April 22nd, 2007


That Magnificent Man

Today is the first day of the Nevil Shute conference, held this year in a town not merely like, but identical to, Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territories. Much to my regret, I am here, and not there. The air fare, hotel bill, conference fees and incidentals add up to an amount that the sensible person would prefer to spend on something of longer-term benefit to both themselves and callmemadam.

My friend Mike, of my visit to Bournemouth Air Museum fame, isn't there either. In his case it's for health reasons. He's well, but barred from long-haul travel, following a trip to Oz last November for the cricket, which nearly killed him. We can't have that.

But we're both at Alice in virtual form. Our mutual friend Phil – my agency-bossing, bike-riding, music-loving Evil Twin – is there to give a presentation on Sir Alan Cobham, whose aerial exploits in the 1920s and 30s did so much to promote air-mindedness in Britain. Cobham and Shute had a lot in common. Both began their careers at De Havilland's. Before starting Flight Refuelling (now Cobham plc), Cobham joined Shute on the board of Airspeed Limited, and his flying circus National Aviation Day was the launch customer for the Airspeed Ferry.

Phil has made a recording of Mike reading the opening chapter of Shute's novel Round The Bend, in which Cobham makes a cameo appearance. At his request I've added some clips from the BBC/Open University Nation on Film programme about Sir Alan, and some images from books, creating an audio-visual experience to introduce the presentation. I hope the delegates will enjoy it. And now, through the wonder of YouTube, so can those of us regrettably unable to be in Australia this week!

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