In this penultimate issue from 1930 – effectively the Christmas issue, although there was another issue between Christmas and New Year, the latest judge, James Agate, an old colleague of Barry’s and London’s most distinguished drama critic, asks firstly (39A) for the worst couplets ending any Shakespeare scene. One wonders whether the competitors with a sigh heaved out their collected, and began to scan, or whether their knowledge of Shakespeare was so frightening that they simply sat back in their armchairs. Agate, his pith sharpened by years of sometimes excoriating reviews, launches a genial onslaught on competitors, who thought that he might be after the worst scene (no), or worse, picked what were in his view, some of the finest endings (e.g. ‘It shall be so:/ Murder in great ones must not unwatch’d go’). Or even endings that didn’t rhyme.
The winner turns out to be Dora E(sther) Yates, who was already one of the few leading experts in Gypsy life, and was feted in later life for her knowledge of Romany myths, lifestyle and language. Her choice is the sensationally terrible ending to a scene in The Comedy of Errors (Agate calls it ‘blasted inanity’)
I’ll go to the Centaur to seek this slave:
I greatly fear my money is not safe.
Hubert gets the half-guinea for a couplet from Henry VI, Part One:
The King from Eltham I intend to steal,
And sit a chiefest stern of public weal.
39B is another parody-the-gossip-columnist competition, with three role models (as it were): H. Swaffer, J. Douglas, and Lord Castlerosse. We’ve already met Hannen Swaffer in 34B (as a coda to the clerihew competition – he’s the Express gossip columnist). Castlerosse is the toff’s columnist in the Sunday Express – there is an entertaining piece about him here. James Douglas, who had previously been editor of The Star, was the Sunday Express’s editor, as of June 1930, and notorious for his obsession with censorship (the case most often associated with him is The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, which he wished to have banned. Competitors are asked to imagine that the Isle of Wight has sunk, and that one of the three is reporting.
G.H.Beeby is condemned as just one who indulged in a ‘an orgy of disobedience’ to the rules. The winners are finally revealed (after much praise of W. Hodgson Burnet, as Tintab (‘perfectly capturing Douglas’s majestic bathos’) and CM for a parody of Lord Castlerosse. (‘Here is the familiar casualness, and the happy assumption that the world revolves, if not round this writer, then round the table in the fasionable restaurant in which he is most frequently to be found.’) Agate doesn’t think anyone can capture the indifferent quality of Swaffer, and inagines him remarking ‘Personally I am rather glad the place has sunk. It was always a terrible bore.’