Competitions 3A and 3B results

Gerald Bullett’s request for a poem on a new planet has left him with five (out of ‘numerous’ entries) to pick from. And the five are – Valimus, Non Omnia, Seacape (again! and three of the original five letter-signatories!), James Hall and Pibwob. Yes, ‘Pibwob’. This bizarre pseudonym must have meant something, but you will Google it in vain: it’s a weird, nursery-sounding nom-de-plume. Nevertheless, James Hall and Pibwob are names to watch: they are both to be very regular winners.

Bullett agonises: he finds something objectionable – a line, a phrase, a conceit – in each of them. He adds, interestingly, that Valimus ‘is a poet’: I’m not sure if this means a published poet, or is simply a compliment. He particularly objects to the phrase ‘toddling mite’ in Pibwob’s poem (we don’t see it, so we’ll never know the context), and also thinks that ‘naturalize’ is a particularly ugly word. (I’m not very fond of zs myself – and it’s quite a surprise to see one in 1930.) In the end, he splits the two and a half guineas prize fund three ways, with Seacape – this is his third win on the trot – getting one, Non Omnia getting another, and James Hall the extra half a guinea. (James Hall has forgotten to send in his address. It is surprising how often this happens – and was still happening as recently as twenty years ago.)

Seacape is still writing as if the nineteenth century is not yet over, but here’s his joint first prize:

Thou new found wanderer in the starry skies,
How long hast thou paraded through the past?
How many million years escaped our eyes

To fall a victim to the lens at last,
Thy weary journeys to the end of time
All mathematically now forecast?

Is this discovery, then, so sublime
Which dooms however dull a thing that moves
To an eternity of pace and clime

In uneventful and predestined grooves?
Or should we rather view it with dismay,
Lest we ourselves and all our little loves,

And hopes and fears, should be as thou, one day,
And with predestination hedged about,
No laws but the astronomers’ obey?


Gerald Bullet singles out line 7 as ‘halting’, which it is, but line 6 seems even worse, rhythmically. Words like ‘clime’ also give me the heeby-jeebies: but I do like the way he’s handled the terza rima required.

Let’s see if Non Omnia can do better.

Within the viewless web of human thought   (nope, this is very ropey!)
One more pale thought that flutters round the sun
And its few piteous secrets now is caught.

We chart its course ethereal, bravely run;
Its petty aberrations have descried –
Adventuring where no planet e’er had spun

It had in them perchance some little pride.
Alas! no wanderings can it ever boast:
One soldier more maintains his destined stride

Within the ranks of the celestial host.
Yet we may recognize a sentinel     (I am plainly wrong about the z being new-fangled)
That holds our farthest, dimmest, loneliest post,

A foothold of the mind, intangible,
Wherein the muted spirit, dreaming hears
Infinite-echoing seas, as in a shell,
Reflected music of harmonious spheres.


As Bullett points out, this has some awkward ‘conceits’ – especially the image of the soldier in the celestial host. In some ways, I prefer the also-ran, James Hall, at least to start with:

Faint-shining pebble in Neptunian sea,
Remotely deep, remotely in the sway
Of that same eye of heaven that lighteth me
And hath revealed at length thy tardy day!
Hast thou heard any music, any song,
Or seen the glimmer of a far off ray
From fellow travellers who have journey’d long,
Holding a course by that great Polar Star
Which holds in safety that celestial throng
And points the milky breakers from afar?
– Or dost thou journey nearer to our shore
In narrowing circle – or beyond the bar
Sail outwards to be seen of us no more?



Competition IIIB is won by Pibwob, with second prize going to L.A.G.Strong. There is a long list of also-rans, including Seacape (naturally), Mrs G.P.Lea (winner of Competition IB), Yury, and, among others, two competitors who will become much more successful – Little Billee and H.C.M. It is clear that the daylight saving act of 1916 was not universally popular, not if the winning epigrams are anything to go by:

His hour was come. He fell asleep,
Cut down before his seed could flower.
We see the light he sowed, and reap
The harvest of his sunshine hour.


On Willett, who died a joke

Children of Dark, we thus requite
Those who would bless our way with Light.
Count him well-paid. He might have worn
No fool’s cap but a crown of thorn.



Competition 2A and 2B results

Always dicey to give a competitor the chance to judge, as Lester Ralph wordily points out. ‘My personal problem is not simplified by the fact that in the apparently painless throes that gave birth to our new rendezvous, some dozen of us have been, for the first time, in epistolary touch, and from that dozen, such critical conscience as is mine has forced upon me the selection of three for prizes.’  I don’t think L.R. is going to get invited back with arch-eyebrow prose like this. (I can’t recall any of the competitors with whom I have been in epistolary, electronic or ‘other’  touch ever getting the chance to judge a competition, although Joyce Johnson claimed it was still going on in the 1960s.)

You will remember that Ralph has given his mates the chance to do a Tamburlaine with a press baron standing in for the tyrant. After a lot of humming and hahing – it’s catching – he goes for one A.S.O., whom I am going to file under ‘O’, with this quite impressive piece of Marlowe pastiche, although what it isn’t, is funny. Here is the first clear two-guinea winner:

Now to the empyreal heav’n my fame ascends,
And Jove himself doth own my empery:
Ne’er peasant sees Orion’s light but knows
The wonders and the glories of my press.
Now speeds across the deep my Chronicle
Swifter than the flight of winged Pegasus,
To Russian steppes and sun-parc’d plains of Ind,
To Thule’s ice-encircled headlands drear,
And lonely islands of the Western seas.
I turn the fate of empires with a word;
And kings and mighty senators shrink back
And flee my fierce and venomous reproof.
Now doth the Muse herself yield up her throne:
And Orpheus, at the music of my words,
Lays down his lyre and leaves the silent woods.
Kings, prelates, senators and dukes
Fling wide their doors at mention of my name,
And earls must rise perforce and give me place.
I am the judge and sovran lord of men:
On me the world doth lean as on a staff.


You have to admit it’s pretty good, but a bit stuck in the pentameter rhythm, I think. I’d like to be able to say there was a particular press magnate in mind, but the News Chronicle, owned by the Cadbury family at the time, was essentially liberal (and took an anti-Franco line with the editor it acquired in 1936 – Gerald Barry …). So it’s an all-purpose Beavermere or Rotherbrook. In second place we find ‘Valimus‘, who is, we already know, one of the epistolary correspondents, since he’s yet another one of the signatories of that letter from issue 1.

Hold thee – and should not Bamburlaine be proud,
To whom the trees yield up their resin’d gall,
Black slave to make a million cringing slaves?
At his command the crashing engines trace
Line upon line the changeless writ of doom.
This man aspired to govern: now he lies
Blasted by one brief colun of my scorn;
And from the heights this party hurtles down
Ev’n to the lowest hell of impotence.
If thou canst wield a pen, know Bamburlaine
Will use thy puny weapon to his ends,
And take the raptur’d ink of ages gone
To shout his praise in prouder ink than theirs;
Or write himself, to mark a frantic day,
What scarce the eternal years would dare efface.
And think, when in thy heart thou dream’st of kings,
Or, dazzled by the tinsel of a crown,
Thou clamberest up thy way to palaces
That Bamburlaine doth hold more glittering sway
To crush thee down, or lift thee past thy dreams.


Now to part B, with its really mystifying idea about cutting and trimming bits of the Hatter, Dormouse and Alice. Although I haven’t a clue what Lester Ralph had in mind, our man – I assume a man – Seacape is up for the second week. He turns in a very good Carroll parody on such a flimsy premise, and is well worth the single guinea it gains him. With one bound, Seacape is at this point the most successful competitor ever. (He has some surprises for us, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks.)


The Hatter turned suddenly to Alice.
“When is the longest day?” he asked.
Alice reflected a moment. “Why, that was three days ago.”
“I thought so,” he said. “Then today is Shorter Day. Fetch me the scissors!”
“You mean Quarter Day,” corrected Alice, in a slightly superior tone.
“No, I don’t. I mean Shorter Day. Don’t contradict!”
“Whatever is Shorter Day?” asked Alice, rather more humbly.
“The day for shortening things, silly,” said the Dormouse, waking up again. “Your hair, for instance.”
“Or the Dormouse’s tail,” put in Alice hastily.
“Or the March Hare’s ears,” added the Hatter. “You’ve heard about fore-shortening, I suppose?”
“Er-yes,” said Alice, who was beginning to wonder what it all meant.
“Well, this would be three-shortening,” he went on triumphantly. “One less, so you’ll all save by it.”
Alice was now quite bewildered. “But I should lose my hair, the Dormouse his tail, and the March Hare his ears.”
“If we lose what we save and save what we lose, we are all the same as before,” said the Dormouse, still half-asleep.
“I knew it,” the Hatter muttered, taking out his watch. “The cows are late home again.”


Pretty good: especially the penultimate line. But Doris Elles is not far behind.

“Just the afternoon for a cut at something,” said the Hatter.
“I don’t quite see why,” said Alice.
“You’re not supposed to,” said the Hatter. “Whoever heard of anyone seeing Why?”
“Anyway, I’m not going to have my hair cut,” “The March Hare won’t have his ears chopped either. And I think the Dormouse has got a darling tail.”
“So do I,” squeaked the Dormouse.
“Why, the March Hare wouldn’t look a bit the same -”
“Why should he?” asked the Hatter. “Dear me, your hair’s in the butter again. You really mustn’t bring it in here.” He wiped the butter on the Dormouse and put it in his pocket.
“Darling tail,” murmured the Dormouse.
“Just think how much better it will be for my hats when people fit them,” said the Hatter.
“Well I’m quite sure none of your hats would ever do for me,” said Alice.
“Of course not,” said the Hatter. “Whoever heard of a hat doing for anyone? Or did you?”
“Well, no,” said Alice; “perhaps – ”
“Then that proves it,” said the Hatter; “and we can start at once.” He took a knife and fork from his pocket and began polishing them on his necktie …


Not bad, but actually one sentence would have done quite well in Competition 1B: “He wiped the butter on the Dormouse and put it in his pocket.”

Competition no. 1A and IB: results

Follow this link for Comps I to XX

Martin Armstrong’s asked for a spritely prospectus for the new paper. He archly thinks there is plenty of excellent verse, but many ‘excellent prospectuses that were not spritely’ and many ‘spritelinesses that were not prospectuses’. Not for the last time, a judge is going to whinge about instructions not being followed. Armstrong singles out no less a figure than Edward Marsh for ‘a deaf ear and an empty palm’, but still quotes his whole effort. Edward Marsh was the chief benefactor of Georgian Poetry, all of whose anthologies he sponsored. He was a professional civil servant, who spent most of his life seconded from the Colonial Office to be private secretary to Winston Churchill in every post Churchill held until the 1930s (Marsh retiring with a knighthood in 1937). You can see his National Portrait Gallery image here. Armstrong – who owed his first appearance in a major anthology to Marsh himself – must have enjoyed dismissing Marsh’s effort (it was advice to the editors, whereas the competition calls for an editorial announcement of intention. It contains the immortal opening ‘Bid the sweet Saturday adieu/ And in hebdomadary blend/ Mix jets of lyric fire and dew …’). Marsh once memorably remarked that he wanted poetry to be ‘three things, or if not three, then two; and if not two, at least one of the following: intelligible, musical and racy’. I’ve always liked that word ‘racy’.

Seven entrants are commended, including two of the signatories to the letter in Issue 1 – Non Omnia and Lester Ralph – and one character who will recur, Issachar. But the first two winners, both pseudonymous, are Yelsom and Seacape (another signatory). The total prize money of two guineas and half a guinea is split equally between them. Here is Yelsom, who looks to me like someone who might be really called Mosley (surely not that one?)

Each Friday we shall offer you,
If Providence remains our friend,
Some politics, books old and new,
The theatre, music, art. Our end

And object is to make you spend
One sixpence of your revenue
To get a literary blend
Of Comments fair on matters true.

Papers abound of every hue;
And some you scorn, and some commend:
But how exceptionally few
Are those to keep and not to lend.

You’ll KEEP the new WEEK-END REVIEW!

A bit too much inversion for my taste, but these are Georgian amateurs! Here is Seacape, who is destined for greater things. He’s tried to go one better by making it an acrostic.

W alk up! Walk up! Your sixpence spend
E nriching none so much as you!
E nrol yourself with us, and blend
K nowledge with current points of view!

E xperts, who know what to eschew,
N ovels and plays will recommend;
D ivergent policies their due
R eceive, if Tories we befriend.

E ntrants for prizes may contend;
V erse, Music, Art live here anew;
I ndeed, of worth there is no end.
E nsuring it the whole year through,

W hy not your thirty shillings send?


In the B competition, Mrs G.P.Lea nabs the first prize of a guinea, and a K.Heanley gets the second prize of half a guinea. I think modern competitors might do better than these two, though they have their moments: Mrs Lea first:

… He opened the box, his sensitive mouth trembling. It was filled with roses. He laid them in her lap, and his well-maniucured hands quivered as they touched hers. Smiling she bent her head and smelt them.
“You carry cardboard-boxes in your dress-clothes!”
“I took a bus as far as Piccadilly and carried it the rest of the way. I did it because – I love you.”
The roses fell to the floor. She dropped her eys in confusion and picked them up again. Heavy footsteps sounded without …
“My husband!” She snatched the box and, pressing her mouth passionately to his, she thrust the roses into it. “Quick! The lid!”
But he had lost his head and could not find it.
The door opened …

And finally K. Heanley:

Tommy loaded his fork with both meat and vegetables and swallowed it. Then taking a good pull at the beer he replaced it beside him on the table. Picking up his knife he caught the eye of the waitress, put it into his mouth, winked, and proceeded with his meal. The waitress offered him another roll. She turned her back and he bit it in two, but the one half sticking in his throat he cut that and continued eating with gusto.
The host, watching his viands disappear in alarm made out his bill. He disguised his anxiety and presented it to Tommy. The boy, with his mouth full exhibited a pained surprise and put it in his pocket.

The first competition(s)

The first competition, set by Martin Armstrong, has been much quoted – for instance by Steve Platt in his intro to Blairway To Heaven, and by Arthur Marshall in one of his anthologies. Part of it has been set again in the last decade or so. However, what may not be well-known is that, almost without exception, The Week-end Review run of competitions consists of two competitions, A and B. The first is invariably worth more than the second, and competitors have to get the entries in by the following Friday morning – so they have just five days to complete the task (or tasks). The rules that accompany the first competitions don’t quite make it clear that winning both competitions is verboten.

Legible handwriting is permitted. And the right is reserved to award no prize at all (this is going to happen, incidentally – these judges take no prisoners). There are several differences – I don’t mean in quality, because one thing that is immediately obvious is that much of this material has dated, and dated perhaps because it is based on a formula established in The Westminster Gazette, which started in 1893, and in The Saturday Review, which started in 1855 – whether with competitions or not, I don’t yet know – and that our tastes in the 21st century will be different. But then, some of the competition victories in the last ten years have already dated (some seem to have dated the moment one’s eye has left the page), so that’s no surprise. In fact, the competitions feel like the oldest part of The Week-end Review. Some of the political writing and some of the literary writing, whether humorous material by Gerald Gould, or critical, reflective writing like the work of ‘Stet’ (Thomas Earle Welby), stands the test of time very well. The introductory ‘Comments Of The Week’, presumably mostly by Gerald Barry, and very similar to Kingsley Martin’s openings to New Statesman and Nation, are crisp and clear and enjoyable.

Although exigencies of space altered this a little from week to week, the competition – positioned centrally – or at any rate before the halfway mark, occupies a full three columns out of 72 (two a page for 36 pages). That’s a lot by modern standards. Partly this is because the judge writes so much – more than half the copy, if we include copious quotation from losing entries.

There is also one curious convention. The judges never award prizes. They recommend that prizes be awarded, as if a greater power, i.e. Barry in this case, might rule that they had over-stepped the mark …


There is something about these competitions and their predecessors (see Origins) that makes men and women alike reach for a nom-de-plume. In the thirties, there were more entrants with sobriquets than there are now, and probably the characters hiding behind the droll or Latin or simply initialised signatures (one of the winners was ‘S.’) saw it as part of the sporting anonymity of the entries. And of course the magazines they were reading were littered with letters and indeed articles where the writer did not divulge his or her identity. In the sixties, the craze for pseudonyms took a peculiar turn, with some individuals – notably Eric (E.O.) Parrott and Martin Fagg – using multiple identities. Eric was (among others) M.K. Cheeseman, Wayne Sidesaddle, Harrison Everard, B. Mooring, A. Boteman and Maud Gracechurch – the last three nods to the fact that he lived on a barge in London (called ‘Maud Gracechurch’). At least one competitor, Russell Lucas, had more than one bank account, and kept his pseudonyms quiet, so as not to affect the judges. I was given mine: Will Bellenger – it was an anagram thought up by Julian Barnes when, as the deputy literary editor of the NS, and therefore at that time (1978) a de facto judge,  he wanted to give me two prizes. I was piqued and then pleased. At the time, I had also just discovered that The Spectator had a competition, but didn’t wish it to be known that I was flirting with the opposition – so I ran through twelve or thirteen more anagrams of my name, changing them annually, until I suddenly realised this wasn’t doing my reputation any potential good, so Nell L. Wregible and Belle R. Welling and the others were discarded. I also had a few wins by using aunts and uncles and cousins as ‘covers’ (this is still going on with one or two of the more obsessive competitors).

In the late 1970s, one of the most ardent competitors was Joyce Johnson, then in her eighties or nineties. She and her brother Leslie lived together in Tunbridge Wells for the last 15 years of his life (he died in 1969), and they competed with each other in particular. The pseudonyms she used were W. May Byron and A.J.Wyborn – the first being an anagram of the original of the second, her mother’s maiden name, Amy Wyborn. Joyce is also credited by Tony Augarde in The Oxford Book of Word Games with having created the best ever palindrome: it consists of a headmaster’s memos to himself, and is an incredible 467 letters long (it won a New Statesman competition in 1967). Realising that many of the many winning entries were by Martin Fagg, and that he sometimes won with more than one entry (he  claimed to me that he had once scooped the pool in a Spectator competition), I wrote to her and asked what the rules were about multiple entries. I was 26 at the time (60 now). While doing some research at the outset of creating this web-site, I came across her reply. In it, she reveals Martin Fagg’s list of pseudonyms.

JJ letter

Just to round off this first foray into pseudonyms, the veteran poet and editor (and competitor) Gerard Benson, himself a.k.a. Jedediah Barrow and Eve Ryman, discovered something very odd about the Will Bellenger name that Julian Barnes gave me. In the the third Penguin Book Of Comic Verse, there is a poem that ends with the line ‘You’ve heard about the Bellengers and Will?’ Spooky.

And incidentally, I wonder if Steve Platt, who admits to this, is the only serving editor to enter and win a competition – pseudonymously (I don’t know what the pseudonym was!)

Starting out

In this blog, I’ll explain what I’m doing, where I’ve got to, and any news of progress or otherwise I have to impart. This is the section to which I hope you’ll respond with advice and assistance. In particular, I could do with some help with pseudonyms (you’ll see that in March 2014, I have managed to get behind the moniker ‘Pibwob’, and in June behind ‘Little Billee’ and in August behind H.C.M.)  … If you or a member of previous generations are or were competition entrants, I’d be glad to hear from you. I would be interested in photographs and biographies – the idea is that the wrangling that goes on in the blog will eventually be set in shale in the relevant pages. If you have suggestions for further sections of the web-site, they’ll also be welcome. When you first look at the web-site, there won’t be much on it. Watch the space …

Here are a couple of mysteries. Why does Elizabeth Bibesco say that it is unusual for ‘Gordon Daviot’ (the alternative pseudonym of ‘Josephine Tey’) to miss a competition, implying ‘he’ i.e. Tey is a regular, in 1933, when ‘he’ only appears once, in 1930 (does anyone know if Tey had other pseudonyms)? Who was Dorothy Avery, the judge in early 1933 (I’m completely stumped)? Why does Seacape seem to vanish and reappear as Black Gnat?

The 1932 and 1933 honours boards are now complete.

One new feature contains extracts from The Saturday Review before and after Gerald Barry left it to found The Week-end Review.There is also an article on the takeover. You can find them under History.

Another new feature: I have managed to obtain about half the copies of the WR at a knockdown price (they turn out to be the former property of the WR’s business correspondent), and this makes it much easier to use some invaluable source material. Many competitors wrote to the WR (not just about competitions); I therefore know (for instance) that Mariamne was a librarian. In due course I will try to beef up the more accessible individual biographies. One that I am starting to expand is that of William Bliss, who was competing right up to his accidental death in his 80s.

To search for an individual competition, type the digit and A i.e. 1A into any tag search: so Competition no. 1 (actually they used Roman numerals for the first two years) will come up when you search on 1A. (It doesn’t seem to like 0001, but I’m working on the tagging.) The blog gives the results. Early competitions are listed on The Competitions page. You can link back and forth, although I have left completing this task for later at the moment.

As with all blogs, the entries will be the most recent, first. However, I’m going to make this one a ‘sticky’, so that it stays at the top. Remember that this is a work in progress!