Competitions nos. 48A and 48B: results

J.C. Squire returns with a competition that has been set many times in the ‘modern era’: by which I suppose I mean since I started entering in 1978. Hmmm. The task is to write up to 300 words in any genre, composed entirely of monosyllables. Squire (who seems to me the judge who understands his audience best) attracts a large postbag. There is a long list of near-misses, including Jane Smith (aged 12) and somebody with an amusing pseudonym, Corona Underwood (they’re two makes of typewriter). Another also-ran is V.I.Longman, a writer whose novel ‘Harvest’ (1913) has been considered culturally significant enough to be be reprinted in the last decade in France. Longman is a bit of a tricky figure to identify, but I would guess that it’s Violet Isabelle Longman, who married first a man called Balkwill, and secondly a man called Dean: but the British Library does not catalogue her 1913 novel.

The prizewinners are Belinda and C.H.P.:




48B is for a ballade – and Squire does say ballade, not ballad – with the refrain ‘If only I had stopped to think’. He’s had a large postbag for this, too, which he’s been able to winnow by removing all those who didn’t use the ballade form properly – including his sister! One of the competitors who misses out is W. Leslie Nicholls, who wrote a number of hymns, and whose poems can sometimes be found in contemporary magazines (he has a villanelle in The Windsor Magazine in 1928). He later became an actuary, and there is quite a helpful obituary of him on an actuarial site:

W. Leslie Nicholls, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries and an Associate of the Society, died in Mount Royal, Quebec on June 22, 1992. He was 87 years old. Born in London, England [in 1905] Mr. Nicholls attended Alleyn’s school there. He was on the actuarial staff of Atlas Assurance Company in that city from 1923 to 1937, earning his Institute Fellowship in 1931. Atlas bought control of Montreal Life Insurance Company in 1937, and he was sent to Canada to become Actuary of the company. In 1938 he was granted Society Associateship by waiver of examinations. For many years he was General Manager and Actuary of Montreal Life and was elected Vice President and General Manager in 1956. He inherited the financial stewardship of Montreal Life in difficult circumstances and not only nursed it through rough patches but also built it into one of the soundest small-medium companies in Canada. He retired in 1970, living in Mount Royal until his death. Mr. Nicholls was a quiet man who performed his duties effectively and was well liked by those who knew him. He was a devout member of the Mount Royal United Church and was its treasurer for 30 years, up the day he died. He was also an avid lawn bowler. He is survived by his wife, Laura.

Need I say that T.E.Casson was in the running?

The winners are H.S. Mackintosh and D.C.R.Francombe. H.S. Mackintosh was keen on the writing of ballades, and he was known to Squire, who had published a ballade by him in the paper he edited, the London Mercury. It may have been this ballade that was picked out by Belloc for an anthology in 1931 (One Hundred And One Ballades) – and Mackintosh produced his own collection, Ballades and other verse in 1953 (Rupert Hart-Davis). Another of his ballades can be found here. He was evidently Scots, and this may possibly mean he was the rugby player who played for Scotland in 1928, and subsequently became a teacher: idle speculation.



The week these were published (February 21 1931), Gerald Barry started a new feature in The Week-end Review. It was called ‘This England’, and Gerald Barry had the idea from a column in an American newspaper The American Mercury, which had a similar column, ‘Americana’. It was instantly popular with readers, and it still survives in New Statesman. It proved, even more than the competition, to be one of the attractions for Kingsley Martin when he absorbed the WR into New Statesman (by which time, Barry had already had an anthology printed). In its third week, Barry wrote quite a serious article in its praise, ironically perhaps making much of the fact that people were complaining that a chocolate advert showed someone smoking, and objected. He referred to tobacco as an ‘alleged poison’. But this little historical clanger doesn’t detract from how seriously Barry saw the job of This England as being a way of debunking ‘the pontifications of magistrates and coroners’ and others who threatened the liberty of the individual.


5 thoughts on “Competitions nos. 48A and 48B: results

  1. “J.C. Squire returns with a competition that has been set many times in the ‘modern era’: by which I suppose I mean since I started entering in 1978.”

    Hah! Modern era, indeed! And you a mere stripling, a Johnny-come-lately! Just for that, I’m sending you the following, where you will find your name taken entirely in vain.

    With best wishes,

    Last year (2012), I came across an elderly Spectator competition (March 2010) in which competitors were invited to write a victory song or loser’s lament. Well, we competitive old dogs don’t let something as trivial as a past-its-sell-by-date deter us from getting our teeth into a tasty bone, and I found myself wondering what I might have written had I seen it at the time:

    I started “comping” back in ’67;
    In those days, I was frequently a winner;
    The prize, though ample for a tea in Devon,
    Was not enough to buy a decent dinner. *

    The name “Bill Greenwell” was as yet unknown,
    Although in time it would become quite hackneyed.
    Back then, what promise could the lad have shown,
    Still in his teens, and probably still acne’d?

    And Basil Ransome – such was then his name,
    For this was well before its elongation –
    Was only half the man that he became
    On Davies-ing himself by hyphenation.

    But now those names have ravaged like a tumour;
    They gobble prizes like an alligator;
    The competition’s rigged – so goes the rumour –
    The winner once again a second-rater.
    My disappointment’s bitter as curcuma;
    I’ll tell the judge how much I deprecate her
    Swinish dismissal of my pearls of humour.
    Right, no holds barred! “To: lucy@spectator …”
    * Still isn’t, of course.

  2. Well, as you can imagine, my memories of that time are a bit hazy, and I took a 35-year break from competitions from about 1976 until the end of 2011. The 60s, at least in the New Statesman, were of course dominated by the great Martin Fagg, E.O. Parrott, and one or two other luminaries whose names escape me, although no doubt they will come back to me when you reach that period.

    Two differences between then and now are that The Spectator had a more generous allocation of 200 words (fewer jokes needed to be cut to comply with the limit), and that The New Statesman, if I am not mistaken, set verse competitions rather more frequently than they do today. The competition editor was Julian Barnes, but the man clearly had no stamina, as he went off to do something completely different, whereas we “stayers” are still plugging away at the competitions.

    • Thanks for that, Brian. The competition editor was J.B. because he was the deputy literary editor, and until about 1980 (when the word ‘literary’ was replaced by ‘books’), being the deputy LE automatically gave you responsibility for the competition. One of his judging pseudonyms was ‘Spiro Keats.’ Two other judges at the same time as Julian Barnes were ‘Eric Chubby’ and ‘Fat Jeff’, respectively Chris Hitchens and Francis Wheen, so sometimes the judging was devolved. The competition length in the rival Spectator competition had gone down to 150 words by 1978 (at which point, their archivist, Charles Seaton, was the judge, a man who was rather miffed to have his job passed to the classicist, poet and part-time sub-editor, Jaspistos aka James Michie, a transition that took place in about 1979/1980. The Spectator incidentally has a much poorer record than New Statesman of producing anthologies – just the one, Peacocks And Commas, albeit edited by Joanna Lumley – and giving rise to no launch party, and no free copies for those included. Eric Parrott and Martin Fagg took The Spectator to court over breach of copyright, and, for a while, any winning Spectator cheques had to be endorsed as surrendering it.

  3. C.H.P. managed to sneak a two-syllable word past the judge. Those plural “beasts with long noses” ought to have been a single beast with a long nose. Surely the statute of limitations on such a transgression must have expired by now, so calling attention to it after all these years is petty and churlish. Forget I mentioned the matter.

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