Competitions nos. 150A and 150B: results

When I saw that James Agate was the setter, my heart sank a little. His previous stints have consisted of much moaning. He has asked for an essay (300 words max) on which of the following inventions have done the most harm, and why: printing, steam power, the internal combustion engine, electricity, wireless. Not much fun.

His feedback is brief and as curmudgeonly as I’d feared it might be: ‘The entries for this competition were of a dullness which could not have been surpassed if dullness was the quality asked for. There was a complete absence of wit.’ All the competitors have shied away from the amusing, bar one, he says, citing Wilde and Belloc as models they might have adopted. The one man standing is Lester Ralph. Grudgingly, he gives a second prize to Brutus (‘who has tried to be amusing’). There is even space for an unpaid Commended – Black Gnat aka Seacape again (‘his essay might be part of a sermon’).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANever mind, eh? There’s still the B competition to come. The prizes are for the best impromptu witticism yet to be printed. The example is this:

A plain, pot-bellied, undersized Jew, returning from a holiday in Margate, was asked how he liked it. He replied: ‘I hated it – everyone looked like me!’

Well …

I am going to break a habit, and print Agate’s comments in full.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope he wasn’t paid!

Competition no. 149: results

J.C.Squire – I have a weakness for his competitions, and especially for this one (there is just one) – refers us to a Victorian cod-ballad, ‘Miss Ellen Gee’, which was published in 1828. (It is not accredited to any particular writer, but Thomas Hood is on the editorial board of The New Monthly, the periodical in which it first appeared, and I can’t believe it’s not him.) Here it is:

Ellen Gee 2 (2)Ellen Gee 2 (1)

(There is an article on ’emblematic verse’ like this here. You might also like this anonymous poem printed in The Massachussets Teacher in 1861:)

1861Three guineas and one guinea are on offer for emulating that trick ‘as copiously and effectively as possible’ (he’s asking for it!).

Adjudication is hard. He has to cut out T.E. Casson and William Bliss for using Greek symbols and punctuation marks ‘which weren’t asked for’ – yes but they weren’t prohibited! Not for the first time, I feel sorry for have-a-go Casson. ‘Lester Ralph’s ingenuity almost gave me a headache. M.M. Bush’s ingenuity almost fractured my skull.’ An entrant called Dorothy Eccles writes entirely in letters (a kindred spirit!). Her pluck is admired; so is Marion Peacock, so is Black Gnat’s and so is E.W. Fordham’s. One of the commended is Evelyn Bowers. I strongly suspect that this is Dorothy Bowers’ (see 148A) sister. The Bowers sisters were interestingly fond of the writing of Naomi Royde-Smith.

More and more get mentioned, with W. Hodgson Burnet named as the closest not to win. As Squire points out, those who aimed for the greatest coup were the ones most likely to fail. The winners are L.V.Upward and a new name, Nilap, which is Palin backwards and one does wonder ‘is it a relative?’ (Michael not Sarah). Upward acknowledges a poem (I take it) called ‘A Patient’, but I don’t know it. Can anyone help?



Competitions nos. 148A and 148B: results

Elizabeth Bibesco quotes a play called Passé by Porto-Riche from memory. (Georges Porto-Riche was a French playwright born in 1849, but who had died only three years before this, in 1930.)portoricheIn the play, the heroine says, if EB remembers correctly, ‘Dire que l’année prochaine je regretterai ce visage là’ (Sad to think that next year I will regret that face). She wants (yes, again) a sonnet on this theme, in English.

In her report Bibesco notes that this competition has not attracted the usual number, and she singles out, very curiously, the following four as being missing: Pibwob, Non Omnia, Issachar – and Gordon Daviot. The first three are regulars, but Gordon Daviot – the pen-name of Josephine Tey, the novelist – has not been mentioned since 1930 and then only on one occasion in the tenth competition. Does this mean she has been entering, under a pseudonym for her pseudonym, for all the intervening competitions? It’s a curious remark.

By a really curious coincidence, on the same day that I wrote this blog entry, an article on one of the runners-up, Dorothy Bowers, was published in The Independent. It’s here. Bowers was the author of well-received crime fiction, but her reputation is a casualty of early death. This is her most famous:

Bowers novel

But she isn’t a winner, and Bibesco prefers the serious to the many facetious face-lifting sonnets. The winner is W. Leslie Nicholls (his first win, and the first appearance of a competitor who was to do exceptionally well), and the runner up is William Bliss. Commended – and also printed, unusually, but described as ‘smoothly derivative’ is Black Gnat. As I’ve said, I’m still pretty sure this is Seacape.


For once, the B competition is a hit (and would play well today). An English cricket captain, asked who his successor should be, has remarked that ‘I cannot comment; that would not be cricket.’ Brilliant. Bibesco asks for similarly dunder-headed observations on a prime minister, president-elect, bishop (or archbishop), restaurateur, actor, or novelist . She commends a lot of individuals, including T.D.Tremlett (the heraldic expert who has come close before) on a president-elect (‘a charming man in private life’) and Mariamne on a prime minister (‘We owe him a debt that we can never repay’). The winners are Hutch and B. Gibbs, who I assume is the B.R. Gibbs who won the previous week.


Competitions nos. 147A and 147B: results

Clennell Wilkinson suggests an ode to the Christmas Stilton, begging it not to grow over-ripe too soon, and in the manner of Herrick’s ‘Fair Daffodils’:

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
         You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
         Has not attain’d his noon.
                        Stay, stay,
                Until the hasting day
                        Has run
                But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.


We have short time to stay, as you,
         We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
         As you, or anything.
                        We die
                As your hours do, and dry
                Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

Wilkinson is surprised to find that there are many WR readers who don’t actually like Stilton, but thinks the standard of entry – a compliment for the competitors at last! – is very high. He gives out three prizes to Lester Ralph, to B.R. Gibbs, and to William Bliss, because, wouldn’t you know it, the B competition is in trouble again. But Wilkinson is right: these are good (Herrick is a hard poet to parody).



The B competition was for an epigram on the following three rulers: Charles II, Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. (There seems no reason why this should be set.) A George Robey effort is offered as an example:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMusic hall star Robey (1869-1854) was still very much alive, by the way

RobeyBut he wouldn’t have thought a lot of the sole winning entry, which comes from Eremita, and which runs as follows:


Competitions nos. 146A and 146B: results

Norman Collins asks for a sonnet (we’re getting a lot of these lately), not by a man on the loss of his lady’s locks, but by a woman commemorating  her guardsman’s moustache (as it were). A high number of women entered this competition, allegedly, although they didn’t win it. Moustaches had started to fall out of fashion during the first world war, and, although they had not vanished (n.b. Hitler, Dali), they were no longer regarded as requirements (as they had been) in the army. It was thought more healthy for a young man to be clean-shaven. The winners are E.W. Fordham and Black Gnat (whom I persist in thinking is Seacape in disguise).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACollins jovially calls the middle of Black Gnat’s effort ‘disgusting’.

The B competition requires me to give you a lot of information for comparatively little return, I’m afraid. A New Year’s message was asked for (20 words) by any FOUR of the following: Dean Inge, Clara Bow, Mr. Montagu Norman, Lady Oxford, Mrs. Mollison, Sir J.M.Barrie, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Lord Castlerosse.

Dean Inge – the ‘gloomy dean of St. Paul’s, but also a columnist in the Evening Standard, has featured in this blog before. Here’s a picture of him writing:


Clara Bow – ‘the IT girl’ – had been the biggest success of silent films. Born in 1905, she died in 1965. She had in fact made her last film, retired in 1931 (although the film was just about to be released at the time of this competition):

Clara Bow

Montagu Norman (1871-1950) was chairman of the Bank of England throughout the twenties and thirties, indeed, from 1920 to 1044. He was an unapproachable man (he was also to be the stepfather of Peregrine Worsthorne). Recent research has suggested that he was pro-Nazi – see this article in the Telegraph.montagu normanLady Oxford was Margot Asquith (Asquith had died in the late 1920s, and she was in financial trouble thereafter). She was known for making pronouncements on society and fashion. She was also the mother of WR judge Elizabeth Bibesco (just about to set another competition), oddly enough.

Margot AsquithLady Oxford

‘Mrs. Mollison’ (1903-1941) is not a name that resonates any more, but here she is in a cigarette card:

Mollinsonand that might make you guess that she is in fact Hull-born aviatrix Amy Johnson (she reverted to the name ‘Amy Johnson’ after her divorce later in the 1930s). In 1933, she attempted a flight to Australia, with her husband, but only made a very creditable India. (In 1932, she had broken her husband’s record on a solo flight to South Africa.) She was killed when her plane crashed in still mysterious circumstances into the Thames Estuary in 1941. (Her body was never recovered.) She was a very popular celebrity in 1933.amyjohnsonSir J.M. Barrie (1860 – 1937) is of course the author of Peter Pan. He was to leave all but the PP legacy to his secretary, Cynthia Asquith, the daughter-in-law of Lady Oxford above.

Barrie(James) Ramsay MacDonald was of course the Prime Minister, but in 1933 he began to become physically and mentally unwell. His resignation in 1935 was followed by his death in 1937, by which time he was regarded as a traitor to the Labour Party whose first Prime Minister he had been.

Ramsay McDonald, Prime Minister. (1866-1937)And finally, Lord Castlerosse, Valentine Brown (1891-1942), the first aristo to write a gossip column – which he did for Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express (‘Londoner’s Log’) for two decades. He was eighteen stone, but thought to be compulsive reading in certain echelons of society:


You may have by now forgotten that the task was to come up with a witty New Year’s message of no more than twenty words from four of them.

Ramsay MacDonald proves the popular choice, with three losing entries being printed, and which suggest that he was an orator of the kind Peter Sellers later parodied (‘Grasp with both hands the future that is to come’): ‘Democracy is at the crossroads. All good democrats must guide the unwary travellers into the right path’ (Mac); ‘The National Government stands for National Prosperity. Let us look forwards not backwards.’ (A.H. Ellerington); ‘National Prosperity, just ahead, depends as never before upon the solidarity of a nation obdurately confident in its chosen leaders’ (Lester Ralph). An anonymous entry on Montagu Norman is given: ‘I am not Mr. Montagu Norman. I have nothing to say.’ On Clara Bow: ‘Well folks, there may be dangerous curves ahead, but thin times can’t last forever’.

The winner has sent in neither name nor address so I can only call him Not Known. He offers:


The other winner is a new and hyphenated name (was he titled?), Harley-Morlam


Hmmm. I’m not impressed!

Competitions nos. 145A and 145B: results

The WR starts 1933 with a makeover, a new type-face, which it asks readers to try to get used to before commenting. The front looks like this:


and here are the contents:


I’ll jump ahead a few weeks, when comment was invited. Two competitors vied on the letter page, one pro, one anti – George van Raalte and W. Hodgson Burnet (of the latter, notice his extraordinary address!)


Gerald Bullett sets what he fondly imagines will require ‘devilish ingenuity’ – a ‘not unseasonal sonnet’ in which the first letter of the first line is W, the second of the second is E. the third of the third is E, the fourth etc is K, the fifth is a hyphen and so on until ‘WEEK-END REVIEW’ is spelled out diagonally. In fact this proves pretty easy, and it looks a bit odd because the emboldened words don’t go very far across the verse. The winner is Cottontail, who is lucky, because Bullett prefers – yes he does – T.E. Casson, until he spots that Casson (and a newbie, Brer Rabbit, who gets a consolation prize, as Competition B has run into problems again) have each made a technical mistake. Can you spot it? I’ll explain at the end.


As a matter of record, the B competition was to offer some words from Dr. Pangloss on the international situation (Hitler was on the verge of taking over in Germany). There were very few entries, and nothing worth printing (the shortest competition report to date!)

Okay, have you spotted where Casson and Brer Rabbit went wrong? It’s to do with the hyphen. By using (as instructed) a hyphen in line 5, they have set up a rule whereby a hyphen has to be a character. So ‘deep-delved’ and ‘two-thirds’ become technical faults.


Honours Board 1932

I predicted this would be a close run thing between Seacape and William Hodgson Burnet, and my instinct was right. However, although Seacape is for the third year the winner, the margin of his victory is not so colossal.

Here are some statistics (1931’s in brackets and italics). In 1932, there were 114 [108] winners, who won 201 prizes [175] to the value of £210.15s3d [£181.3s.3d]. 36 [26] entrants won more than once.

Of the entrants, 15 appeared behind initials and 45 behind pseudonyms – so, just over half, as with the previous year.

The additional prize fund has to so with the fact that there was an extra competition (Jan 1 and Dec 31 both included), and because there were a few additional A prizes. This brings me to the winners, all of whom have won more than two competitions (unlike 1931). Previous years’ achievements are shown in brackets.

1. Seacape                                   10 victories             £12.0s.0d   (1,1)

2. W. Hodgson Burnet         8 victories              £9.9s.0d     (3, -)

3=  James Hall                          8 victories              £7.10s.6d   (-, -)

3=  W.G.                                         4 victories              £7.10s.6d    (-,-)

5.  Wiliam Bliss                        5 victories              £5.15s.6d    (-,-)

6. E.W.Fordham                     6 victories             £5.10s.6d     (-,-)

7. Valimus                                  3 victories             £5.5s.0d       (5,-)

8. Non Omnia                           3 victories              £4.14s.6d     (-,-)

9. Little Billee                           3 victories             £4.7s.3d       (2,-)

10= W.A.Rathkey                   3 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)

10= Lester Ralph                    3 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)

10= Eremita                              4 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)


A few notes ….

William Bliss also won a further guinea as ‘W.B.’; Seacape won a further two guineas as ‘Black Gnat’ – on Dec 31, and perhaps an attempt to start a new year under a new name, but one which misfired.

W.G. – who may be W.Gladden – only really does so well because he is handed a four-guinea prize by Humbert Wolfe (who implies he wasn’t worth it!)

It is probable that some people are entering under more than one name and/or pseudonym. This becomes a pattern once the competitions are established in New Statesman.

Of the five signatories of the letter in the first edition of The Week-end Review, who declare themselves Saturday Review entrants ready for more, four are in this honours board (the fifth has never featured, at least not under his own name, in any competition) – Seacape, Valimus, Non Omnia and Lester Ralph.

No sign at all of two of the top ten from 1931 – Belinda and Heber. Just behind those named above are Pibwob (7= in 1931, and 2nd in 1930), Issachar, Guy Innes, Prudence, L.V.Upward, Olric and George van Raalte (the last three also featuring on the honours board the previous year).

Competitions nos. 144A and 144B: results

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1932, when this competition’s results are announced. The entrants and setters don’t know it, but there is now only one further complete year to go before the baton is passed to New Statesman. The setter is Dyneley Hussey and he notes that 1933 will be the centenary of Brahms’ birth. So an acrostic sonnet in honour of Johannes Brahms is asked for. It’s a small postbag (the season? The entrants would have had to have entered over Christmas). Just a dozen entries for this.

BrahmsAmong the also-rans (in both the A and the B competition, so the festive season doesn’t deter him) is the continuously luckless king of the Highly Commendeds, T.E. Casson. Hussey, however, does a spot of damning with faint praise before awarding first prize to a new (well, not-seen-before pseudonym) name: Black Gnat; the runner up is a close run thing between James Hall and William Bliss, which the former wins. (Bliss has also entered both competitions).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhoever Black Gnat is, he also has a shot at the B competition under the name Verb Sap (Hussey spots it’s the same typewriter and paper, and winning both competitions was off-limits). In fact Hussey suspects that Black Gnat/ Verb Sap is also one who ‘left his clothes on a beach, hoping to persuade us he was drowned’. So I take it that Black Gnat and Verb Sap are actually Seacape.  The B competition is to write in verse the fable of the man who gave the shears of Atropos, Atropos being the mythological woman, one of the Fates, who cuts the thread of life with shears, to the goddess of mischief and delusion (I think that’s right), Até, and what became of him. (I don’t know if this is an extant fable.) William Bliss and Lester Ralph win. (These aren’t very distinguished entries.)

Atropos is on the right:

FatesAnd this is Até:



Competitions nos. 143A and 143B: results

Frank Sidgwick notes that 1933 (just coming up) will allegedly be the 350th anniversary of Luther, Rabelais and Raphael and wants a discussion at Broadcasting House as to which, if any, should be celebrated, and how. The competitors take a bit of a pasting for lacking wit, and the second prize is suspended. There is only one winner – unfunny in my opinion – and that is Lester Ralph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASidgwick’s B competition fares little better. He wants a future OED entry for ‘unladderable’. But the entrants slip up with the shorthand of the OED, and Sidgwick bats them all aside, cancels the first prize and offers only a second to Cottontail:


Competition no. 142: result

Once again, under the aegis of Martin Armstrong on this occasion, we have a solitary competition – perhaps because the B competitions are starting to go down like ninepins, perhaps because the form requested – a ballade – is a long one. It asks for a ballade – three eight-line verses and one four-line envoi – ‘on the present difficult times’, having as its refrain the ‘Distinguished Invalids’ phrase ‘Lord Limpet passed a comfortable day’. This needs a bit of unpacking, and anyone who thinks I’ve missed something, drop me a comment.

There really were notices in prominent places in Victorian and Edwardian newspapers about the great and the good who were unwell. Here’s one about the Conservative PM from 1902 to 1905, Arthur Balfour.

DI Balfour

Lord Limpet – I can find published references to him as far back as 1839, so there must be many earlier – seems to be an all-purpose comic aristo, of plenty of income, and – in some instances – a habit of staying with acquaintances far too long (there are several Punch jokes that use him). I wonder if there is a political reference here to the way the National Government is hanging on (Lord Limpet is often characterised as a ‘Liberal-Conservative’). Or it may be an attack on the impotence of the House of Lords. Much later, in the 1950s, the phrase was wheeled out to attack Attlee, after his refusal to step down as Labour leader after losing (in a very Al Gore kind of way, incidentally, as he won the majority of the national vote) the 1951 election.

Here’s one of many descriptions of what you need to do to write a ballade. It was a popular form with comic poets like Belloc, Chesterton, Gilbert and so on. (Wendy Cope, a notable NS competitor, included one in her Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis.)

Armstrong enjoys himself by suggesting he has set such a fiendish task, he’ll be able to have a holiday. But after discarding those that aren’t ballades, and don’t apply themselves to the theme, he admits that there are still 38 in the running for the guineas. One of them, who is a runner-up, was H.S. Mackintosh, who actually produced a collection of Ballades:


Here is one of his:

Ballade to a Dentist
by H S Mackintosh.
Not for the instruments of this, your trade –
The pick, the whining drill, the probe and screw,
Not for the needless havoc you made –
The broken tooth patched up with dental glue;
Not for the perfect hell you put us through,
But for the fulsome sympathy you shammed,
The line of piffling prattle you pursue,
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.

Not for the work half-done, the tissues flayed,
Nor for the spotless molars that you drew
To find out if the roots were bunched or splayed,
Nor that you left us impotent to chew
Our daily bread; but this shall be your due
Because you quoted Kipling while you rammed
Right to the nerve some poison that you brew;
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.


Not for the lies wherewith you have betrayed
Our mouths to torment, and although you knew
Your “This won’t hurt” made Ananias’ shade
Turn green, yet not for that Hell gapes for you;
But since on one who had good cause to rue
Your handiwork last week, your door was slammed
Because you had a long week-end in view,
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.


Prince, to relieve my pain, the most you’ll do
Is this : “Next Thursday, though your day is crammed,
You’ll try to fit me in at half-past two” –
For this shall your immortal soul be damned.

But the winners are Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood, and Obispo. In addition, Armstrong prints a ‘commended’ (i.e. no money) which he says is the best poem … but not a ballade. It’s by Arthur Oliver.