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Nevil Shute Norway (17 January 1899 - 12 January 1960) was both a popular novelist and a successful aeronautical engineer. He used Nevil Shute as his pen name, and his full name in his engineering career, in order to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels .


Born in Somerset Road, Ealingmarker, Londonmarker, he was educated at the Dragon Schoolmarker, Shrewsbury Schoolmarker and Balliol College, Oxfordmarker. Shute's father, Arthur Hamilton Norway, was the head of the post office in Dublin in 1916 and Shute was commended for his role as a stretcher bearer during the Easter Rising. Shute attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich but because of his stammer was unable to take up a commission in the Royal Flying Corps, instead serving in World War I as a soldier in the Suffolk Regiment. An aeronautical engineer as well as a pilot, he began his engineering career with de Havilland Aircraft Company but, dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for advancement, took a position in 1924 with Vickers Ltd., where he was involved with the development of airships. Shute worked as Chief Calculator (stress engineer) on the R100 Airship project for the subsidiary Airship Guarantee Company. In 1929, he was promoted to Deputy Chief Engineer of the R100 project under Sir Barnes Wallis.

The R100 was a prototype for passenger-carrying airships that would serve the needs of Britain's empire. The government-funded but privately-developed R100 was a modest success but the fatal 1930 crash of its government-developed counterpart R101 ended Britain's interest in airships. The R100 was grounded and scrapped. Shute gives a detailed account of the episode in his 1954 autobiographical work, Slide Rule. He left Vickers shortly afterwards and in 1931 founded the aircraft construction company Airspeed Ltd.

Despite setbacks and tribulations, and the standard problem of the start-up business, liquidity, Airspeed Limited eventually gained significant recognition when its Envoy aircraft was chosen for the King's Flight.

Shute identified how engineering, science and design could improve human life and more than once used the apparently anonymous epigram, "An engineer is a man who can make something for five bob that any bloody fool can make for a quid!" (historically, a quid was one pound sterling and five bob was one quarter of a pound) as a foreword to his books.

Shute was a cousin of the Irish-American actress Geraldine Fitzgerald. On November 23, 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton, a 28-year-old medical practitioner. They had two daughters, Heather and Shirley.

By the outbreak of World War II, Shute was already a rising novelist. Even as war seemed imminent he was working on military projects with his former Vickers boss Sir Dennistoun Burney. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant and quickly ended up in what would become the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. There he was a department head, working on secret weapons such as Panjandrum, a job that appealed to the engineer in him. His celebrity as a writer caused the Ministry of Information to send him to the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 and later to Burmamarker as a correspondent. He finished the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, R.N.V.R.

In 1948, after World War II, he flew his own Percival Proctor light airplane to Australia. On his return home, concerned about the general decline in his home country, he decided that he and his family would emigrate and so, in 1950, he settled with his wife and two daughters, on farmland at Langwarrinmarker, south-east of Melbournemarker.

In the 50s and 60s he was one of the world's best-selling popular novelists, although his popularity has declined. However, he retains a core of dedicated readers who share information through various web pages such as The Nevil Shute Foundation. .

He had a brief career as a racing driver in Australia between 1956 and 1958, driving a white XK140 Jaguar. Some of this experience found its way into his book On the Beach. Many of his books were filmed, including Lonely Road, Pied Piper, On the Beach (in 1959 and also in 2000), No Highway (in 1951) and A Town Like Alice (in 1956). The latter was adapted as a miniseries for Australian television in 1981.

Shute lived a comfortable middle class English life, during a period, from the turn of the nineteenth century to past the middle of the twentieth, when class was a predominant factor in life. His heroes tended to be middle class: solicitors, doctors, accountants, bank managers. Usually, like himself, they had enjoyed the privilege of university, not then the purview of the lower classes. However (as in Trustee from the Toolroom), Shute valued the honest artisan, his social integrity and contributions to society, more than the contributions of the upper classes.

Shute died in Melbournemarker in 1960.


Aviation is a theme in many of Shute's novels, which are written in a simple, highly readable style, with clearly delineated plot lines. Where there is a romantic element, sex is referred to only obliquely. Many of the stories are introduced by a narrator who is not a character in the story. The most common theme in Shute's novels is the dignity of work, spanning all classes, whether an Eastern European bar "hostess" (Ruined City) or brilliant boffin (No Highway). Another recurrent theme is the bridging of social barriers such as class (Lonely Road), race (The Chequer Board) or religion (Round the Bend). The Australian novels are individual hymns to that country, with subtle disparagement of the mores of the USA (Beyond the Black Stump) and overt antipathy towards the post WW2 socialist government of Shute's native UK (The Far Country and In the Wet).

Belief in private enterprise

Shute's novels frequently present private enterprise (along with self-reliance and individual responsibility) as a source of moral good. In this respect, he advocates a theme found in some examples of American 1950s literature, such as that of Ayn Rand or Cameron Hawley.

The roots of this belief can be clearly traced back to his involvement as a young engineer in the drama of the two competing airships R100 (private) and R101 (state), as recounted in his memoirs 'Slide Rule'. To him, the catastrophic failure of the R101 deeply symbolised the unsoundness of socialist teaching and planning.

A Town Like Alice is a characteristic example. Jean Paget, who has been working as a secretary in a pleasant but uninspiring job, has received a substantial legacy from her uncle. She ponders what she should do, now that she no longer needs to work. The following exchange, as described by her solicitor, Noel Strachan, flashes by almost as an aside, but is key to Jean's character and the story:

I knew of several charitable appeals who would have found a first-class shorthand-typist, unpaid, a perfect godsend and I told her so. She was inclined to be critical about those; "Surely, if a thing is really worth while, it'll pay," she said. She evidently had quite a strong business instinct latent in her. "It wouldn't need to have an unpaid secretary."

"Charitable organizations like to keep the overheads down," I remarked.

"I shouldn't have thought organizations that haven't got enough margin to pay a secretary can possibly do very much good," she said. "If I'm going to work at anything, I want it to be something really worthwhile."

This philosophy also permeates Ruined City (1938; U.S. title: Kindling), which concerns a wealthy and respected banker who lifts a town out of the depression by bringing a shipbuilding concern back to life through money, bribery and questionable financial dealings. His reputation is destroyed and he goes to jail for fraud, but the shipyard is back in business and the town is saved. When he has served his sentence, he returns to the town and finds a bronze plaque on the shipyard gate with his head and shoulders embossed on it and the words:


Shute's ethos in Ruined City was inevitably distilled from his own experiences (captured in his part-autobiography, Slide Rule), in trying to set-up and raise capital for a British aircraft manufacturing concern in the depression years of the 1930s.

Indeed, the mythical Lord Cheriton, in Ruined City, was a parody of the real aristocratic equity investor and philanthropic backer of Shute's company, Airspeed Limited.

However, in Ruined City, he also captures some unsavoury aspects of British economic and social history, such as the way that many of the aristocrats and the wealthy exploited their advantages and opportunities in WWI. As soon as peace broke out, they immediately closed their plants, mines, shipyards and factories and took their capital abroad to a wonderful life of sun and relaxed hedonism in places such as Biarritz, Monaco and the Caribbean, throwing hundreds of thousands out of work and destroying their way of life.

Despite a government and capital turning against engineering and manufacturing - which necessitated an instant turnaround for WWII - and an early public fascination with "Flying Machines", waning after WWI was gradually forgotten, Shute and of course others, was aware of the future importance of aviation.

His belief that how British Socialism, after WWII, would tend to destroy what he conceived as the British way of life, and his own views on this, were espoused in works such as In the Wet and The Far Country.

However, Shute lived for and loved engineering, and had great respect for those who worked in this field. The last page of Trustee From The Toolroom expresses this exactly. He valued the honest artisan, his social integrity and contributions to society, more than the contributions of the upper classes.

The Novels - mini summaries

Shute's works can be divided into three sequential thematic categories: Prewar; War; and Australia.


The Prewar category includes:

  • Stephen Morris (1923, published 1961): a young pilot takes on a daring and dangerous mission.

  • Pilotage (1924, published 1961): a continuation of "Stephen Morris."

  • Marazan (1926); a convict rescues a downed pilot who helps him break up a drug ring.

  • So Disdained (1928), written soon after the General Strike of 1926, reflected the debate in British Society about socialism. Considered whether Italian fascism was an effective antidote.

  • Lonely Road (1932): Conspiracies and counterconspiracies, along with an experimental writing style.

  • Ruined City (1938; U.S. title: Kindling) a banker revives a shipbuilding company through questionable financial dealings. He goes to jail for fraud, but the shipyard revives. Ruined City was distilled from Shute's experiences in trying to set up his own aircraft company.

  • An Old Captivity (1940): the story of a pilot hired to take aerial photographs of a site in Greenland, who suffers a drug-induced flashback to Viking times.


The War novels include:

  • Pied Piper (1942). An old man rescues seven children (one of them the niece of a Gestapo officer) from France during the Nazi invasion.

  • Pastoral (1944): Crew relations and love at an airbase in rural surroundings in wartime England.

  • Most Secret (1945): Unconventional attacks on German forces using a French fishing boat.

  • The Chequer Board (1947): A dying man looks up three wartime comrades. The novel contains an interesting discussion of racism in the American Army: British townsfolk prefer the company of black soldiers.


The Australia novels include:

  • A Town Like Alice (1950; U.S. title: The Legacy): the hero and heroine meet while both are prisoners of the Japanese. After the war they seek each other out and reunite in a small Australian town that would have no future if not for her plans to turn it into "a town like Alicemarker."

  • Round the Bend (1951), about a new religion developing around an aircraft mechanic. Shute considered this his best novel. It tackles racism, condemning the White Australia policy.

  • The Far Country (1952): A young woman travels to Australia. A mild condemnation of British socialism.

  • In the Wet (1953); an Anglican priest tells the story of an Australian aviator. This embraces a drug-induced flash forward to the UK in the 1980s. Compare with the drug-induced flashback in An Old Captivity. The novel criticizes British socialism.

  • Requiem for a Wren (1955): The story of a young British woman who, plagued with guilt after shooting down a plane carrying Polish refugees in WW2, moves to Australia to work anonymously for the parents of her (now deceased) Australian lover, whilst the lover's brother searches for her in the UK. This aspect is similar to A Town Like Alice, in which the Australian hero travels to the UK to search for the English heroine, who has travelled to Australia to search for him.

  • Beyond the Black Stump (1956): The ethical standards of an unconventional family living in a remote part of Australia are compared with those of a conventional family living in Washington State.

  • On the Beach (1957), Shute's best-known novel, is set in Melbourne, whose population is awaiting death from the effects of an atomic war. It was serialized in more than 40 newspapers, and adapted into a 1959 film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. On the Beach was the first American-made film publicly shown in the Soviet Union , and may have influenced American public opinion towards support of the atmospheric test ban treaty. In 2007, Gideon Haigh wrote an article in The Monthly arguing that On the Beach is Australia's most important novel: "Most novels of apocalypse posit at least a group of survivors and the semblance of hope. On The Beach allows nothing of the kind."

  • Trustee from the Toolroom (1960) about the recovery of a lost legacy of diamonds from a wrecked sailboat. Set in Britain, the Pacific Islands and the U.S. northwest.

  • The Rainbow and the Rose (1958): One man's three love stories; narration shifts from the narrator to the main character and back.

Shute also published his autobiography Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer in 1954.



  1. Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer (1954) ISBN 1-84232-291-5 pages 44-45.
  2. Croft (2002)
  3. "Remaindered with little honour in his adopted land"
  5. Haigh (2007)


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