Competitions nos. 116A and 116B

Lance Sieveking is the first to judge a competition in the wake of the dinner, where he claims to have met ‘hardened old competitors and cynical judges’, the latter having been accused of crimes by the former. In a spirit of spoofery, he commends the ‘seven hundred and sixty’ entrants to competition A as all ‘brilliant’. What he has asked them to do is to create a title for any six of the following people he assumes will be raised to the peerage. They are: Mr. Justice McCardie; Mr. A.P. Herbert; Mr. Gillie Potter; Mr. C.B.Cochran; ‘Beachcomber’; Mr. James Douglas; Mr. Gordon Selfridge; Mr. Austin Reed; ‘Low’; ‘The Controller of the London Telephone Service.

Mr. Justice McCardie, an outspoken high court judge, has already been spoofed in 106B (where you can see a picture of him) here – and was within nine months of suicide, a victim of illness and blackmail. A.P. Herbert, at this stage a well-known humorist, was to become the Independent MP for Oxford University, and was already a favourite of the WR. Like McCardie, he was knighted, but never ennobled. Gillie Potter (real name, Hugh Wiliam Peel) was a music-hall comedian, whose act went out of fashion, and who subsequently became a severe critic of lapses in moral standards at the BBC. Charles B. (‘C.B.’ Cochran) was a theatrical manager who made the careers of Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Jessie Matthews, among many others (and he too was knighted); he also brought a Russian theatre group to London called Chauve-Souris (so the origin of that pseudonym is solved). ‘Beachcomber’ is the famous humorist, J.B. Morton, who has already been a WR judge – the Express writer who wrote a daily column for over half a century. James Douglas had been, until 1931, the editor of the Daily Express, and the scourge of novels that he thought should be banned, including Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and James Hanley’s Boy (I’ll throw in the egregious fact that I was lucky enough to meet Hanley when I was about 30, and he was a gentle and kindly man). It’s odd, too, that the Express could have such a vicious editor and such an amenable columnist. (Harry) Gordon Selfridge was an American-born store manager (responsible for the phrase, allegedly) that there are ‘only [x] shopping days to Christmas’, and also, even more allegedly, ‘The customer is always right’. He visted London in 1906, and in 1909 founded Selfridge’s, which he ran until forced out in 1941, by which time his colossal fortune had gone – partly the cause of the Depression, but also, as with McCardie, due to an addiction to gambling.

Austin (Leonard) Reed, was the Reading-born founder of the shop of the same name (still trading) in 1900, which offered high-class but ready-to-wear tailoring (he was only 27 when he founded the business). (David) Low was the greatest cartoonist of the first half of the twentieth century. New Zealand-born, he moved to London in 1919, working successively for the London Star, The Evening Standard (his longest stint, and given carte blanche by, of all people, Max Aitken aka Lord Beaverbrook) and finally, The Daily Herald, although he is also known for his New Statesman cartoons. He invented the character of Colonel Blimp, and specialised in lampooning the three great dictators – Mussolini, Franco and Hitler (hitting the mark in the last case). He was knighted a year before his death in 1963. I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the Controller, but it’s the office that is being offered for satire, not the person, I assume. Unless the last in the list was ennobled, none of the characters on offer made it to the House of Lords.

You can see a picture of Beachcomber here. Here is Austin Reed:

Austin Reed

And here is Gordon Selfridge:


Here’s Gillie Potter (cigarette card from 1934):

Gillie Potter

And here’s David Low:


Click here for a good short biography of him.

Here’s C.B.Cochran:

CB Cochran

You can see James Douglas here. And below is A.P. Herbert.

 AP Herbert

The Controller of course defeats me here.

Of course, you know, after that gallery, that all you are going to get are some puns. H.C.M. just beats off the opposition.


Close behind come (the prize being split, which scarcely seems fair for a half-guinea) Dermot Spence and new winner Launceston, who has, as Sieveking remarks, at least gone to the trouble of using real places.


We aren’t told which is the libellous one, but I wonder if it was Douglas.

The B competition is for a sixteen line poem on ‘What I Would Do If I Ruled The World’. There doesn’t seem to be any contemporary political reason for this being set, but it does allow Sieveking another pop at the competitors he has so recently met, and he offers a comic exaggeration of the number of entrants, and stresses again how successful they all are. He gives the first prize to Seacape (‘I gathered at the Dinner that he is quite used to this’). Second prize goes to Eremita. Olric (the third below) is printed without winning a prize. Sieveking also makes fun of William Bliss for having been so frightening that he was almost cowed into giving him a prize. T.E. Casson gets an honourable mention for the first time in a long time.





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