Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter December 2018
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Letters to the Editor

FROM Noëlle Robson
On Saturday 3 November a group of about 30 of us met in Southampton, focussing on
A Town Like Alice. This venue was chosen because Jean used to skate there before the war.  The group was a mixture of long time Shutists and some new faces, including visitors from the Netherlands and from Denmark.

We began with a visit to the Solent Sky Museum where we had a talk from the manager going over Shute’s connections with the city and then were free to look around. Many interesting aviation exhibits and information about Southampton during the Second World War The highlight was the Short Sandringham Flying Boat, which gave us all a taste of travel in years gone by plus the opportunity to sit in the cockpit!
We retired to the Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis just across the road for lunch and the book discussion. The area we were allocated was not the best, we were quite squashed in and it wasn’t always easy to hear what was being said. John Anderson gave one of his excellent behind the book introductions, which led on to a lively discussion and some interesting insights about the book and the TV series starring Bryan Brown and Helen Morse. I for one came away wanting to watch that again!
One of the members volunteered to arrange a meeting in Bournemouth in 2019, at the Royal Bath Hotel to discuss  Requiem for A Wren as it will be the 75th anniversary of its mention when Janet went to meet her father for dinner.

FROM Bill Levy
In Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski’s 2017 book on the actress Ava Gardner, Ava: A Life in Movies, pages 171-179 are devoted to the 1959 film, On the Beach.  There are candid photographs and a discussion of Gardner’s participation and role in the production.

FROM Tom Wenham
In an anthology of John Betjeman’s writings for the Daily Telegraph I came across this review of ‘Round the Bend’ that appeared on 15th June 1951.
“Nevil Shute is at the moment about the most successful English novelist.   He appears in a Uniform Edition at 6s a time, even before he is middle-aged.  He writes a book a year.  In the sun-smitten bookshops near the equator the English books displayed are generally Churchill’s ‘History of the War’, the novels of A J Cronin, and ‘A Town Like Alice’ by Nevil Shute, and soon they will be displaying ‘Round the Bend’ by Nevil Shute.
Let me try to find out why he is so popular. ‘Round the Bend’ is written in the most awful got-begotten style.  When I got going reading it, I got the impression I’d better get down to getting myself disinfected of all these gots before I got reviewing the book.   The prose sounds rather as though it had been spilled into a Dictaphone.   But then it is many years since a use of beautiful English earned a man fame.
He has been called a prince of storytellers.   But he is not a Kipling.   In ‘Round the Bend’ he strains his story-telling talent to capacity.   All that happens is that the one man, the narrator, rises to commercial eminence and another man, the hero, dies.   The love interest is unimportant.   Yet he holds attention to the last page.
Shute’s success cannot be due only to his power of telling a story.   Others have that gift.  It is also choice of subject; he appeals to manliness in people.  The setting of ‘Round the Bend’ is commercial airways.   Tom Cutter started life in Sir Alan Cobham’s air circus, became an RAF pilot, and married unhappily.  His wife died, and after the war he started with one air taxi in Arabia.  He gradually built up a fleet of aeroplanes by bravery, integrity and hard work.  A young, self-made Englishman running air taxis in the East is perhaps the nearest approach we can make in these days of semi-peace to the Elizabethan sea captains.
On Cutter’s staff is a pilot and ground engineer, born in Penang with a Chinese father and Russian mother.   He is a British subject, more Asiatic than European.   This man, called Connie, presents us with the colour problem.   We realise he is a more serious and trustworthy man than most pure whites.  Colour bars are consciously broken down throughout this book.
The main theme is religion.   Twenty years ago novels had to be about politics to be thought profound.  Now they are about religion.   Connie is regarded as a very holy man by Moslems and Hindus alike.  He teaches religion to Asiatic staff at commercial aerodromes all over the East.  He is thought by some to be divine.   His teaching is but vaguely hinted at; it is something to do with work being prayer, and the proper care of aeroplane engines being  all for the Glory of God.   It is a bit indefinite; but it is also ‘popular religion’.
Nevil Shute extols the virtues we Westerners admire , of constancy and courage.   He does not sound priggish or false, because he is obviously sincere.  He is not a self-styled ‘plain’ man with loud, dull opinions.  He is humbler than that.   He writes because he wants to give us hope.   He does not write literature, but I think he succeeds in his mission.”
One man’s view, but certainly contentious.

FROM John Anderson

Rolls Royce Heritage Lecture - "Nevil Shute Norway and the R-100."
On Wednesday 21st November I went to the Rolls Royce site at Derby to attend a lecture entitled Nevil Shute Norway and the R-100. This was given by my friend Roger Allton, a long time aviation enthusiast who has done a great deal of research into the R-100 airship.
We met for lunch then toured the Rolls Royce Heritage Centre where they have an excellent display of aero engines from the earliest days right through to the latest turbofan jet engines. They have a dedicated team who look after and restore these wonderful exhibits.
The photograph shows us in front of a Condor engine of R100 vintage, six of which powered R-100.
>From there we travelled the short distance to the Rolls Royce Learning and Development Centre, a fine new building with excellent conference facilities.
Over 100 people attended and Roger took us through the history of R-100, its design, construction and flights, told from Shute's point of view, with all the problems encountered. It was a fascinating and detailed presentation and, indeed, a memorable evening.

FROM Art Cornell
At the beginning of The Rainbow and the Rose, Shute included the poem, The Treasure, by Rupert Brooke. The novel was just read by our Shute Chapter and Sally Rossetti was intrigued by the poem. She wrote to her cousin, Mike Pride, the former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, for his interpretation. Here is his response. 
Hi Sally -- For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on the Brooke poem. From a plot summary I read of the book, it sounds as though it might apply to the slow-dying pilot.

The Treasure

When colour goes home into the eyes,
    And lights that shine are shut again
With dancing girls and sweet birds' cries
    Behind the gateways of the brain;
And that no-place which gave them birth, shall close
The rainbow and the rose:—

Still may Time hold some golden space
    Where I'll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
    And count, and touch, and turn them o'er,
Musing upon them; as a mother, who
Has watched her children all the rich day through,
Sits, quiet-handed, in the fading light,
When children sleep, ere night.

This was the opening sonnet of a series written by Brooke during the early days of World War I. It can be read in that context, although I do not see it as a war poem. Since it was published in 1915, however, it must have been read initially in the context of that awful war, perhaps providing comfort to bereaved parents who could imagine their sons dying such idyllic deaths. Seen that way, this was, of course, mostly a cruel fiction, though no fault of Brooke. It is a sonnet more representative of prewar innocence. A short time later, steeped in the actuality of that war, Wilfred Owen and others began moving poetry into the 20th century. 

Here, the poet sees the act of dying (not the sudden death of war) as a kind of twilight. The first stanza shows the senses dulling as death approaches. The images -- the sounds of birds and dance music, the fragile beauty and fragrance of the rose and the marvel of the rainbow -- still exist in the fading mind. "That no-place that gave them birth" seems a curious phrase, but I see it as a sign of the dying person having relinquished the world he has known. [Seems like a "he" to me because of the dancing girl reference.]

In the second stanza, the first lines reinforce the first stanza: the dying man still has some time to contemplate life's pleasures. The closing metaphor likens his reverie to a mother's in the twilight after she puts the kids to bed at the end of a busy day of caring for them. [This is a dated view of stay-at-home motherhood, but a common one, no? Also, I'm guessing Brooke's mother had a lot of hired help to clean up after the kids.] The idea is simply that at least there was time at close of day to reflect on the joys and innocence of childhood, just as the dying man is granted access through memory to the pleasures of too-short life.

Hope this is useful.  Yours, Mike

FROM Phil Nixon

Following a poll on Twitter in which 79% voted to drop this account's username of 'Item Willie', we have now changed to 'Nevil_Shute_org'. Thank you to all who voted.

FROM Steve Bishop
Not a letter but just a note to let you know that I’ve published a small e-book on Amazon titled Discovering The Real Town Like Alice.
It analyses clues in Shute’s log and the novel and combines these with details from a personal interview with the late Jimmy Edwards and an examination of locations in Queensland’s Gulf Country to establish the identity of the town like Alice and how it has developed since Shute’s visit 70 years ago. 
I’ve also included details of Shute’s route from Cairns together with attractions along the way so that anyone interested in following Shute’s journey can enjoy a driving holiday of a few days or two or three weeks.

FROM Dan Telfair

Dear Ms. Shanahan:
I could not agree with you more regarding the supposed adaptation of The Far Country.  The producers/directors/screenplay writers thought they were better story tellers than Nevil. They were wrong.

There is however, a far worse case of destroying one of Nevil’s novels.  If you haven’t seen the made-for-TV version of On The Beach, and I fervently hope you haven’t, please don’t!  if you are even tempted to see it, pease refer to my review on the Foundation web site.  I coined a new word to describe it: ABORDINATION - a combination of abortion and abomination.  I regret that the abomination was not aborted before it was exposed to an unsuspecting public.

Nevil would have been furious.


Up to now the monthly Newsletters have been uploaded to the Foundation website, latterly in Text Only format. However due to space limitations, we will be unable to continue doing this. December 2018 Newsletter will be the last to be uploaded to the website. Readers will have to subscribe directly to receive the Newsletter.

This is the last newsletter of 2018. I hope you will have a great time at Christmas and a good start in 2019. 

From the Netherlands, where is is much too warm, and very wet, see you next year.