April 23 1932 – a week after this competition was set, and a week before the winners were announced – saw the opening of a new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford (the one replaced in 2010 – the Memorial Theatre itself was built on the site of the 1879 Memorial Theatre that was burned down in 1926). A couple of years ago, documents emerged suggesting that this was where Parliament was set to go in World War Two, if bombing made it necessary:
Dyneley Hussey asks for a sonnet on the occasion. This solicits a large postbag, some of it simply sonnets in favourof Shakespeare, but a good deal of it attacking the architecture (W. Hodgson Burnet wittily calls it ‘a factory for curing Bacon’). Hussey refers to a lot of bad verse being written about bad architecture, and opts instead for two very romantic, and pretty mediocre sonnets, the winner by Valimus and the runner-up a new name, Eremita. You would have thought that there was scope for a little satire, but perhaps that these two win tells us something about the traditional sensibilities of not only the judges but the readers.
The B competition (remember, Hussey is the music critic) floored me somewhat. ‘Had modern journalism existed in 1791, Herr Schickaneder, the Reinhardt-Cochran of his time, would surely have givem interviews in anticipation of his production of ‘Die Zauberflote’.
Cochran is Charles B. Cochran, the promoter, who had worked with Max Reinhardt, the composer, to produce spectacular (and well-advertised concerts). Die Zauberflote is better known as The Magic Flute, and you can watch the opera here. But of course, what’s being asked for is a parody of modern journalism. The winner is W.A. Rathkey, but the runner-up is a new name, Desmond Shawe-Taylor (1907-1995), who was, in 1945, to be the New Statesman‘s music critic for thirteen years, before moving to The Sunday Times. One wonders if he was known to Hussey – but probably not. At the time, he was in his twenties (having said which he later became close friends with the son of one the WR judges – Eddy Sackville-West).
In the meanwhile, Barry has been receiving replies relating to Guy Hadley’s suggestion of a competitors’ dinner. T. Usborne (in the sixties to be the driving force in the Ministry of Transport committee that regularised road signs) writes in on April 23, offering to wait on the bigger names; Barry appends an editor’s note that he is just waiting for a few more veterans, and has had a large response. On April 30, Non Omnia chips in:
A week later, dates are being canvassed:
And a week later, the date is fixed, with the typical English contradiction: it’s an evening meal for which morning dress is required.
Gatti’s was an Italian restaurant founded by a Swiss-Italian family. This particular restaurant closed in 1939, but you can still find a Gatti’s in London today.