A new young judge, John Collier, sets a competition which must hold some kind of record: the terms of the competition are longer than the sole winning entry, which is in any case disparaged. All the usual prize money – four guineas – is offered for the best attempt at coming up with six questions which might persuade a new dictator, conducting a viva with each of the country’s inhabitants, to keep the answerer on as one of the proposed 1,000,000 survivors of a cull (the rest are to be hanged, so this is jolly). I’d like to have been there when Collier proposed this one.
The report is necessarily lengthy. It is also quite grave. First Collier congratulates himself on how hard the competition is, then bemoans the difficulty of judging it. He is hoping, however, for some Machiavellian wit, something he doesn’t get. Several entrants come up with ‘Which six questions would you ask?’ Others try ‘gems’ such as ‘Are you Winston Churchill or Lord Beaverbrook?’ and even ‘Are you a virgin?’ He was, he admits (this is a ‘guess what’s in my head’ comp) hoping for questions that would suggest a Malthusian, internationalist outlook – and someone who likes the same art and literature. Weird.
The winner is W.G., who is not really commended – he gets four-and–a-half out of six. On the other hand, were four guineas (the largest prize yet offered) ever won by something so easy and tedious?