Competitions nos. 138A and 138B: results

Vita Sackville-West asks for a piece (up to 300 words) on ‘How I Should Run The Southern Railway’: technical but practical, humorous but sensible. And not libellous.

Since the first line was laid, the British people have been inclined to moan about railways, and so VSW shouldn’t be surprised that almost all she got was a display of “disgruntled ill-temper” and very little that was constructive. She complains that it can’t be easy managing suburban traffic (I am actually not sure if she is being facetious, so brain-washed am I by years of anti-railway jokes). One of the runners-up is, amazingly, one Michael Bonavia, born in 1909, and so, at this point, a recent economics graduate from Cambridge, and a junior merchant banker with Rothschild and Sons. But 13 years later, he joined the London and North-East Railway as General Manager, and even later, was director of the Channel Tunnel project that came to grief in 1975. He was still alive, and on the train, when the Channel Tunnel finally opened in 1994. He may have been one of the many who apparently suggested ending the system of first-class carriages (that’s a surprise). He died in 1999, having been the author of a number of books about rail travel:

Bonavia The winners are two new names, Midory, and Sales. Of the latter, Sackville-West remarks that he is ‘jocular rather than practical, although he is really witty. (I hope he will forgive me this private pun, which he alone will be in a position to appreciate.)’ Really? So is my guess that he is Sir Robert Witt, who nearly won the previous week, especially far from the mark?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is quite surprising how many of these have come to pass, although I have yet to see a film. 3 a) should become a law.


The B competition was for a hymn of Love or Hate to … the Albert Memorial. The only reason I can suggest why, is that July 1932 had seen its sixtieth anniversary.

Albert Memorial

The Hymns of Love were said to be serious and sentimental. Attila, W.R.Y, Lester Ralph, Pibwob, Gerald Summers, W.A. Rathkey, and of course, T.E. Casson are commended. The prizes go to W. Hodgson Burnet and E.W.Fordham for Hate and Love respectively.


A little further on in the WR that week is a very curious poem. You may have noticed that, uncharacteristically, Seacape has not been commended in this competition. However, he is present in the WR, in this effort:


At first sight, this might well seem to be some kind of obituary (but I know better than that). Is it a statement of retirement from the fray (Seacape does indeed vanish for a bit, but makes a return). And why is it the poem called S.M.G. – is this some Latin reduced to three letters (as in R.I.P.)? (The answer may be ‘Some Must Go’.) The named competitors (did Seacape write it? I assume so) are all familiar names. It’s true that Gertrude Pitt rarely wins the WR competition, but she was wreaking havoc in other competitions, and was used as an example by a losing Dylan Thomas of the kind of person who would win. The one that interests me is Sylvia Groves. She has won a couple of times, but nothing like as often as the others. She’s a surprising name to choose. I’m torn three ways on this – a) she’s an irrelevance, b) she is in any case a pun on ‘sylvan groves’ and c) she is S.M.G. as in the title, in which case, is she … but no, I am sure Seacape is male. Any thoughts?

Competitions nos. 137A and 137B: results

J.C.Squire, the most ebullient setter, asks for epigrams on the current state of Germany, so we will get a little insight into the middle-class perspective on the country. This competition was judged just before the second election in Germany in 1932. In July, Hitler’s Nazi Party had become the largest, with 37% of the vote, and, although this was to fall back to 33% in the November election, Hitler’s rise to power was now unstoppable – he gained power in January 1933, since both elections proved so indecisive overall. One of the also-rans is Sir Robert (Claremont) Witt, who had co-founded the Courtauld Institute with the WR‘s owner in 1932 (curious in one way, as it was at about this point that Courtauld was getting ready to withdraw his backing). Witt was an eminent art historian, and there is a good article about him here and a contemporary portrait of him here. But the two winners are Little Billee and H.C.M. – Little Billee is allowed three winners, but H.C.M.’s is, I think, the best:

Election 1932

October 1932 and a pro-Hitler poster (‘our last hope’)


The B competition is for Dr. Johnson’s prognostications on the next Australian cricket tour. There are ten entries in the frame (one of them from ‘Herkers’ Henderson, the athlete/ novelist/ poet who came close in 134B). The tour (leaving in late 1932 to play in early 1933) was the infamous ‘bodyline’ series (the term ‘bodyline’ is Australian press slang. The English called it ‘fast leg theory’). Its chief exponent, Harold Larwood, achieved an unnecessary degree of notoriety in this series, which England won 4-1, perhaps because one ball fractured the Australian wicket-keeper’s skull, an unhappy event that the wicket-keeper (Oldfield) blamed on himself. The Australian captain, Woodfull, was also injured when the ball hit his heart. There is some ancient film of Larwood in action here. One of the cricket team was the Leicestershire player Iftikhar Ali Khan, who was the Nawab of Pataudi – one of only three players to play for two different test countries (in fact he later captained India). The Nawab, who scored a century in the first match, was later dropped (and was one of the few opponents of the bodyline bowling).

The competition of course is before all these events take place, and, while the winners, W.G. and E.W.Fordham, manage a pretty good pastiche of Johnson, it isn’t a bundle of laughs, and the reference to ‘the Ethiopian’ won’t pass muster now:


Larwood’s ball strikes Woodfull


Competitions nos. 136A and 136B: results

Edward Shanks reminds readers that Dr. Watson once referred to an unpublished Holmes adventure involving a lighthouse, a politician and a trained cormorant. In 250 words he wants a synopsis of the problem Sherlock handled …

… but not its solution! But half the entrants gave a solution, many involved Bolshevists and Chinese (because of the cormorant) and most assumed the politician was a criminal. T.S. Twane (who has been hovering near the winning enclosure for a bit, but who seems to be a pseudonym) is told that he hasn’t expressed himself too well – and then given the top prize. The second prize goes to R. Hartman, who has also being doing well lately.


The B competition is for a poem ‘on the pleasures of driving in a closed car on a wet day’. Jocularity was discouraged, so there wasn’t any submitted. There is a huge list of commendations, and three prizes allowed, making the column so full that the third prize is held over to the next week (from where I have rescued it). The winners are William Bliss, Rufus, and the bizarrely-designated Correct Contact.


Competition no. 135: results

This week, there’s only one competition, as set by Humbert Wolfe. It’s to produce an alphabet of impending disasters (i.e. 26 couplets, the example given being

C is the cheque. It has not returned yet,
But bankers, like elephants, never forget.)

It’s not a great example, and that makes it a bit rich of Wolfe to claim that entrants (bar two) wrote neither in couplets, nor about impending disasters, and had scant concern for scansion. What he does is to print a long series of extracts from the nearly-made-its, before putting in the main two, whom he scores according to the supposed efficacy of the couplets. Two new winners, Nick and Wood, score 16 and 15 by the Wolfe method, Nick carrying off two and a half guineas, Wood getting one and a half. Tidy sums in each case. Here are the losers (a lot of familiar names).


Competitions nos. 134A and 134B: results

Norman Collins sets these. There is a reversal for once: the first prize in the A competition is a guinea, in the B competition, two guineas. The A competition observes that the London County Council has suggested renaming Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead ‘Worsley Road’. Six London streets are given – so this is a bit parochial – for renaming in a similarly ‘destructive way’, but with ‘local applicability’:

King’s Bench Walk, Park Lane, Kensington Gore, Petty France, La Belle Sauvage, and Cheyne Walk.

(As a matter of fact, the change to Worsley Road went through, but, thanks to a campaign by Michael Foot, it was reverted to Pilgrim’s Lane in 1969. There’s a good little blogpost about it here.)

Foot at home

Michael Foot and his wife Jill Craigie in Worsley Road, I mean Pilgrim’s Lane.

A whole host of also-rans (submitters not named) are listed, among them

King’s Bench Walk: ‘Fee-Snatcher’s Fairway’, ‘Wigan Walk’ (I sort of get this – the wig bit – but am I missing something?), ‘Lost Causeway’, ‘Nisi Lane’

Park Lane: ‘No Parkington Street’ (this one is credited, to Gerald Summers, very possibly the designer you can read about here); ‘Barnato Passage’ (Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato was a highly successful and very rich entrepreneur, and also a racing driver who won Le Mans three times, in 1928, 1929 and 1930, and who drove Bentleys – he lived in Mayfair, so perhaps this is the significance; in the same three years he won Le Mans, he was Surrey cricket club’s wicket-keeper); and the suspiciously anti-semitic ‘New Jewry’.

Kensington Gore: ‘Ruddymead’ (Summers again), Lansbury Sweep (help again: George Lansbury was the leader of the rump opposition Labour Party in 1932, but I’m not clear why he’s associated with Kensington Gore – he lived in Bow Road), Harrods’ Approach,

Petty France: Passport Place.

La Belle Sauvage: Cassell Court (because that’s where the publishers Cassell were based)

Cheyne Walk: ‘Sage Street’ (lots of clever people), ‘Phone-box Parade’

The winners are Quint (Sidgwick’s unprinted loser) and Guy Innes



The B competition wanted 12 lines of poetry in the manner of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) (Charles’ grandfather) to celebrate the discovery of a serum that cured measles. It may be that a cure for measles had been announced in 1932, but the 1950s were when a cure was found. Erasmus Darwin cited measles as evidence of a cruelty in the natural world, and was the first to coin the phrase ‘natural selection’ – not his grandson. He was interested in the nature of illness; he was also a not very distinguished poet. The winners are Yury and Lester Ralph.



Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin

Competitions nos. 133A and 133B: results

An apparently rather snooty Valimus, the veteran competitor, asks for poems on harvest: a nice, safe, Georgian subject. The report is so mock-acerbic that it feels as if it might actually be acerbic … ‘a certain technical failure, a regrettable inattention to finish” knock Marion Peacock, William Bliss and Majolica out of the running. James Hall, H.C.M and Pibwob (‘who should learn not to rhyme on an unstressed syllable’) are also dismissed as below par. Chauve-Souris, Prudence, W.A.Rathkey, Lester Ralph, Damon, Una Monk and Hilary are ‘lingered on’. D.C.R.Francombe’s poem ‘seems’ good, but the last four lines are produced as evidence of incoherence. Money is once again snaffled from the B competition to bulk up the winnings, and the second prize is awarded jointly to a new competitor A.D-J and Little Billee, but, ‘well, it can’t be helped’, the winner is Seacape. Set a Georgian subject and he’s your man. ‘They call it Seacape’s Corner already,’ he adds – a reference to a letter published a couple of weeks earlier (from Guy Hadley: see below)






The B competition asks for a mathematical axiom about boarding houses, based on the piece ‘Boarding House Geometry’ in Stephen Leacock’s ‘Literary Lapses’. You can read the piece here. John Britton and Seacape (again) are commended; the rest (again) are dismissed, namelessly, and the single winner is Mariamne.


We are now well into October 1932, and an advertisement, with one explicit eye on Christmas, is placed. As it says, the original plan was to produce an anthology of the competitions, but this has been expanded into something more representative of the whole magazine. Nevertheless, the competitions take up about half the available space, suggesting that they were a major selling-point.


Competitions no. 132A and 132B: results


Farrago alert! The WR has invited Frank Sidgwick back to test your literary wits again. Perhaps you might try googling the answers this time.

Okay, here’s the ‘literary arithmetic’ puzzle. The result of multiplying (a) the number of our family by (b) Maisie’s braw pall-bearers, diminished by (c) half the number of love-sick maidens is (d) the number of years that she was approaching when her lover was nearly (e) aged a number of years which added to one-third of the difference when (f) the total of those who shall plough no more and (g) the riders into the valley equals the results of multiplying (h) the Affable Kinsmen by (i) the sisters of Sussex. In (d) – you’re not getting off that lightly! – be sure and identify the ‘She’, giving both married and maiden names.

While you’re lying down, let me assure you that the prize will go to the neatest and briefest correct answer.

Personally, I think I can do just one of these, without so much as a search engine. (g) must be the Light Brigade’s 600 (‘not a poem on which I pique myself’ – Tennyson). I would have guessed (h) as 2, and I would be right, but for the same wrong reason as the winner.


A clue to (f)

I’ll take you through these in a minute, but nobody got this all right. One person, hiding behind the name Lilian, reached the correct solution, but only because, like me, she (or he) reckoned the Affable Kinsmen were the Noble ones. There are two of each, fortuitously.

Personally, I think (a) gets us off to a bad start. Whose family? Is it The Swiss Family Robinson? The Bennets? No – more mawkish than that. Sidgwick is a Wordsworth fan, and he is alluding to this. I will spare any readers the whole poem, but here is the computing part of it:

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

So 7 has to be multiplied by the number of Maisie’s braw pall-bearers. What Maisie Knew? No, and braw suggests Scotland. Here is Frederick Anthony Sandys’ much later picture of the right Maisie:

maisieThe poor wee lass is subjected to burial in Chapter XL of Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian (oh yes, of course). She appears in the deathbed song of ‘lunatic’ ‘maniac’ Madge Wildfire, a cigarette card of whom (really) you can see here

“Proud Maisie is in the wood,
Walking so early;
Sweet Robin sits on the bush,
Singing so rarely.

“‘Tell me, thou bonny bird.
When shall I marry me?’
‘When six braw gentlemen
Kirkward shall carry ye.’

“‘Who makes the bridal bed,
Birdie, say truly?’—
‘The grey-headed sexton,
That delves the grave duly.

“The glow-worm o’er grave and stone
Shall light thee steady;
The owl from the steeple sing,
‘Welcome, proud lady.'”


7 times 6 = 42.

(c) will be easy if you like Gilbert and Sullivan (it’s Sullivan I’m not keen on), and, particularly, Patience – an apt choice for this puzzle. The answer is that there are twenty love-sick maidens and you can hear (and see) them here. Half that number is ten (I’m good at this.)

42-10 = 32.

Now we stray into algebra, I think. I confess that I don’t understand the question, quite (and I have the answer!). Let’s plough on.

(d) The number of years she was approaching … ummm … all right, it’s from a humorous poem by C.S. Calverley (‘humorous’) that you can read here – these are the key verses:

She was a blushing, gushing thing;
All—more than all—my fancy painted;
Once—when she helped me to a wing
Of goose—I thought I should have fainted.
The people said that she was blue:
But I was green, and loved her dearly.
She was approaching thirty-two;
And I was then eleven, nearly.


(Calverley was born in 1831 and died in 1884. His complete works – he is a sort of minor Hood – were published in 1901, and are here. You’ll have spotted from his poem that the nearly-32 year-old is Miss Anna Poser, but becomes Mrs. Horace Nibbs. Bear that in mind.)


So a + b – (c ÷ 2) = 32, which = d – 32 (yes!) – when

11 is added to [(f – g) ÷ 3].

Okay I’ve given you a clue to (f). We need, of course, to turn to the poem On The Loss of the Royal George, by William Cowper. That’s here and is based on an event in 1782 described here, but, more importantly, those who will plough (the waves) no more are in the last two lines:

Weigh the vessel up,
Once dreaded by our foes,
      And mingle with your cup
The tears that England owes;
      Her timbers yet are sound,
And she may float again,
      Full charg’d with England’s thunder,
And plough the distant main;
      But Kempenfelt is gone,
His victories are o’er;
      And he and his eight hundred
Must plough the wave no more.
I hope you don’t make that 800. Don’t forget ‘he’. The total is 801, and we already know (g) is 600 from The Charge of the Light Brigade.


So 11 is added to [(f – g) ÷ 3] becomes 11 added to (801 – 600) ÷ 3 = 201 ÷ 3 = 67. So 11 + 67 = 78.

The first sum, then, is 32, when the second is 78: that’s what it looks like, providing (h) by (i) also equals 78.

Now you and I are simpletons. We see Kinsmen, we think ‘obscure maybe-Shakespeare play’, Two of them, don’t we? This is where the winner slipped, too. Sidgwick says he’s ‘gravelled’ (great word) that no-one’s heard of the Two Affable Kinsmen. ‘Does no-one read The Wrong Box any more?’ he asks. No, not in 1932, and not now, either.

It’s here, it’s an 1889 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne – they collaborated three times – and is a black comedy which highly amused, among others, as Sidgwick mentions, Rudyard Kipling (‘I laughed over it dementedly,’ he wrote in a letter, and in his autobiography he was still claiming he could get 75% in a viva on it. Sidgwick also credits the Headmaster of Eton with being a fan. In 1932, that was Cyril Argentine Alington, a much published novelist and writer of memoirs and also hymns). To my amazement, it provides the plot for the 1966 Bryan Forbes film The Wrong Box (Michael Caine et al), which I certainly recall, and the trailer for which you can see here.

 Here is the key passage:


‘Oho!’ said Michael queerly. ‘You say your uncle is dangerously ill, and you won’t compromise? There’s something very fishy about that.”What do you mean?’ cried Morris hoarsely.’I only say it’s fishy,’ returned Michael, ‘that is, pertaining to the finny tribe.’

‘Do you mean to insinuate anything?’ cried Morris stormily, trying the high hand.

‘Insinuate?’ repeated Michael. ‘O, don’t let’s begin to use awkward expressions! Let us drown our differences in a bottle, like two affable kinsmen. The Two Affable Kinsmen, sometimes attributed to Shakespeare,’ he added.

So – let’s wrap this up – the answer is 2 and must be multiplied by the sisters of Sussex, in the hope that we will find the answer 78 again. I hope you’re following. We are looking, are we not, for 39 sisters of Sussex? Those of you at the back who are concentrating will realise we have already had a competition about Sussex poems. It’s Kipling, and the lines are:
Though all the rest were all my share
    With equal soul I’d see
Her nine-and-thirty sisters fair,
Yet none more fair than she.
(We are talking counties, not girls, note.) The original is here.


So 32 is 32, when 78 is 78. That’s it! Here’s Lilian’s neat summary:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo be fair, someone called Quint (an occasional also-ran) has almost won, and his not-correct entry is awarded the half-guinea, although not printed.
For 132B, Sidgwick wants epigrams distinguishing Holyrood from Hollywood; suburbia from Siberia; and the Decalogue from the Decameron. Sidgwick hands out three prizes, to Tarsius, Jean Anderson and W.G.,  but also prints a generous selection of also-rans (some of them better than the winners, I think).



One of the runners-up, Walter Edward Bonhote Henderson (1880-1944), known by the nickname ‘Herkers’, was not only a poet who had published two volumes (you can read his first, in 1908, here) and a novelist (one novel, Behind the Thicket) and short story writer, but also an Olympic athlete – certainly in 1908, when he came eighth in the standing high jump competition, and 1912; in 1920 he won the trials but was not picked. He was a hammer and discus thrower, too, and had set the UK discus record in 1912 (128ft 4½in – not surpassed till 1928). In fact, the striking thing about him was the longevity of his athletic career. He began by representing Oxford against Cambridge in five sports (add the shot put and javelin) between 1900 and 1903, and in 1900, won the high jump. A full 23 years later, he came second in the discus at the AAA championships, and was selected to play for England against France, even though he was over 43. He was one of those rare unfortunates who was reported to have died (in 1943) when he was still alive: the Times obituary said of him that “his classic head and beautifully proportioned body suggested Apollo rather than Hercules”. He worked in the solicitors’ department of the Ministry of Labour.


Competitions nos. 131A and 131B: results

Our latest judge is the son of a marquis (or marquess, I’ve never really sorted that out), which is why he is Lord David Cecil, or, to give him his full list of names, Edward Christian David Gascoyne-Cecil, had just turned 30 (he died on New Year’s Day 1986), and at this stage, the author of a single book, a life of Cowper, but one that had won the James Tait Black award AND the Hawthornden Prize. He wants a four line stanza poem (20 lines max) on ‘London in the Autumn’. Is it me or was I set this kind of thing at school?

The runners up include the trying-very-hard Sylvia Groves and also a Una Monk, who I think is probably the Una Monk who published two books about women and migration, and about the commonwealth, in the 1960s. But the winners are Seacape, and (splitting the half-guinea) Issachar and, yes, T.E. Casson (‘more fancy and finish’).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe B competition is very odd, and not very popular at all. It asks us to imagine D.H.Lawrence (only dead two years) meeting Dr. Johnson in Heaven and giving a description of him. These must be one of the earliest parodies of Lawrence, and, actuallyt, they’re pretty good. The winners are R.C.A. (was his name Victor?) and W.A. Rathkey.


Competitions nos. 130A and 130B: results

Sylvia Lynd – always likely to overrun – takes back the conch. She asks first for meditations on a portrait by a) a sitter and b) a painter. Her report is brisk, and doles out the prizes to two new names, N.H. Peters and someone whose pseudonym can’t be arsed to move beyond ‘A.’ I suspect he or she will even now come at the start of any alphabetical list of winners during the last 83+ years. Here they are:


The B competition – an open letter in verse that has to start ‘Ye innkeepers of England’ – starts with a nice trick, by amalgamating the best parts of the entries of Mariamne (mis-spelt as Marianne), Pibwob and Seacape, who are the runners up. There is reference to the evils of D.O.R.A., and I assume this is a Department of Rural Affairs rather than of Real Ale. (It’s the Defence of the Realm Act, which restricted opening hours: thank you, George Simmers)

Here’s the composite:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the winners are Baldwin S. Harvey and Guy Innes, both of whom have been out of the winners’ enclosure for some time:



Competitions nos. 129A and 129B: results

Next competitor to turn to judging is the suave and unflappable Seacape, of whose identity I have no idea. He asks for fourteen to twenty lines, in blank or rhymed verse, on the subject of ‘an angler fishing with wet or dry fly from a river bank’. H.C.M, P.G.G., William Bliss, Pibwob, Lester Ralph, R. Hartman and Issachar (definitely a she) are fishermen or women who do well, but the palm goes to E.W. Fordham and the second place to D.L.S. (a new name, or set of initials at any rate).


For the B competition, Seacape asks his pals for triolets containing the line ‘Take her jewels away’. Four times as many enter the triolet competition, but many of them heavy-handedly, as if ‘crushing a butterfly with a Nasmyth hammer’, or else forcing the form with too much content (fairly clear advice on how to write a triolet). To Seacape’s credit he gives the prizes. not to the regulars, though he name-checks Mariamne, William Bliss, James Hall, Olric, H.C.M., Lyn Carruthers, Sylvia Groves, Marion Peacock, John A. Bellchambers, and W. Hodgson Burnet. But the prizes go to two newbies, Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood, and Percy Lee.


Pembrokeshire-born H(enry) P(ercy) Garwood had joined the army in 1900, when 16 or 17, as a second lieutenant, had been an adjutant to the Royal Artillery in Hongkong (as it was then commonly spelled) in 1914, and was subsequently commended for gallant conduct in Salonika. He won a D.S.O. After World War I he seems to have retired, but to have enjoyed entering competitions – his name pops up between about 1925 and 1945 as a winner of competitions in The Spectator and The Listener. His address is given as 38 Hurlingham Court, S.W. 6. at first, and later in Wimbledon, where he died in 1956, at the age of 73. He had at least one child.