34A, set by Gerald Bullet, is a minor fiend: a poem that has the title ‘London River’, has no adjectives of quality, no adverbs ending -ly, and either octosyllabic or decasyllabic lines (between twelve and twenty of them).
34B is the first of what will be countless clerihew competitions over the next eighty years. A clerihew is, if we believe the tale passed down by its creator, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, something he came up with as a schoolboy when 16 in 1891: specifically, this one: Sir Humphrey Davy/ Abominated gravy./He lived in the odium /Of having discovered sodium. He published his first collection of them in 1905. These potted biographies are addictive. The Sunday Times once set a competition in the 1980s, and I would guess they received thousands (okay I sent in over eighty, but at least one of them won some champagne …). I have even had a clerihew banned by lawyers – although Private Eye bravely faced the prospect of being sued, and reproduced it (‘Elizabeth Taylor/ Might appeal to a whaler:/ To a landlubber/ She’s just so much blubber.’) It had been scheduled to appear in Gavin Ewart’s collection Other People’s Clerihews (1987), a book with a fair claim to having the dullest title ever published.
Bentley (1875-1956) was equally well known for his detective novels (I must have read Trent’s Last Case  ten times), but his middle name (presumably of family origin) has survived longer than his other two.
In Bullet’s competition, the first name out of the hat is the prolific writer Maurice Baring (1874-1945), Bentley’s contemporary, who moved in a similar social circle. As a journalist, poet and novelist, he had been strikingly successful (at this point of his life, he had just started to show the symptoms of Parkinson’s). Bullet organises the printed entries into orders of commendation. Baring is in the first (lowest) order with
Sir John Simon
Is unlike Timon:
Timon hated mankind.
Simon doesn’t mind.
[Simon is a forgotten figure today, but served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor between 1931 and 1945. He was the ringleader of the anti-Lloyd George faction in the Liberals, and effectively joined the Conservatives. He was notoriously difficult to warm to.]
Sharing the just-missed-out spot is George van Raalte, a Dutch classicist, and active member of the Fabian society. Bullet prints two of his clerihews:
Was very acrimonious.
He often said to his wife
‘What a life.’
Went out with a kilt on
Which made Charles the First
Laught fit to burst.
Now we move into the lower ranks …
One of the first names to jump out is N. Llewelyn Davies. This may well be Nick, the youngest of the ‘Lost Boys’ befriended by J.M.Barrie, who would have been 27, and relatively recently married:
Huntley and Palmer
Grew calmer and calmer:
If either felt restive,
He made a Digestive.
And there is also Baldwin S(ydney) Harvey, a 57-year-old banker from Kensington, who appears as the secretary of the Gordon Memorial College, supervising its report into tropical diseases, before World War One, and effectively then acting as Kitchener’s civil servant:
Trembled like a jelly
Whenever somebody said ‘Was there ever a naughtier
Here are some more:
Lived mostly on bouillon;
He used to think meat
A tremendous treat. (W.R.Y.)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Didn’t care for confetti:
He said he would rather loiter
With ladies who had the goitre. (D.M.B.)
Thought he knew a bit about Commerce.
He said so, bellicosely,
To Sir Oswald Mosley. (R. Weatherhead)
[Jimmy Thomas was the leader of the National Union of Railwaymen, and a member of both of the first two Labour cabinets in in 1923 and 1929. When the National Government was formed in 1931, he was one of the only two Labour politicians to stay with Ramsay Macdonald. You can see film of him here and read more about him here.]
Mr. Edgar Wallace
Always found it rather a solace
After writing a play
To write novels for the rest of the day. (R.W.)
The philosophy of Berkeley
Is seen through a glass darkly,
But it is not such a poser
As the philosophy of Spinoza. (Claudius Appius)
The Inquisitor Torquemada
Kept a joint of pork in his larder,
And kept offering it to the Jews,
Hoping they’d refuse. (Jay)
Always wanted to please.
One of his favourite diversions
Was giving hints to the Persians. (L.V.Upward)
Miss Christina Rossetti
Got involved with spaghetti:
For the rest of her life
She ate with a knife. (M. Peacock)
Tells us what may be eaten;
She does not weary us
With what may be deleterious. (Joan)
Was a frightful swanker.
Pa blew him up. (Prudence)
Sir Francis Bacon
Was sometimes mistaken.
To the day of his death
He thought he had written ‘Macbeth’. (Little Billee)
Bullet has had to wade through over five hundred clerihews. There is a long further list of commendations, and a welcome to an entry from Hamburg from a Dr. Max Hueffner. And finally, the palme d’or is awarded to John Cornysshe for either of two he has submitted:
Never went up in a lift,
Nor did the author of ‘Robinson Crusoe’
When Augustus John
Puts it on,
His price is within about 4d
[William Orpen (1878-1931) was a well-known Irish war and portrait painter]
Second price goes to Tanais with
Always drank out of a saucer,
Because he felt such an ass
When he drank out of a glass.
That’s all folks!
[Well … the letters pages the following week contain two more, one from Patrick Fletcher Campbell, who offers ‘The Emperor Nero/ Never dined at The Trocadero;/ Though they say he once sang a Te Deum/ In the Coliseum’ and E St. C. D (Ernest St. Clair Duncan?) who adds ‘Hannen Swaffer/ Refused a good offer./ Success, he said/ Might turn my head.’ Swaffer was the father of the gossip column, and at the time, drama critic of the Express. More about him here. I still don’t get the clerihew.]