Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter dated December 2014

Letters to the Editor

From Alison Jenner

News of our next conference

This will take place in Balliol College, Oxford, during the week Sunday, 30 August - Friday 04 September, 2015. The event will commence with registration and a reception in the Old Common Room. There will be three full days of conference activities based within the college, and two days of excursions, one local to Oxford and the other to the Shuttleworth Collection of historic aircraft and to Bletchley Park, wartime home of the Enigma code breakers. Our banquet will take place in the Great Hall, overlooked by portraits of former college Masters through the ages.

For hard-core Shutists like me, who want to savour the experience to the full, there will be some en suite rooms available in the College itself, in the comfortable but rather more austere student surroundings our favourite author would have recognised; we have also arranged to have rooms available to book at the nearby Hotel Mercure, just a short walk away on Merton Street. Some of the rooms there overlook the Examination Schools, where Shute would have taken his finals. The College also has a partnership with the Randolph Hotel, where Shute is known to have stayed, and some members may wish to avail themselves of their more luxurious facilities.

Further details will be available shortly, with online booking for the conference itself and links to the accommodation of your choice.

We shall also be seeking conference speakers so those wishing to speak, please let me have a short abstract of your talk for consideration as soon as possible. We have had great speakers at every conference and I am confident that the calibre will be as high next year.

One last point: there is so much to see in and around Oxford and the surrounding region that we strongly advise visitors to consider arriving earlier (or staying later) than the conference week, which will be packed with activity, to be sure of being able to see some amazing sights. There are World Heritage Sites within easy reach of our venue and quintessentially British scenery all around. I always take a second week at an overseas conference to explore and fellow conference members' recommendations invariably make me glad that I do.

Looking forward to a great week next year !

From Cedric

I’m not sure if this book has been mentioned in the Newsletter before.

It sounds interesting.

Airship Design, Development, and Disaster by John Swinfield

From Amazon reviews: Covers British rigids, from their origins in the aftermath of WWI based on designs from captured Zeppelins, and then moving on to the bulk of the research, which is on the politics of the Imperial Airship Scheme. Swinfield does an excellent job in bringing to life the characters which other authors on the subject tend to have glossed over. In this respect, the book makes a good companion to Chamberlain: Airships-Cardington, the [earlier book] concentrates more on the technology and engineering aspects (especially in relation to the R101 inquest), but this book deals more with the personalities and politics, especially Wallis, Burney and Thompson.

The real focus is on the unsuccessful British rigid airship program in the 1920's culminating in competition between different design teams responsible for the R100 and the R101, and the eventual R101 disaster which ended rigid airship experimentation in the UK. The author does this quite well, telling the story through key individuals and making excellent use of letters, personal reflections, and interviews of key players. Of particular note is a year-long series of log entries by the R101's First Officer that give the reader a haunting portrait of a man becoming gradually ever more convinced that the flawed airship under construction would eventually kill him...which it did.

The book's main strength is that Swinfield makes a rational and level-headed attempt to assess the R101 controversy (criminal incompetence pure and simple, or a technological masterpiece that was unfairly damned after it fell victim to fate and politics?), weighing up the competing claims of Nevil Shute and Roxbee Cox, and trying to step back from the dominance of Shute's book (and to a lesser extent Leasor's "The Millionth Chance"); concluding that the truth is complex and lies between the two.

From the Journal: Technology and Culture:

A very readable history of the rise and fall of the British airship. He opens with an account of Ernest Thompson Willows and the American expatriate Samuel Cowdery (AKA Samuel Cody) in the Admiralty’s first venture into the field of rigid airships, Mayfly, (or “Won’t Fly” as Winston Churchill famously quipped), a craft which broke in two as it was being taken out of its hangar for its first flight.

The author provides a detailed account of the evolution of what would become known as the Imperial airship scheme, from a gleam in the eye of Commander Sir Charles Dennistoun Burney to the destruction of R-101 in a crash on a French hillside in 1930. It is a tangled tale in which, he notes, “Ambition outstripped capability” and “Wretched politics played its part”.

Smithfield presents a colorful cast of characters. There is the legendary George Herbert Scott, who piloted the R-34 on its double Atlantic crossing, and maintained a heroic image in spite of his reputation as a drinker. Sir William Sefton Brancker, the Director of Civil Aviation, could bring any party to life by swallowing his monocle: he carried a pocketful of spares. The brilliant engineer Barnes Wallis, who led the development of R-100, “never allowed diplomacy to inhibit his opinion’. His able assistant, engineer/novelist Neville Norway Shute, provided a colorful, if opinionated account of the dual effort in his autobiographical book, Slide Rule.

This volume will not replace Robin Higham’s classic, The British Rigid Airship, 1908-1931, but it is a highly readable re-telling.

From Paul Spoff

Huge Biplane Airliner May Fly Again – The Handley Page HP42

Promotion begins in 2015 for a fundraising campaign to build what was considered the Concorde of its time, the Handley Page HP42 25-passenger biplane.

Efforts are already in progress by England’s Team Merlin, the group that operated the Vickers Vimy after it had already appeared on the cover of National Geographic. The 130-foot-wingspan aircraft will be built by teams at three locations in England and assembled at two additional locations.

There were only eight built, four for service from England to Europe, and four to serve India and Africa. None of the aircraft survive today, although there is a propeller at one location and a propeller hub with Team Merlin. The group is establishing a museum for artifacts. While all the 28,000-pound aircraft were eventually destroyed either in windstorms while parked, hangar fires, or damaged beyond repair during hard landings, no civilian passengers were injured or killed. Eight lives were lost on a military flight after the aircraft were conscripted for war and have never been found.

This Concorde of the 1930s traveled at 100 mph and could reach a top speed of only 120 mph. It carried 24 passengers in a cabin based on a luxury Pullman railroad car that had been styled to resemble the Pullman cars used on the famous Orient Express train. No seatbelts were installed until a seaplane accident by another company operating a different model in the mid-1930s that resulted in all aircraft, including the HP42 fleet, belting its passengers.

If you don’t get to see it in person (the builders are looking for a sponsor to bring it to the United States), you’ll see it at the movies. Team Merlin official Neil Farley said two movie producers are writing the aircraft into scripts. (The sound of the Vimy appeared in Star Wars: Episode II.) The schedule for when it might fly depends on funding, but several sponsors have been found. More are needed to become a reality. A website is already in place.

The HP42 was the darling of royalty, celebrities, the well-to-do, and companies that wanted to use it to promote their products. The fashion industry posed models around it and passengers who had never flown had afternoon tea during a scenic flight around London before it had seatbelts. It was the flagship of Imperial Airways and spanned the mighty British empire from Africa to India. The modern HP42 is expected also to attract company sponsorship including the fashion industry.

“Together with over 20 years of research to find the necessary technical information for the build, the team have also arranged the entire infrastructure for the project from websites to hangarage, and pilots to paperwork, not to mention a builder for the project who has worked on hundreds of historic aircraft around the world,” Farley said in an email. “They will also be very shortly opening the world’s first Imperial Airways museum, situated in Wiltshire, to act as a main base for people to come and get involved with the project all year round. Ground exhibitions around the airshow circuit in the UK and overseas, as well as an educational programme to aim at new pilots and mechanics, is also planned, even prior to the aircraft flying.”

“The airliner is a replica as there are no major pieces of original airframe in existence, and we are giving a rough estimate of two-to-three years for the build but this timeframe can change depending on how much money we have to throw at the project. Main construction has not yet started although several test pieces have been made by one company to check their machining. Due to the size of the airliner, it would take a long time if everything were to be made on one site, and indeed some larger castings need specialist manufacturers to produce as well, so there are several sites for production, and also a couple of sites for assembly due to its size,” Farley said.

“Publicity is also going to be quite unprecedented as it doesn’t just touch aviation, as we have interest from all sectors including fashion, business, entertainment, sport, and lifestyle. In early 2015 our major promotional campaign will start which will push all those connected at the time, and this will coincide with the opening of our Imperial Airways Museum and public base. We are really looking forward to the start of construction which will be dictated by financial sponsors coming forward.”

From Claus Nybroe

A few newsletters ago I inquired about "Nevil Shute-like writers". This led to quite some interesting answers, thank you very much.

One not mentioned and mailed to me privately deserves attention. It comes from Sally M. Chetwynd, Wakefield, MA,

Dear Claus Nybroe,

I saw your query on today’s Nevil Shute newsletter, and would like to point you in the direction of a friend of mine, Paul Wankowicz, who is a WWII veteran and also a strong Nevil Shute fan. He is a remarkable man with most unusual life experience, from piloting with the Polish Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII to civilian work in Iran and the Antarctic during the 1960s, to serving as a civilian advisor for a small province in Viet Nam during the war in which the United States was involved. Since retiring from that level of adventure, he has been working on the development of medical devices for Massachusetts General Hospital, which has an extensive research laboratory.

Years ago, Paul decided, at the prompting of his four children, to write down his life experiences. Being a modest man, he didn’t think that anybody would be interested in the self-laudatory ramblings of an old man, so he began to put his experience into novels. He has written seven or eight novels, some of them aviation-based, some of them not.

Two have been published, both of them taking place during WWII and both of them dealing with aviation. Both books are available through And both books have a distinct Shute flavor which you may enjoy.

One book is called “The Ulysses Flight” which tells the tale of an American Army Air Corps pilot in charge of three new P-40s who is left at a remote Burmese airfield with his planes, with the mission to get those three planes up and running for delivery to the Phillipines in late 1941, when the Japanese are beginning their avalanche advance down through the Malay Peninsula. Although this book was terribly edited (not the fault of the author, but of the unethical and unprofessional actions of the editor/publisher), it still has “legs” and is an excellent read.

The other book is called “Dakota Flight” which tells the tale of a post-war American pilot who is struggling to find enough work to keep himself fed, who finally lands a job with a new, small Canadian company, and finds himself on an errand of mercy, delivering a medic and supplies to a burned-out village in the remote North, flying during a blizzard.

The flight allows him much time to think back on how his life has brought him to this point, most of that reminiscing focused on his recent WWII adventures in Alaska, Australia, and the Phillipines. It gives much credit to the role of early, pioneer aviators whom most of us have forgotten about.

I hope these titles might be of interest to you.

A few years ago, one of my brothers (another Nevil Shute fan) lent me a novel by an English contemporary of Shute, which story I enjoyed, but I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the book or the author. The title had something like “White Bird” in it, and the author’s name was either Donald or David, but I can’t remember his last name at all.

I read a few of his books, and thought that this one was more like Shute than the others. This isn’t very helpful, but other Shute fans might be able to steer you in the right direction.

Happy reading!

Sally M. Chetwynd

Comment (from Claus Nybroe):

I downloaded "Dakota Flight" to my Kindle, and as an elder private pilot and flying enthusiast, I found it a very happy reading indeed. In straight forward language it provides a lot of vintage flying plus history, geography and love. I found it exiting and read it quickly. The action moves forward quite fast and emotions are maybe not as detailed as in Nevil Shute books. Still, it somewhat reminds of them, while, at the same time, having its own pleasant style.

Finally a remark on the Kindle app.: It allows you to set up your own typography so that old eyes no more have to cope with long and narrowly spaced lines and small fonts. There are a lot of Nevil shute books available on Kindle.


It is finally getting cold in the Netherlands, around the freezing point. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. See you in January