would not say anything beyond the official report.

From John Anderson


In No Highway the company operating the Reindeer aircraft is the Central Air Transport Organisation (CATO), a fictitious name. However when he wrote the book Shute had the operators as British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) a real company. In September 1948 the book was about to go to the printers and pre-publication publicity had been sent out. BOAC picked up on this and said that, as written, the book would be a gross libel on the company and its Chairman. On 21st September Shute, with representatives of Heinemann and their legal department, were at a high level meeting at BOAC's headquarters in London. The meeting was presided over by Sir Miles Thomas, BOAC's Chairman when the change to CATO was agreed. For good measure BOAC insisted that the change would apply to all subsequent editions and translations and that any film of the book would be made in a manner approved by BOAC. The following day Shute and Jimmy Riddell departed on their flight to Australia in the Proctor !

This was not the last time that a potential libel held up publication of one of Shute's novels.

From Alan Freeman

Film: Landfall (1948)

This film is now commercially available on DVD in the UK. It was released in July 2010 by Optimum Home Entertainment.

It is available to buy at Amazon UK.

From Charles D

The non-commercial radio station broadcast a story recalling the women prisoners of the Japanese in the Dutch East India colonies. This reminded me of "A Town Like Alice" and I sent an e-mail to inform them.

A painful history retold through jazz music by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio, 26th November 2010

St. Paul, Minn. Growing up, jazz guitarist David Becker heard stories of how the Japanese captured his Dutch grandparents during the invasion of Indonesia in World War II.

On his new album "Batavia," Becker retells his family's adventures through music.

Instrumental jazz might seem an unusual medium for a family war story, but for Becker, it just happened.

"Suddenly music was coming out of me in a very strange way," he said during a recent recording visit to the Twin Cities. "Things that I necessarily wouldn't write, but I knew they were related to these stories."

One of the first tunes to emerge was called "Li," after Becker's grandmother.

She married young, and in 1921 set off from northern Europe with her husband to seek their fortune in Indonesia. They lived in the Dutch settlement called Batavia, later to be renamed Jakarta. The marriage ended in divorce, and Li was on her own.

"There are improvisational moments on the record," Becker said. "But life is improvised, and I think in this story here my grandmother had to improvise a lot, so the improvisation they did is reflected by the improvisation we did."

Li later married the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture. In 1942, she was alone with her young children -- Becker's mother Tine, and her brother Dolf -- when the Japanese invaded.

When locals ransacked their home, his grandmother mustered her courage and went to see the local Japanese commander.

She said, &I'm German,' because she was German by birth -- didn't show her passport. 'I have a house here, it was looted, and I want my belongings back,'" she told the officer. "And the officer said, 'Well madame, you can go back to your house.' And she said, 'I'm not going alone!' So he said, 'I'll accompany you.'" As Li and the officer walked to her house, they saw many people hanged in the trees. Her family got their belongings back, including a trunk filled with family photographs. Li gave it to a Chinese woman for safekeeping. She knew things were likely to get bad.

"One day the Japanese showed up and said, 'Pack your little suitcase. We're leaving to go to a camp,'" Becker said.

The Japanese split the family, sending Li and Tine to a women's camp, and 10-year-old Dolf to a men's prison. One day, frantic with worry, Dolf slipped out of the gate and set off through the jungle to find his father, who was being held in another camp.

"He walked for hours and hours and hours in the hot sun, and he ended up at another men's camp somewhere on the island near Batavia," Becker said.

Some Dutch men took Dolf back to the barracks where, exhausted, he fell asleep.

"Suddenly somebody pulled his big toe, and he looked up, and it was his father," Becker said. "That was one of the first pieces we recorded - 'In Search of his Father.'"

The meeting was bittersweet, because his father had to leave immediately, and they didn't see each other again until after the war.

Becker said it was a challenge to wrestle with the emotions of the story and translate them into music.

"It's a very difficult thing to do. I just let these stories come out through these musical notes," said Becker. "I just sat down with my guitar one day and suddenly this cadence came out. And in my mind I was seeing Dolf, at age 10, walking through the jungle."

Despite horrible suffering, they all survived. Li retrieved her photographs, and many are featured on Becker's CD along with liner notes explaining the tunes.

After the war the family returned to Holland. People seemed to have little interest in what had happened to them. So Li and her family moved again, coming to America.

"She was taken from us at age 55 from cancer," Becker said. "She died at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She's buried in Rochester."

Becker says he'd like a memorial built to commemorate the suffering of people in Indonesia during the war. He's going to use a website linked to the CD to raise awareness.

"We can do something for them. We can give the remaining people who are still alive, like my mother, their dignity back and say, 'Your suffering was not in vain.'"

Becker, who is once again touring with his band the David Becker Tribune, hopes to return to Minnesota in the new year to play tunes from Batavia and retell some of the stories.

Editor: The album is called Batavia, and it can be found on iTunes and also at: in North America.
It is sadly very true, that the Dutch, after the war were not very interested in what happened to the people who had lived through the war in Indonesia. Indonesia at that time was a Dutch colony. The Dutch had suffered very much themselves during the war. It would be a good thing, when Becker would build a memorial to commemorate the suffering of the people in Indonesia during the war.

From Laura Schneider

Conference Update

Nevil Shute's Seattle 2011 continues to steam ahead. Thanks to the Seattle area Shutists for your enthusiasm and great ideas.

Conference information is at . You'll find The Red Lion on 5th Avenue's hotel reservation link, which is ready to take your reservation.

There is also a link to the "Visiting Seattle" web site. It's a government site and gives a lot of great information about all things Seattle. The site is updated when there is new information. If you have questions, please contact me at

From THE EDITOR in the Netherlands, where it is still cold, but now also beautifully white from the snow, wishing you all Happy Holidays, see you next month.