Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter dated March 2013

Letters to the Editor

From John Anderson


These UK weekend reunions have become as much a feature of the Shutist's calendar as the major International Conferences. This year's event or "Inbetweenie" as they are known, will be from Friday 29th to Sunday 31st August at Fareham, Hampshire. We have provisional schedule with a mixture of talks, discussions and visits to Shute-related locations. We are also planning to show FALLOUT, the excellent documentary film, first shown to the Tasmania Conference last October. The film will be on general release by then.

As ever the weekend is open to all, not just those in the UK. So if you happen to be in the UK at that time, do come along. You will be most welcome.

For more details contact me by email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tom Wenham

In the perpetual search for an author approaching Nevil Shute's abilities I stumbled across a book by Arthur C Clarke entitled "Glide Path”. Written in 1963 it was Clarke's only non-scifi novel and is a partly autobiographical account of his RAF service in WW2 working on the development of a Ground Controlled Approach radar system called the MPN1. The book is subtitled "To the Heart of Experimental Technology WW2”. A new edition has been produced for Kindle at £7.27 on Amazon. The style is very redolent of Shutes and the story is told both from the technical and personal aspects with great attention to detail. Well worth a read in my view.

From Ralph Nickerson

During 2013 I consumed three previously-unread Shute novels – all new editions labelled by the publisher as “Vintage Shute”. The ambiguous term “vintage” meaning in this context, old, early-production and long difficult-to-obtain, rather than rare, special or extra-fine; at least, that’s how I interpret it. “Lonely Road”, already reviewed elsewhere, provided its normal full measure of interest (era circa 1938) and pleasure, as did “What Happened to the Corbetts”. I finished this latter yesterday and feel in consequence still slightly suffused with warm nostalgia (even for times and situations I never knew), admiration for a master story-teller – and if anything with a slightly higher opinion of my fellow-creatures; for arousing such sentiments, alone, Shute deserves his undying popularity and respect.

While trying not to spoil the story for anyone yet to read it, it is fair to say that the eponymous Corbetts are an attractive English couple, resident in the comfortable Southampton suburbs in approximately 1938 (when the book was written). They are favourably shown as distinctly middle-class – Peter being a solicitor and Joan a home-maker who would not dream being and doing otherwise since he earns a comfortable income and they have three small children under seven. Class differences in British society, which were emphatically present pre-WWII (are they entirely gone 70 years later?), are not over-emphasised in the tale, and Shute typically represents them in the characters’ style of speech (“That frock she wore to the pictures was ever so nice, wasn’t it, Ma?”). For all that, when the story opens we notice that Joan has the services of more than one maid, and they have apparently not had much contact with their next-door neighbours of several years (who are a working-class builder made good, and his childless wife) - until trouble strikes.

This trouble is the outbreak of war – quite undeclared and glumly accepted – and demonstrated entirely by the pitiless raining down of bombs, during nights of cloud and murk, indiscriminately over conurbations, industrial areas, sea-ports and elsewhere – apparently all over southern England from London outwards. Disruption of utilities, services and communications is almost immediate and increasingly severe, with RAF fighters having a very hard time to dislocate the enemy bombers. Amazingly, and rather cleverly (even diplomatically!), England’s enemy is never mentioned by name – though naturally at that period it could only have been Germany and/or Italy. But then, it might have been Russia; Shute never lets on, and this in fact spoils the plot not a whit. Considering what actually came to pass in little more than a year after the book appeared, Shute’s description of the bombing and its effects is sadly accurate in most respects – though not quite in all (see below). At all events, Peter Corbett very soon has to face some basic decisions on what to do: hang on and “see it through”, enlist in the forces and get back at the enemy in time-honoured manly fashion, abandon Southampton and their cherished home, head for the country and one of the nascent “refugee camps” – or what? So, in full consultation with Joan who is – dare I say?- a fine example of her Island race and class, he makes a decision: and we find out what happened to the Corbetts. If ever a film had been made of the novel, I would see someone like Celia Johnston playing Joan with her clipped 30’s tones (“We’ve been so heppy here…”) with either Leslie Howard or maybe David Niven stiff-upper-lipping opposite; well, it was a different world then and not to be ignorantly derided by later society.

It would be an unusual Nevil Shute story, even an early one, if some aviation, naval or boating action did not figure somewhere in the plot, and such is the positive case here. Shute knew his planes and boats as well as his factories, boardrooms and offices. Although “Corbetts” might be mildly criticised for a measure of repetition (we follow the family quite closely through many days of the initial hostilities), this is positively not the case overall. As a landlubber with a lifetime fascination with all sea-going matters, I find any of Shute’s excursions afloat full of interest and personal identification, and so it is as we accompany the Corbett family. It should be remembered that there are three small children also to hand, and these, apart perforce from Baby Joan, are far from ciphers. Their own personalities are well observed, and their dialogue seems totally natural and authentic, throughout. Beyond which, another possible weakness in the plot – particularly hard to accept now, in this overloaded age – is the hopeless (and demoralizing?) lack of communications from the authorities, for the benefit of a bewildered and frightened population at large: surely some public address facilities would very soon have been set up to replace mains-electric “wirelesses”, and flat-batteried portable sets? Otherwise, the grim events and their effects seem all too plausible for 1938.

Finally, this early tale by Nevil Shute is enhanced by not one but two notes by the Author: one a Forward and one an Epilogue, situated appropriately and both added after the savagery of the Second World War had commenced. For the former, he might well have quietly congratulated himself on some accurate prescience of Things to Come - as might H.G.Wells, a little earlier. Not incidentally, we may never know how much his depiction of the horrors of aerial bombing gave contemporary British air raid authorities (ARP) food for thought – and by so doing in fact helped to mitigate a proportion of those horrors. And later, the main burden of the “tailpiece” struck a particular chord with me : that is, Shute’s noting his decision to employ real towns and villages as settings for the novel rather than using made-up names – e.g. Southampton and Hampshire rather than “Northendton” and “Rampshire”. Absolutely correct. The second Shute tale (again, dated late thirties) that I read this year was “Ruined City”, which title is listed in most of his other novels’ flyleaves, and which had quite intrigued me for over 50 years. In the event, this narrative contained some very stirring stuff, as usual, but was spoiled for me by being largely set in an imaginary/disguised city (that of the title) in England’s North-east – and equally in a completely fictitious East European country. For other writers and other genres that might well work – but Shute does not need the device. His stories are for the most part totally plausible, with “real” characters, and set in real places.

Meanwhile, “The Corbetts”, as a characteristically humane novel of human endeavour in the face of frank atrocity, stands well among his many masterly and well-loved stories. A pity that the publishers of these resurrected “vintage” novels could not afford at least one illustration on the front cover; normal enough I’d have thought for any paperback.

From James Fricker

As an engineer, I have been following Fukushima events closely, and the situation remains of grave concern.

Some links for those interested:

In particular, the existing large storage of radioactive water could not survive another large earthquake, in which case horrendous levels of radioactivity would be released impacting countless people.

ps I have not seen FALLOUT yet, but look forward to seeing it soon.

From Charles D.

Email 1

Preservation of Hangar 1 at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California

Hanger One was built to house the Navy Dirigible, the USS Macon, which was over 800 feet long. The Macon was home "ported" at Moffett from 1933 to 1935, when it crashed off the coast of Big Sur. It was after that the hanger was used periodically to house blimps and during WWII a host of other aircraft as well. Hangers two and three were used as well for Naval aircraft.

Museum dedicated to Zeppelin,0,3656037.story#axzz2thQMFN8q

Email 2

Shirley Temple died on 10 February 2014. She was the child star that made young parents envisage their own daughters. Her lasting legacy is the 100,000+ girls named “Shirley”, which was not a common girl’s name before. I have two cousins named Shirley, and also a number of classmates.

[Many of the rest of us were named after the Aviation Hero, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., i.e., hundreds of thousands of Charles’s and Linda’s. ]

Of particular interest to me is the Shirley Temple movie, “Bright Eyes”, which came out in 1934, and clearly had a big impact on Nevil Shute. The single-engined aeroplane featured in that movie was a very early model of the remarkable Stinson Reliant.

I know that this plane was the subject of deep study by Nevil Shute because it appears in exact detail in the novel “An Old Captivity”.

It may be a coincidence that Nevil Shute was making a publicity tour of the Eastern US, just as the British Purchasing Commission was attempting to buy war material from the still-neutral USA. His latest novel being “Ordeal”, an attempt to warn of the possibility of imminent war. The British delegation eventually purchased hundreds of Stinson Reliants. I wonder if they had gotten a heads-up from Shute. In any event, he had Stinsons in his head when he subsequently created his bush plane for the flight to Greenland in AOC later in 1939.

{By the way, the transport aeroplane in “Bright Eyes” was also a Stinson. It was on this classic passenger airliner that the song “On the Good Ship Lollipop” was performed.}

I have made a particular study of the Stinson aeroplane and the people behind it, and noticed many intersections between the marque and British aviation notables. For example, it is my opinion that it is almost certain that a delegation from Detroit, including Stinsons, met the R100 when it laid over in Montreal.

I have collected a presentation on the subject of Stinson aeroplanes and their remarkable history, which I hope to give some day, if time doesn’t run out.

From John W. Cooper

Recently, I re-read Erich Maria Remarque's Arch of Triumph, that I had first read in 1950 before going to live in Paris for seven months. This caused me to re-read Nevil Shute's Far Country that he wrote in 1951. In both novels the protagonist is a surgeon-refugee that gets involved in illegal surgical operations: Remarque's, Dr. Ravic, is a German surgeon in Paris; while Shute's Carl Zlinter is a Czech in Australia.

In 1948, the movie Arch of Triumph was first shown. It was a Hollywood war romance film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton.

In summation; Arch of Triumph was written in 1945 and the movie released in 1948; Far Country was written in 1951.

My question is "Was Shute's writing of his novel stimulated by, or connected in any way, to Remarque's novel and movie?"

Of the two protagonists, I prefer Nevil's over Erich's. Carl Zlinter is motivated by hope and a goal to be a medical doctor in a new country. Ravic is motivated by hate and a goal to kill his oppressor.

It was stimulating to re-read these works, but Arch of Triumph was heavy going with too much despair and navel-contemplating.

From David Hughes

After reading the last NSN foundation newsletter I asked this question to my friend Paul Jackson who is editor of Jane's All the World's Aircraft.


Hi Paul

This fellow Tony Woodward writes in the Nevil Shute Foundation newsletter just out about the Airspeed aircraft and writes: “Sadly I never flew in any Airspeed aircraft and I’d like to hear from anyone who did.”

I figure you might know someone who has one that can still fly or someone who has flown in one.




Gone, all gone, I am sorry to say.

There should be a fair few people who flew in the Ambassador, which was withdrawn in 1971.

The last Oxford/Consul must have fizzled out at about the same time, although a few remain in museums:

I never flew an Airspeed.




Some interesting stories this month.

Still no snow, and no winter over here. How different from those of you who are in the east of the USA.

See you all next month.