Book Review

2004-6/June 1, 2004

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Steph Gallagher, our Website Manager writes:

Dear friends,
The Foundation is delighted to announce that Oren Wolfe had been appointed to the position of Foundation Webmaster. Oren has been a Shutist for some time, although mainly enjoying our work from afar. He has very impressive credentials as a computer guru and has the time available to administer the site. Oren and Jack have been in contact to ensure a smooth transition of site activities.

At this point, the Foundation would like to express its total gratitude to Jack for everything he has accomplished on the site. Over the last three years, he has been mainly responsible for creating what has proven to be a very valuable asset for the foundation.

We wish Jack well in all future endeavours.


Bill Hill of Tucson, Arizona, The USA writes:

I still feel that the main reason that NSN is not currently as popular as he should be is that many of us were made to read On the Beach as highschoolers. I enjoy and am uplifted reading almost all of NSN's mature novels except that one. To me it is unique, offering neither hope nor insight and is the nearest to a polemic NSN ever produced.

I do not like it, I shall never like it, and if this is heresy, so be it! In second-hand bookstores it is the most commonly encountered of all of NSN's otherwise fine works. I really believe it is an albatross hanging round his (and our) neck(s).

There! I feel better already!

Editor's Comment: We Australians were never forced to read On The Beach at gunpoint in school and so were saved the emotional scarring. On the other hand, in spite of our good looks, Australia has still failed to achieve world superpower status and maybe this is the reason.


The minutes for an Eisenhower Cabinet meeting held on December 11, 1959 list the following entry:

On the Beach - Mr. [Karl] Harr stated that this matter was being raised in Cabinet because of the unprecedented publicity given to this movie....He went over the paper summarizing the nature of the film and some of its shortcomings.

Gov. [Leo] Hoegh said that the film was regarded in OCDM [Office of Civil Defense Mobilization] as something very harmful because it produced a feeling of utter hopelessness, thus undermining OCDM's efforts to encourage preparedness on the part of all citizens.

There was also a 3-page 'infoguide' to the movie, complete with talking points about scientific inaccuracies in the film regarding the dangers of fallout (not as bad as you think!). There's also a 4-page Q&A from the Atomic Energy Commission and a 3-page discussion of the effect of nuclear war that ends with the cryptic phrase, 'Simply to understand that 'unprecedented destruction' is not the same as 'unlimited destruction' crucial to intelligent discussion of the issues.'


Jane Lowe of Australia writes: I have had great success finding early 20th century books through and I am surprised at the quickness of delivery from the UK and the cost is not prohibitive.

Editor's Comment: Any members still hesitant about buying books over the internet from overseas locations should feel encouraged to have a go. After all, it is hard to imagine avaricious criminals being instinctively drawn to the prospect of making millions from 2nd hand paperbacks. Especially Shute paperbacks as Shute readers, and I assume Shute sellers, are required by law to have a higher moral code.

If you are ripped off, at least it will be by a criminal with a higher moral code.


Anita Rager wrote to say she enjoyed reading the 22 page essay on A Town Like Alice very much.

It is available at:


Mike Marsh replies to my comment that what is mostly called an Adjustable Wrench, Australians call a Shifting Spanner.

Mike comments:
Or, in South Africa: 'a Free State Micrometer'.

Editor's Comment: In Australian we have been heard to say 'She'll Be Right' and 'Near Enough is Good Enough'. It sounds like we are not alone.


Jenny Knowles, who is planning the Requiem play, and many others should be pleased that Requiem for a Wren is readily available from The House of Stratus in their list of Shute re-prints. The price is 6.99 GB Pounds + postage.


Art Cornell of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA writes:
In Round the Bend, Chapter 4, an RAF officer said to Tom Cutter, 'How's old Harpic getting on?' Cutter replied, 'Who do you call Harpic?' The RAF officer replied, 'Sorry, Mr. Shaklin, your chief engineer.'
I think I know what Harpic means but do you know and do other members know?

Editor's Comment: Although the next sentence explains that Shak Lin is called Harpic because he is Clean Round The Bend it doesn't explain this reference any further. Harpic is the name of a famous English toilet cleaner whose motto was Cleans Round The Bend. In Shute's flight log of his trip to Australia he reveals that when he was passing through Malaya on his return flight to England he met a member of the RAF whose officer was called Harpic for the same reason. This reference would have been an obvious and much appreciated joke for his English and Australian readers but was understandably lost on many of his international fans that have never heard of Harpic or its motto.
It is not known if the Harpic owners sent Shute any free product in appreciation of all the free advertising he gave them.


I recently had an extensive correspondence with Mike Naugle of The USA who had some confusion about the time sequences and character relationships in In The Wet.
I had exactly the same confusion when I first read the novel. It was clearly Shute's intention to make the relationship between the drunken, white Stevie and the sober, aboriginal David Anderson an intriguing mystery till the last revelation.

Mike's correspondence reminded me that David was non-drinker and I was struck how often that occurs in the later Shute novels. From memory, Stanton Laird in Beyond The Black Stump does not drink and neither does Dwight Towers in On The Beach (or at least hardly ever) and neither does David Anderson. That makes at least 3 non-drinking major characters.

I am not sure that Shute saw being a non-drinker as necessarily always a good thing (consider Beyond The Black Stump) but I don't doubt he felt that those who can't handle alcohol shouldn't drink it. Also, all these novels were written when Shute was in the Australia of the 1950s where high alcohol consumption was more of an accepted way of life among men and Shute would have come across or heard of many cases of tragic and uncontrollable drunkenness. Not to mention his description of Sydney as An Ugly Town, Full Of Drunks.

Mike Naugle went on to write:
Thanks--it all fits now. I think what threw me is the fact that, in general, readers tend to follow the lead of a novel's narrator when determining what about a character is or is not plausible.

In Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, for example, the narrator describes a conversation with the protagonist Larry in which reincarnation is revealed as an integral part of Larry's quest for enlightenment. We believe in the sincerity of Larry's position because the narrator is respectful of it.

In In the Wet, Brother Hargraves views the Chinese gardener's small Buddhist altar with little if any understanding or respect; my recollection is that he takes that form of worship as suspect. Nor do I recall that he gives the idea of reincarnation credence toward the novel's end.

Editor's Interruption:
I had also complained that during Shute's lifetime and even now, few academic critics took Shute seriously and mostly felt he was a writer of Airport Novels.

Mike replied:

Our word in the States for airport novels is 'potboilers,' but I can't for the life of me understand why our academics, too, consistently put Shute into the potboiler category. Potboiler novels lack character development, go for instant gratification instead of a slow and subtle development of plot, and are cranked out according to formulas. None of that applies to Shute.

That brings a question to mind, if you don't mind my asking it: Do you know of any university in Australia that gives Shute his proper credence? Maybe I'll need to go in that direction if I want to do a PhD on Shute's work.

Editor's Comment: I am sure Mike would welcome the chance to discuss Shute's novels by email. You can email him at:
To clarify: In In The Wet Stevie lived first and was a drunken, ex World War One aviator. Stevie then died in 1953 and was reincarnated as the excellent David Anderson who was born in 1953 and so Stevie's soul moved a step up the food chain. The adult David part of the book is set in 1983 when David is 30.

There was no other relation between Stevie and David as such. The moment Stevie died his spirit took over the just being born David's body and had another go at living a better life. This was Shute's Buddhist influence at work.

This was such a big idea at its time because, although white, Stevie was a wasted and useless drunken bum whereas David, who was black and therefore in a lower caste in 1950s Australia, worked his way to the top of his profession.

Published in 1953, In The Wet was mostly set 30 years in the future in 1983. It feels strange that this future is now over 20 years in the past.

I believe Shute first became interested in Buddhism in 1945 when he visited Burma to write Ministry of Information articles on the war. These experiences were reflected in The Chequer Board, Round The Bend and In The Wet.

On a personal note, the fictional David Anderson is only 1 year older than I am and I grew up in Canberra where some of the book is set. As a boy I had visited my father's hairdresser shop at the RAAF base that is mentioned in the book. Since reading the book I have visited the real village of Tharwa where the fictional Royal residence was sited and also the real suburb where David and Rosemary bought a new house. The is accurately named, real suburb, Letchworth, was named after England's idyllic first modern planned suburb and, as Shute said, wasn't built until 20 years after the book was written.
Those wanting to read about the original garden suburb of Letchworth can go to the Letchworth Web Site


Arden Jensen has written a very interesting 5-page paper called Gremlins and Demons: The Decline of Britain as seen in Nevil Shute's Novels.

As a teaser, here is a small extract:
Shute saw large abstract forces in the world that were unsound, which may be seen as demons. These demons gave birth to concrete problems that one can call gremlins, a term that Shute as an engineer, aviator, and military officer knew well. In fact, in one of his novels, No Highway, he actually used the word:

Some unknown gremlin in it [the aircraft] had leaped out upon Bill Ward suddenly, so suddenly that he had been unable to send word upon the radio, and it [the gremlin] had killed him, and thirty other people with him. [Samuelson's] instinct, bred of nearly twenty thousand hours in the air, told him that one day that thing would happen again. (75)

Thus, a gremlin has caused a disaster, the crash of an airliner. However, in Shute's economy, there is a demon that gave birth to the gremlin. In this particular case, the demon was an engineering error that the bureaucratic mindset of the British government agency in charge of civil aviation was unwilling or unable to address. Shute believed that if a demon is not dealt with, it will spawn more and more gremlins.

Editor's Comment: Because of the website manager changeover period I can't promise this will be on the website as soon as I would like. As a favour to humanity, I will email the paper(s) to anyone asking for a copy until they are on the website.

Webmeister's Comment: Click here to download a pdf copy of Arden's tome


John Forester has written an equally fascinating 2-page paper on some of the real life characters behind Trustee From The Toolroom.
As a teaser, here is a small extract:

This is a tale about one man, a bit about a few others, and a fictional character. The man was known as LBSC and the fictional character is Keith Stewart, the trustee from the toolroom. I once knew LBSC's real name, but for decades he was known as LBSC, for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. He was born, maybe in the 1880s, into a family that had some railway connection, but was impoverished, probably by the death of his father. He had a mechanical bent, loved making things. He waited longingly until his mother had money to replace the broken fireplace grate, so that he could use the pieces as anvils for his work. His first steam engine had a cylinder that had started life as a brass cartridge case.
He went to work as an apprentice in the workshops of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. In those days, many railway shops designed and built their own locomotives, and every railway shop had to be able to completely rebuild its locomotives. I think that LBSC had some experience driving locomotives as well as building them, for his account of how to fire and drive a train from London to Brighton was entrancing. The railway set a standard of tons of coal for every thousand tons of train, and if the engine crew burnt less coal they shared in the savings. When approaching the climb out of the Thames Valley, it didn't do to have the fire hot but too thin, so that the suction of the engine's exhaust pulled half the coal up the stack. Neither did it do to have the fire just covered over with fresh coal, for then it wouldn't make sufficient steam to make the climb at speed. The fire had to be thick but hot all through.
LBSC obviously did well with the company, but then the Great War occurred. LBSC found himself managing the mass production of the world's first guided missiles, the naval torpedo. These were the height of Victorian technology: air, alcohol, and water compressed to one ton per square inch produced the steam for its engines; pressure transducers controlled its depth; gyroscopes and servo engines steered its course; fulminate of mercury ignited its charge of nitrated cellulose.

Editor's Comment: Again, because of the website manager changeover period I can't promise this will be on the website as soon as I would like. As a favour to humanity, I will email the paper(s) to anyone asking for a copy until they are on the website.

Webmeister's Comment: Click here to get a pdf copy of the John Forester Opus Magnus


I regularly get requests for information about Shute copyright and copyright in general so I asked Linda Shaughnessy of Shute's literary agents, A P Watt Ltd, a few questions. To my questions about Shute-based plays, screenplays and copyright in general, Linda replies:
The very short response to someone who is thinking about writing a play or screenplay or any other work derived from a work or characters created by Nevil Shute is: please, please don't! It is much better for aspiring writers to create their own, original work.

Film rights in many of Shute's works have already been sold and for those where the rights are still free, our media department is active in trying to sell or re-sell the rights. It is always up to the purchaser of the rights to commission screenplays and the purchaser will certainly want to choose an established screenwriter.

I don't think any rights would be breached if someone wrote a screenplay purely for their own pleasure and didn't show it to anyone, but if they tried to exploit that screenplay in any way at all (or even to circulate it) then they would breaching someone's rights - either those of the film company owning the rights or those of the copyright holders in the works of Nevil Shute.

Copyright in all literary works by Nevil Shute (including letters, journals, notebooks) belongs to the Trust Company of Australia Limited, for whom A P Watt Ltd acts as literary agents.

There are different periods of copyright protection, all of which last until the end of the year in question.

  • In all the works which were published during an author's lifetime, copyright in Europe, including the UK, lasts for the life of the author and then 70 years after. Since Shute died in January 1960, this means that European copyright lasts until 31 December 2030.
  • In America life plus 70 is the rule for works published since 1978, but for Shute the basic rule of thumb is first publication (anywhere in the world) plus 95 years. SO DISDAINED, therefore, will be protected until 31.12.2023; A TOWN LIKE ALICE until 31.12.2045.
  • In many other countries the period of copyright protection is life plus 50 years, so currently the works are due to fall into the public domain in Canada, Africa and Australasia at the end of 2010. However in recent years many countries (eg the US and most European countries) have increased the copyright period from life plus 50 to life plus 70 and I would say the chances are quite strong that before 2010 other countries will extend their copyright protection, too.

Copyright in works published after Shute's death is too complicated to go into here.

There is a concept known as 'fair dealing' in which limited extracts from published works may be used free of charge providing correct attribution and acknowledgement is given, but the work in which the extract is to appear must be 'for the purpose of criticism or review'. The extract must either be a single extract of up to 400 words or a series of extracts, none exceeding 300 words, totalling 800 words. Biographies do not generally fall into this category, and fair dealing does not apply to anthologies, musical settings or unpublished works.

Physical ownership of a work is not the same as copyright ownership and just because someone may own a letter, for example, does not mean that it can be reproduced without permission.

As for the period of any agreements, Shute book agreements are for a limited period; feature film agreements (when options have been exercised and the film made) tend to be for the lifetime of copyright and television agreements tend to be for a limited period. I'm afraid I can't go into details about who owns which particular rights and for how long.


Ken England of Australia writes:
Like all the critics I had always regarded the story of Jean Paget's revitalisation of the Willstown economy as an 'idealised and implausible vision'.

However something of the same kind has been happening in the equally remote village of Tambo in Queensland. Several years ago a group of women started making dressed teddy bears under the name 'Tambo Teddies' (see website).

While Tambo still lacks 5 star holes and international airports I gather that things are looking better there. It is London to a brick that the women had read ATLA, virtually everyone in western and northern Queensland (saving halfwits and snobs) has.


Suzanne Schwichtenberg of Helena, Montana, USA writes:
Thank you for such an informative and thorough web site! Our book group will be discussing On The Beach this evening and to my delight your pages have provided some much desired information. Thank you for all your hard work in putting this together! Peace.

Editor's Comment: We love praise generally (at least I do) and are always interested to hear about book groups and the opinions expressed in them.


Gail Field writes:
In reference to Town Like Alice being available on DVD, I did a quick search and found that A Town Like Alice Special Edition with Virginia McKenna is available from for 11.99 with free delivery or 1 for non-UK delivery. Also available as part of a box set Town Like Alice / Carve Her Name With Pride / This Happy Breed for 13.49.

Editor's Comment: Although the Virginia McKenna Alice is a worthy, if truncated, film it is the more complete 1980 Brian Brown and Helen Morse version that is, as yet, frustratingly unavailable on DVD.


Jim Wells writes:
Thank you for my first (May) newsletter - it was most interesting.
Of particular interest was John Anderson's comment about airship lift. It was suggested that they flew at around 1000-1500 ft. This would have been in normal circumstances. I understand that Zeppelins were operated on bombing runs in the First World War at up to 16,000ft. This must have been achieved by carrying an enormous amount of ballast on 'up ship'.

I came across a recent biography of Hugo Eckener that described an incident on one of the Graf Zeppelin's transatlantic voyages when the engines had to be cut for repairs, not to them, but to the ship.
Altitude was lost and was only restored once the engines resumed operation so the ship could gain lift from the aerodynamic surfaces.

Editor's Comment: I found a very interesting website on Zeppelins at:
Of course, anyone interested in R100 and R101 should go to that most complete and fabulous website, Airships Online. Here you can see a lot including film of R100 and R101.


John Anderson writes:

The sun shone for this reunion weekend when 18 Shutists, including 3 from the USA, gathered at York.
We began with a visit to the nearby Yorkshire Air Museum where Peter Rix, chairman of the Barnes Wallis Trust, gave us a fascinating guided tour of the Barnes Wallis collection which included many items connected with the R-100 airship.
Back at our Hotel, tea was served with the obligatory scones, jam & cream, then time to view what turned out to be a large variety of items on display in the conference room before drinks and the Reunion Dinner.
We drank a toast to Nevil Shute and Steph Gallagher regaled us with an amusing analysis of a typical Shutist.
The quiz, with 4 teams, produced some blank looks and head scratching on questions based on Shute novels and we rounded off with Bob Adderley outlining many flights in Shute's books and asking us which we would like to be on.
No lie-in on Sunday morning. I presented some details of Shute's wartime work at the DMWD, followed by John Wilcox's thought-provoking talk on 'What did Nevil Shute actually believe'.
After coffee Andy Burgess talked about Model Engineering and Shute's activity in this field.
Local historian Ken Deacon then gave a slide show about the Howden Airship Station and signed copies of his book on this topic.
Finally David Dawson-Taylor gave a first-hand account of the launch of John Stanley's book on the Exbury Junkers and distributed signed copies to those who had ordered them.
Time really does fly when you're having fun and after lunch we departed, some to head back home, others to spend time exploring the many delights of York.
But the burning, unanswered, question on everyone's lips was 'What's happening in 2005?'
We will certainly be in need of another 'Shute fix' by then!

Editor's Comment: John Anderson received a bottle of champagne for organizing the event. I understand that the other attendees originally bought him a case but got carried away making sure it was OK. In keeping with the time honoured and much loved Nevil Shute Foundation tradition started at Oz 2001, there were scones for tea. I am not sure Shute ever mentioned a single scone in any of his books. He was cherry cake man through and through.
Gerard Martin could not make it to R-2004 and was sorely missed. Apparently he has a new job and in the Shute tradition is applying himself 110%. I'm sure we all wish him the best of luck.
I have read John's excellent paper and look forward to the others. With luck they will be on the website reasonably soon.
I really wish I could have been there.
Anyone planning a driving trip in England is welcome to contact me for information on visiting scenic and interesting Shute locations.


Roger and Ginny Stark of The USA who attended the UK Reunion write:
Ah, now, and what makes a Shutist?
Ginny and I touched down mid afternoon in Orlando, and are just kicking back now.
We had a marvelous time in Yorkshire during the week, but what we came for was what we received in full measure. We found a group of fine, gentle, principled people with great respect for one another and each other's opinions, united by a love of the prose of the man who, if the truth be known, might not have been all that easy to get along with at times. What he thought and felt comes through, though.
We want to thank you all for your kindness and fellowship. It was just a very special time in so many ways.


Peter Pascall (ex-Hunslet Engine Company, ....many years ago) of New Zealand writes:
As a retired engineer myself (Yes, I also have a Myford ML7!) I have read most of his books with great interest.
Have just finished 'Slide Rule' again, which should be compulsory reading for all engineers.


After consulting with The Nevil Shute Foundation, National Geographic has included a quote from Shute in the Stunts - Sports and Risky Business section of Volume 8 of its Collector's Editions, 100 Best Vintage Photographs.

The quote is from Slide Rule.

'If I have learned one thing in my fifty-four years, it is that it is very good for the character to engage in sports which put your life in danger from time to time. It breeds a saneness in dealing with day-to-day trivialities which probably cannot be got in any other way, and a habit of quick decisions.'

The Collector's Edition, Volume 8, 100 Best Vintage Photographs, will be available in bookstores through August 3, 2004.


Hope you are all well and happy. (within reason)
It's a beautiful day here in Sydney where it is late Autumn with crisp sunny days.
This morning it was 10 degrees C (50 f) in the air when I walked at 7am at Bondi Beach which is rather brisk but it was 19 degrees C (66.2 f) in the water. The swimming was great but my feet froze on the sand afterward. Life is pretty good and if it gets bad I always have a Nevil Shute book to re-read.

That completes this month's newsletter.
All the best from AUTFOD
Richard Michalak
Nevil Shute Foundation Historian and Newsletter Editor
Please write to:

Nevil Shute Norway