James Agate returns to the judge’s seat. After his highly grumpy adjudications in 53A and 53B, we might fear the worst. We would be right. It’s a really difficult, but verging on pointless competition, in which a piece of prose has to contain all of the following (as phrases): Chinese metaphysics; ‘pig’s whisper’; the Atlantic Ocean; Charlie Chaplin; Bolshevism; pyjamas – in any order, with 350 words as the limit (350! modern competitors have never been given more than 200, and their usual maximum is 150, or even 120). The audience intended has to be given.
Agate’s report excoriates the entrants who fail to know the meaning of a pig’s whisper. One of the unlucky and more inventive entrants is Henrietta Heilgers, a writer who as Louise Heilgers had had several novels published, and a colourful private life, which involved living with a bigamist whom she subsequently married (and had by this time divorced). There is a good description of her here and here.
A pig’s whisper, anyway, is a ‘very short space of time’. The many inventive ways round it included inventing cocktails called pig’s whispers. The winner uses the device of a school speech, and he (or maybe she, but at any rate a Northerner) is A.H. Ellerington:
The finest example of such a speech he’s ever seen, says Agate, tongue locked in cheek, I hope. The runner-up satirises Gerald Barry, and, Agate says, gets him right, prompting an editorial note (‘Does it?’). The parodist is W.B.:
Compeition 88B is a fiend, and Agate is very dogmatic about it. Starting with the assertion that the opening of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with its reference to the general’s dotage, is the best example of cutting to the chase after Genesis (Genesis?!) – he actually says ‘cutting the cackle and coming to the ‘osses’ – he asks for six similar examples from Shakespeare of avoiding having to show scenes (as here in avoiding having to show Antony and Cleopatra meet). Agate – a little pompously – says that there are two blindingly obvious ones, that is, the death of Falstaff, and also (really weird choice) the avoidance of seeing when Macbeth broaches killing Duncan to Lady Macbeth. But doesn’t he do this in a letter?
The winner is Doris N(ellie) Dalglish, a London born writer (born in 1894), who published some academic work on Stevenson and Clough, amongst others, but who whose best known work was on Quakers. She was also a poet, turning up in The Spectator in May 1941 with a curiously flat poem ‘Holbein in 1940′:
I took the pilgrims’ way to Hayles this morning,
And what shone out to me, as memory groped
Among the allusions and the lecture-notes,
But Fisher’s face, John Fisher as Holbein drew him?
Magnificence wore many Tudor habits,
Choosing at random to endow a college,
To write sweet sonnets, man adventurous ships …
Never mind, she scoops the only prize. She has had, unsurprisingly, to fend off only six other entrants, who will surely have better ways to waste their weekends –