James Bone first sets the task of writing a lament for the pigeons of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had just been ordered to be destroyed – by special act of parliament. This picture from the National Geographic in 1926 makes the case against:
The competitors – mind you, James Bone has told them to lament – come out in flocks to support the pigeons. The winner, Miss Gertrude Pitt, makes a reference to Pepys’s diary – Pepys watched pigeons falling into the 1663 blaze that destroyed the original St. Paul’s. Pitt was evidently a keen entrant of these kinds of competitions. In a letter written to Pamela Hansford Johnson a couple of years later, Dylan Thomas can be found complaining about Pitt (who has been selected for her work in a Sunday Referee competition over his own effort. You can read his letter here.) Here’s Pitt’s entry:
The second prize goes to a new set of initials, O.C.S., and while I don’t love the Pitt poem, I really don’t love the runner-up’s!
27B was an epigram competition, with a choice of one or all of four London institutions – Christie’s; Crystal Palace; The Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington; the Cafe Royal. The third of these is not as well known, and Bone uses the competition-setting to wax lyrical about the many events it housed. It’s now the Business Design Centre, and has been since 1985. During the war, it was used as a parcels depot. In the event, this competition attracted no great entries, but, in response to Bone’s litany of events and organisations housed by the Royal Agricultural Hall, S. Barrington McLean – who has come close a couple of times – gets the guinea with this epigram (or gag, as I think of it):
The Royal Agricultural Hall is surely the shack of all trades.
The same writer had also sent in a good one on Christie’s – “remains resolutely standing while everything is being knocked down”.
A new name (or rather pseudonym), The Adite, gets the half-guinea with a four-line verse on the Cafe Royal:
The clash of wit has gone; the clash of tongues
Replaces it from psittacottic lungs;
If you would see Suburbia at its best,
Aping Bohemia’s ways – why, here’s your quest.
That’s a bit of a long way round of saying that the customers chatter like parrots.