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