Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

A link with the past

A visit to Cavendish Morton

A report by John Anderson

Cavendish Morton, known as "Cavvy", is one of that dwindling number of people still alive who knew and worked with Nevil Shute. Cavendish and his twin brother Concord were born in 1911 and were largely self-taught artists. Their introduction to Airspeed came through George Stainforth, the test pilot for the Airspeed Courier. Cavvy knew Stainforth well and indeed other pilots such as John Boothman who won the Schneider Trophy in 1931. Cavvy was present at the Airspeed works in Portsmouth when Stainforth made a flight in the Courier. He suffered an engine failure, made a rapid 180 degree turn and landed back just off the runway and damaged the undercarriage.

Cavendish and Concord (known as Conc) set themselves up as C &C Morton and did many illustrations for Airspeed. It was Conc who created the Airspeed logo with its distinctive font, although Cavvy believes he might have borrowed it form another firm. In addition to the artwork they produced the complete brochures including the technical data. They produced brochures for the Courier, Envoy and Viceroy aircraft which have a distinctive art deco look. Conc looked after the finances of their enterprise and had some difficulty from time to time obtaining payment from Airspeed for the work they had done. Cavvy got to know some of the Airspeed staff quite well. He described Shute as a nice man with a pronounced stammer, and as someone who appreciated talent when he encountered it and respected Cavvy and Conc for their ability as artists. He described Tom Laing, the Works Manager, as a straightforward, no nonsense man who served the Company well until his tragic death in a road accident whilst driving home late at night. Cavvy also knew David Little the Company Secretary who was replaced when the company grew too big for him to cope. He recalled meeting Little again during the War when he was serving as a naval officer.

Conc was better than Cavvy at drawing people whereas Cavvy was much better at drawing aircraft. They designed the original brochure for the Airspeed Aeronautical College. Conc drew the figure and Cavvy the engine he was working on. Indeed Cavvy had a good working knowledge of engineering drawings and during the War was seconded by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to work at Saunders-Roe looking after modifications and writing aircraft manuals and advertising material. He was surprised, shortly after DDay, to receive a phone call from Shute asking if he could drop everything and come with him to France to capture the invasion scenes in paintings. Cavvy had to decline due to pressure of work and believes that Ian Hassall went instead. (Hassall served in the DMWD with Shute and was an artist). Cavvy was also a great sailor and went with Shute to Hillyards in Littlehampton when Runagate was being built. On another occasion he, Shute and another were sailing Runagate off the Isle of Wight and Cavvy did a sketch of Shute at the helm in quite rough conditions. Years later he met a young man who was going out to Australia and told him that if he wanted to meet someone interesting he should visit Shute at Langwarrin. He gave him the sketch to give to him and still has the letter of thanks he received back. from Shute.

In that letter, dated 13th May 1959, Shute told of his stroke which had reduced his activities and wrote " I hope to live for another 30 years though nobody can say, but the effect of this is that I have given up all the things that I don't want to do, and am concentrating on the things that really interest me and that I want to do, which is making for a very pleasant life!" One story Cavvy told me is that on a train journey to London before the war, Shute got into his compartment at Havant. Cavvy showed him an article in the Times that day about a Boeing aircraft that had crashed after losing a tailplane. He recalled that later Shute wrote No Highway about a similar aircraft accident. Another story is that at Eastleigh airport the Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight aviation company sent a Courier to pick him and another passenger up. The Courier pilot forgot to lower the undercarriage on landing. The aircraft landed, bent the propeller and tipped forward onto its nose. The pilot was unhurt and the plane later repaired by fitting a new prop and replacing the engine cowling. However Cavvy and the other passenger had to make their journey by train !

In 1946 Cavvy married Rosemary Britten, whose brother John formed the Britten Norman aircraft company, probably most famous for their Islander aircraft. Cavvy resumed life as an artist and art teacher and they settled in Suffolk. One pupil who came to his classes was Frances Norway who had returned to England after her husband's death. Cavvy remembered her as a charming lady who showed some talent for painting.

He did read Slide Rule when it was published and remarked that he was slightly disappointed not to get a mention in it! He has read and enjoyed all the other novels and his favourite is "Trustee from the Toolroom"

Over the years Cavvy has produced many fine paintings based on the landscapes, open skies, buildings and rivers that he loves. His draughtsmanship is wonderful as evidenced in the commercial artwork he did for companies such as Airspeed. Even today in his 99th year, though rather infirm and partially sighted, he still paints. On the day of my visit there was a canvas on an easel with an oil painting in progress. His work has been exhibited many times over the years and at the time of writing there is an exhibition of his work at Gainsborough's house in Suffolk with which he was associated for many years.

With his permission I was able to photograph and scan just some examples of the artwork that Cavvy and his brother did for Airspeed and these are shown here.

Painting of the Airspeed envoy "Gabrielle"