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 …

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