There’s a subtle shift: the fourteen previous competitions have been headed ‘Literary Competitions’; now they become ‘Week-end Competitions’, a style they were to retain almost until the end of the century. The title change is partly to do with the name of the paper, of course; but it may also signal a slight shift to something a little more frivolous. J.C.Squire’s competition to find or create an entertaining list from a telephone or other directory is a little more playful than earlier competitions.
The phone directory game is one I am ashamed to say I have played myself, having once found A. Hook, A. Line and A. Sinker in an Oxford phone directory. Some of the competitors have used their discoveries to do what they haven’t been asked to do, like make a story up from names they’ve found. Squire lists some of the more remarkable names his competitors have come up with:
As Squire observes, after these, Chuzzlewit seems quite ordinary. I’ve met someone called Tosh, Chugg, Jump, Hugall (my father’s business partner), Spouge, and also Bytheway (the latter both called Bill). And some are quite famous now – Marje and indeed Greg Proops; Ronald Pickup; Mavis Cheek, Graham Yallop … You may be able to think of others. I don’t know why names are potentially funny, but most of us have names that will have been tinkered with in childhood. Just the Green part of my surname gave the entire staff at one school I went to, licence to improvise at will. For five years.
Many are commended, but Margery Coleman scoops the first prize for a list from ‘a northern town’. The second prize goes to another new name, Robwil, with Squire, a bit late in the day to be sensitive, one feels, deleting one double-barrelled surname for being ‘too closely associated with particular families’, as if the many Halfhides deserved what they were given.
Margery Coleman’s list (in the original, set out in two columns) runs: Flatkin, Umbleby, Twose, Blatherwick, Halfhead, Sprittles, Glabby, Tarbottom, Toes, Fowweather, Tullymarsh, Brabbs, Tutty, Matey, Oddy, Slonker, Blabby, Tankle. It mght be me, but a high proportion of these seem to depend on the presence of an ‘l’ to be amusing.
Robwil’s second prize, its provenance not revealed, runs: Whalebelly, Trampleasure, Tiplady, Sheepwash, Littleales, Bullwinkle, Chewett, Rumph, Stumbles, Jesty, Humpage, Spankie, Scotcher, Leatherbarrow, Cobbledick, Walklate, Gotobed, Merredew, Gathercole.
I guess names, being words, are inherently funny. My mother’s surname was Frail, and she suffered repeatedly during the hymn with the line ‘feeble as frail’ (‘O worship the King, all glorious above …’). Some of my ancestors fared badly. One was called Humble Broom, and another, Temperance Spratt. Unbelievably, the latter married a man called Hall, and became, therefore, Temperance Hall.
I did have my suspicions about the list, and used the ‘count’ facility on FreeBMD (the transcription of the register of births marriages and deaths) to check a few. I counted the births. I was most suspicious of Puddephatt, but there were 1214 of them, 888 Fuggles, 363 Proverbs, 410 Shorthoses, 900 Fidos, 141 Funks, 157 Things, 622 Squelches, 228 Undys, 235 Sneezums, 441 Uffs, but only 67 Farwigs, 13 Jiffkins, and a mere 8 Quigs. However, there were no Hooshers and no Sposhums: none at all. (There were only 295 Frails, incidentally.) And while – just checking – there were no Chuzzlewits, there were 339 Pickwicks.
14B, considering it was the less well-rewarded of the two challenges was really difficult. Robert Bridges, the poet laureate since 1913, had died in April of 1930, and after some humming and hahing, and a decision not to honour Kipling any further, Ramsay Macdonald suggested to the King (or doubtless the trail went further back) the name of John Masefield, who went on to be the second longest-serving laureate after Tennyson. Writing an elegy on Bridges in the style of Masefield is a real challenge.
T.E. Casson (still no prize) and Marion Peacock were among several just out of the picture, and Squire (who could have done this competition in his sleep) gives the top prize to a new character, Whitlet, with R.J.Brett bringing up the rear.
To have slanted the yards of our singing, to have painted the hulls were wrong;
Our rigging still thrums with the beauty of the loveliest kind of song,
That has made the roads less dusty, and the seaways not so long.
I have seen dawn and sunset, but he told them better than I.
Beauty was his, and is mine; but the same blue sky
Found a mind more rare in him, and a clearer eye.
Right Royal – the king’s own poet, and a poet worthy of kings –
The wings of beauty were his, the eager beauty of wings;
And he wrote the grandest poetry of the simplest sort of things.
The flowers of the field, the marching battalion of stars
That steer in the widest heavens and crowd on the evening spars,
The weakness, the strength, the failure, the loud hurrahs,
The dawn wind, the summer twilight, that ached in my poet soul,
Touched his with the larger wisdom, and his was the higher goal.
For he made the smallest thing the loveliest part of the whole.
Twilight it is and the noises tender and few
From hill and valley, from lane and meadow come stealing through
The soft last splendid evening he loved and knew.
Glory is gone from the slanting sails of the Clipper, but we
Of the lowlier part remember how Beauty ran fair and free
In the winds of his voice to the greater silence, the wider sea.
The good old Queen was middling young
When little Bridges tried his tongue
And soon enough, a lovely stripling,
With Beauty’s notes his throat was rippling,
And Shorter Poems, green in bud,
Ran from the young man fast as blood,
Or fast as hares when April’s fervent.
For she had picked him as her servant,
– Beauty that sweets the poet’s breath,
And makes him kick a heel at death,
And saves his passion, unforgotten
When Helen’s bosom all is rotten, That is a shockingly bad line!!
And keeps his sight and hearing furled,
From foxy cunning of the world,
And tells him … (What? I beg your pardon.)
This man was like a rosy garden
Where Beauty – (dang it!) – where the birds
And trees and flowers were his words.
Though he was learned, none completer,
In puzzling arts of rhyme and metre,
It mattered little since he knew
The arts of – no, no – Duty true,
And as he walked the fields of sorrels,
His thoughts were long of fate and morals.
I wish he’d been more keen to sing
About the sea, though. Many a thing
I could have told him – all the language
Of second mates and fever’s anguish.
I could have told him how to rig
His “splendid ship”, as barque or brig,
But there! fault-finding is no game
For salt and ploughman. As the same,*
I doff my cap and my sou’wester
With this last tribute to our master:
The very prime of singing-men,
We shall not hear his match agen,
No, never one will turn a sonnet
Like that grey beard with laurels on it.
*See somewhere in Hollingdon Downs: –
“Scattering the holy hintings of her name [Beauty’s – of course!]
In the brook’s voice for us to catch the same.”
Is it me, or did Squire have to fill the space? This doesn’t even work as a parody of Masefield, and just descends deeper and deeper into the pit of doggerel to which it was heading at its outset.