Nevil Shute Norway
Hampshire County Council Museums, UK
A decision on the venue for next year's conference is this close. Full details will be in the October newsletter. Our conference will be held from 18th to 23rd September 2011 in Seattle, Washington, USA.
Note: The hotel will honor our special room rate for 3 days before and 3 days after our conference so attendees can come early or stick around afterwards. There is so much to see and do in the Pacific Northwest and conference participants are encouraged to consider this when planning their trip !
In March 1937 Nevil Shute's Company, Airspeed, received and order for an Envoy aircraft for the King's Flight and the timing of this order is interesting. In 1936 King George V died and was succeeded by the Prince of Wales who became King Edward VIII. As Prince of Wales he was "air-minded" and owned a number of aircraft. In 1934 he had inspected all the machines taking part in the MacRobertson air race to Australia (two Airspeed aircraft, a Viceroy and a Courier took part in that race). When he became King he set up the King's Flight, the first organisation in the world to provide air transport for a head of state. He appointed E.H. Fielden as Captain of the King's Flight and used his own De Havilland Dragon Rapide. He abdicated in December 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. After his abdication the Dragon was sold and a new machine was needed for the new King, George VI. The Air Ministry decided that the Airspeed Envoy had a suitable specification and placed the order with Airspeed. In Slide Rule Shute writes that they, naturally, took a great deal of trouble over the build and finish of the aircraft. For Shute the order for this Envoy marked the pinnacle of Airspeed's development as a company. The Envoy, G-AEXX, was used regularly by the King up until 1940 when, during the war, it was superseded by an armed Lockheed Hudson.
With the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 the flight was renamed the Queen's Flight. E.H.Fielden, now a Group Captain, was re-appointed this time as Captain of the Queen's Flight. At this time Shute was writing "In The Wet". In the book the Captain of the Queen's Flight is Group Captain Cox who is described as "soldierly and handsome". A contemporary photo of Fielden, on this appointment, shows that he was indeed a "soldierly and handsome" looking man. As so often Shute probably had in mind a real life person as a model for his characters.
I just got a Kindle app for my Android phone. So far I love it ! In looking around for books, I figured I would check out Nevil Shute. I find that most of his books are available for the Kindle.
At a lunch the other day one of my elderly parishioners was interested to hear about the NS Foundation. She said she remembered NS when she used to crew for dinghy races at Hayling Island Sailing Club, where NS was the current Commodore. She particularly remembers one summer day in 1947 when NS, after a morning on the water, returned to his mooring to find someone had fastened a toy yacht to it. Apparently he was not amused and there was a steely silence over lunch; it was not until the evening the young prankster went to him and confessed, and all was forgiven !
This may suggest NS did not have much of a sense of humour, but I'm sure it was perhaps an isolated incident. I wonder if the annals of the HISC would be worth investigating ?
I happened to stumble across a recent page on the Internet where somebody discusses NO HIGHWAY and even includes www.sffaudio.com/?p=22473 where you can download the (public domain) 1952 radio adaptation from the American series "Lux Radio Theater".
Most Secret by Nevil Shute, O.S. Published by William Heinemann, Ltd. Price 9/6. It's all very puzzling. Mr. Shute has had one of his characters undergo that "peculiar form of education," in the "monastic society" of Shrewsbury School. Charles Simon is half French, and he leaves England "with the unreal idealism of this public school," to become a builder of ferro-concrete bridges in France. Later he travels as a technical adviser in this country, marries an English girl who deserts him, pretends to be a Frenchman when the Germans come, and then declares he is an Englishman during a commando raid. A man of experience and intelligence, you would say. Yet now Mr. Shute represents him as a grown "schoolboy." Simon, sweet child, " was immensely pleased. He had never before had a meal in a real mess with officers just like the grown-up versions of the boys he had been at school with." He soon surprised them by referring to his food as "tuck." Now this is no product of our Arcady. And if that is what Mr. Shute wishes to suggest in one sentence, may I remind him of Richard Hillary's " the boys sat hunched aisspiritedly over the sickening plates of cold trifle, while the housemaster surreptitiously picked his teeth with a fork." Cynical, but more Salopian.
However, this is a storm in one of Charles Simon's cups of "real English tea." Mr. Shute has written a novel, not a pamphlet for prospective parents. Blurb writes: "Most Secret is the story of one of those subsidiary naval operations, the Services "private little war." It tells how a camouflaged fishing-boat bearded German ships in a Breton harbour with a flame thrower." " In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God."
Again, as in The Pied Piper, Mr. Shute has in his ideas that which I would fain call master - his novelty. For five people, " cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd, bound in To saucy doubts and fears," in the cabin of a Q-boat, must soon reveal every side of their characters. Even the suspect Simon turns out to be an "excellent man," while Oliver Boden, the young man from Yorkshire, is perhaps the most convincing. To the probable criticism that the same action, the actual operation of the ship, is repeated too often, the answer can be that in The Pied Piper the same situations occurred again and again. Yet Mr. Shute is never boring - and The Pied Piper was his most successful book.
Just as it was an excellent film. And herein lies the secret of Mr. Shute's style. For he writes albeit unknowing, in a way that immediately suggests the same situation as seen from the two-and-fourpennies. The Pied Piper was not served up as an unrecognisable hash because it did not need the attentions of the studio scenario chefs. Pastoral would have made another of those films of the Wing and a Prayer type. I hope to see Most Secret. Indeed some parts would be better acted. For instance, the day after his escape Simon is asked to return to France as a spy. " Charles pulled out a packet of caporal, extracted one of the last two, and lit it "- caporal, mark you -" he stared at the thin, dirty smoke arising from the ragged ember of the cigarette. "France is a beastly country just now," he said." And then the flash back over his life to date. Again, the officers have just inspected a hideous type of Flammenwerfer juice, which goes under the code name of "Worcester Sauce," They take the Love Interest, otherwise the Wren driver, to have a drink. She asks for a tomato juice cocktail "I was not very familiar with the drink. Does it have gin it it ? " I asked, " Non-alcoholic," said the Brigadier, " It's just tomato-juice and . . ." "Worcester Sauce," said the barmaid," Just tomato juice and Worcester sauce, that's all it is." And if that is no dramatic opportunity, I have passed out through Lorraine.
And, of course, all this is in the book. We need not wait for the film. Yet should it so happen that a pantechnicon arrives, loaded with the cameras and corduroys of the cinema industry, to shoot the school scenes, I will not push forward to act as an " extra " in the Shop sequence. I might have to say "This tuck is topping."
I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to publish a newsletter this month, as I didn't have a lot of copy. Fortunately I got in some copy by the end of the month. I think we are having a nice Newsletter this month, and you, the people who send me copy are the people to thank for that.
From Holland, where it is windy, and rather cold, see you in October.
Joost Meulenbroek, Editor