A brand new judge, and the most eminent so far – not only that, but a judge who would over the next few years, with the absorption of the WR by New Statesman, judge many more: V.S.Pritchett (Victor Sawdon Pritchett, 1900 – 1997), one of the greatest short story writers in English, and the author of two memoirs as well as five novels (not successful) and countless collections of literary and other essays. (His first collection of short stories had appeared the previous year; he was already a New Statesman contributor, and was to become its literary editor.) At this point he was 33, and his first marriage was nearing its end. His second marriage began a dynasty that gives us the writer Oliver Pritchett and the cartoonist ‘Matt’. Not the least remarkable thing about this competition is the man who just misses out in the B competition …
The A competition asks for a love letter from a shy delegate at the Economic conference to a widow with three children (why this detail?!), using the language of economics. In his report, Pritchett notes that it was easy enough to come up with double-meanings, including ingenious ones, but harder to give a necessary sense of sentiment. He prints an entire entry by someone labouring under the pseudonym ‘Tentacle’, to illustrate that it is possible to be witty and amusing, but fail to win the competition. Here it is:
Incidentally, the Economic conference, attended by representatives from 66 countries, lasted for most of June and almost all of July, and was eventually scuppered by Roosevelt, much to the chagrin of European leaders. One of the observers was H.G.Wells, who wrote about it in The Shape of Things To Come – see his description here. It was held in London at the Geological Museum, and its failure reflected badly on Macdonald, seen here at the opening with a German delegate:
The B competition is just as quirky – it asks for an apology in eight lines of verse by a surgeon who has left an implement inside a patient’s body, the patient being a purveyor of quack remedies. This strikes me as another competition in which the information is just too complex. Pritchett is sharp enough to spot that he should have allowed his entrants more lines (he also notes that opinions of surgeons and quack remedy-sellers are very low). He considers four winners and gives the first prize to E.W. Fordham and the second to W.E.B. Henderson (Henderson has been printed but not rewarded before – see Competition no. 134B here). Just off the money are L.V. Upward – and J.F.Wolfenden. This is none other than a thirty-year-old John Frederick Wolfenden, the educationist who was about to move from Oxford to become headmaster of Uppingham School, who was later to be Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, and who is best known for chairing the 1954 committee and subsequently producing the 1957 report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality – the report effectively that led to the 1967 Act that did just that.
Still, he didn’t win half-a-guinea.