Monday, August 27, 2012


If you are a reader, and haven’t yet discovered the novels of Nevil Shute, File:Onethebeach.jpgyou have a treat in store. And yes, he really did spell his name ‘Nevil’ - this way. On the other hand, his full name wasn’t ‘Nevil Shute.’ It was ‘Nevil Shute Norway.’ He was born in January 1989 and died in January 1960 after an extremely active life. Wiki says he died at the age of 60. According to my math, he lived a highly productive 71 years.

Deeply knowledgeable, highly readable and impressively prolific, I first ran across his works when at boarding school in England. The school was Ampleforth College in chilly Yorkshire, UK. The place was decidedly spartan in my day, but apparently has now gone co-educational. I would probably have read a lot less if the fair sex had been around when I served my time.

Unfortunately, my house library contained only a couple of Nevil Shute’s  works and it was against the rules to borrow books from another house. Nonetheless, I persuaded a normally law-abiding friend of mine, Anthony Du Vivier, who lived in another house, to do the deed – his house library was well stocked with Nevil Shute -  so ended up reading just about all Shute’s works. I doubt I did any useful school work during that period, but I have rarely been happier. To put it mildly, I was not overly fond of boarding school, and Shute’s extraordinary range of stories provided mental escape – if not physical.

Dr. Anthony Du Vivier is now a world renowned skin doctor and author of books on his specialty. He remains one of the most charming human beings I have ever met. He also gave me a piece of advice that has stood me in good stead over the decades. “My dear fellow, the best aphrodisiac is a really good bottle of red wine.” He was the best man at my wedding though had to be rushed to hospital after the ceremony. Overindulgence was not the cause. He was actually dying of leukemia, but an experimental drug saved his life. Though I married a commendable woman, my marriage did not survive unfortunately.

By the way, if you have need of a world class dermatologist, you can find Dr. Anthony Du Vivier at 62 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8AJ.

Nevil Shute is probably best known for his book On The Beach which was made into a truly outstanding movie by director Stanley Kramer. It starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins – and each time I see it, it terrifies me because the events it portrays are all too possible. There has been a global nuclear war, and both the U.S. and the Soviet Union have been annihilated. Lethal radioactivity is being blown south by the prevailing winds. There is no escape. The end of the world, and much of the action in the movie, takes place in Australia.  Given the agonies of a death from a high dose of radioactivity, the government dispenses lethal pills. 

Nevil Shute was a intriguing man in his own right, and his expertise and experiences underpin his books. He fought in WWI, became both an aeronautical engineer and a pilot in the Twenties and worked under Barnes Wallis of Dambuster fame. In WWII, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, worked for the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, and landed in Normandy on June 6 1944. In 1950, he emigrated to Australia – post war Britain was singularly drab and depressing – and wrote a further 11 books before dying of a stroke in 1960.

He was a highly successful author during his lifetime and deserves to be well known today. Though I have no idea what critics made of him – he would not be regarded as a literary writer, I suspect – I admired his extraordinary ability to make technical matters accessible and, above all, his superb story-telling ability.

The man was a master.



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