ROCKETS, REALISM, & ‘RITING

Dr Graham Goodlad explains how the work of best-selling novelist and engineer, Nevil Shute, sheds light on wartime Britain – and how the man contributed to victor y against the U-boats

Today for On the Beach, his apocalyptic vision of a world on the brink of extinction following the outbreak of nuclear war.

Published in 1957, the novel was adapted to film twice.

It centres on the fate of survivors in Australia as they await the arrival of a deadly radioactive cloud from the northern hemisphere. The story captured – and shocked – the public imagination at the height of the Cold War, yet this was an untypical offering from an author who combined careers in aeronautical engineering and business with the production of 24 novels.

The best known of Shute’s wartime novels is Pied Piper, which was adapted into a film in 1942, the same year the book was published
SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION/GETTY
Acclaimed aeronautical engineer, novelist and weapons designer Nevil Shute Norway in 1953
PICTURE POST/GETTY
The GPO building on Dublin’s Sackville (now O’Connell) Street was destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising. Shute was a stretcher bearer during the fighting there
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF IRELAND

Shute’s believable plots and characters made him one of the most popular novelists of the mid-20th Century. His knowledge of civil and military technology provided a realistic backdrop for the human relationships at the heart of his stories – most of which have never been out of print.

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