Competitions nos. 186A and 186B: results

Frank Sidgwick sets a competition which was actually set again earlier this year (2014) in New Statesman. The idea is to take a proverb, and add a rider to it. An American agricultural journal had actually remarked that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness, but as far as cows are concerned, cleanliness should come first’. The recent NS competition gave its entrants free rein, more stimulating that Sidgwick’s stipulating (but okay, not insisting on) three well-known adages by the same writer: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Nearly fifty entrants, but many cheerily missed out that dull insistence ‘by the same writer’. In other words, folks, farming jokes called for. Only fourteen were left at this stage. Several were eliminated for writing bad American. Having kyboshed his own competition, Sidgwick is left only with the option of divvying up the two and a half guineas so that James Hall gets one, and three others (Phiz, M.C.Trench and T.E. Casson) carry off half a guinea.


More than fifty entrants have a bash at the B competition – to make a single heroic couplet out of Walter Savage Landor’s quatrain:


This is a well-known whole poem from the first half of the nineteenth century, but one suspects that Dirce is not so well-known – she was killed by her niece’s sons, by being tied to a bull’s horns. My question is, why turn it into a couplet? Oh well. Several competitors said it couldn’t be done.

Sidgwick, who is nothing if not a rigmaroler, discusses whether is right to use a word from the poem as a rhyme word, and eventually stops fretting giving out just one guinea to a very fortunate Charles G. Box (since it is a poor effort!), although it’s first win, and he’s come close:



Competitions nos. 185A and 185B: results

H.G. Wells is quoted by Ernest Betts as having said that ‘Luncheon parties for literary men may give way to lynching parties before my time is over.” (It was far from a flippant comment. He made the remark on his sixty-sixth birthday, 21 September 1933, in a speech attacking the loutish behaviour of Hitlerism.) But Betts sees some potential for a jape, and asks for a description of a Lynching party with names supplied. the competitors duly went to town with accounts, for instance, of J.H. Thomas (the Colonial Secretary in the National Government, and expelled from the Labour Party for sticking with MacDonald) being hanged with his own tie (he was known as an elegant dresser). Wells, Shaw, Belloc, Chesterton and Sir John Squire are the principal sufferers. In fact two of the best entrants, W. Leslie Nicholls and William Bliss, are so carried away that they over-shoot the word limit. P.S.C. grabs the guineas, and L.V. Upward adds another half-guinea to his mounting stash:


I like the drollery here. I am afraid the Bishop Narkover joke sails over my head; Ethel Mannin, however, was a radical writer and forceful political thinker who had written a very well-received account of the 1920s in 1930 (‘Impressions and Confessions’), and was to become the lover of W.B. Yeats in 1935 before marrying Reginald Reynolds, 176 of whose poems appeared in New Statesman.

The B competition emanates from the proposal that policemen be recruited from universities, and a police college established. Betts asks for a college song (the college was opened by the Prince of Wales at Hendon in May 1934, and closed at the outset of the war. It did not re-open until 1974, and closed again in 2007). He is so pleased that he prints three – by Peter Hadley (here’s his first win), W.E.B. Henderson and (although he gets no reward), W. J. Halliday:


Lord (Hugh) Trenchard, mentioned in all three printed entries,  had been the first head of the Royal Flying Corps, and was later Chief of the Air Staff. In the 1930s, he was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police:



Competitions nos. 184A and 184B: results

Clennell Wilkinson asks for “the best suggestions” (this is a phrase he will regret) for a verse to follow the lines from Treasure Island:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the Devil had done for the rest –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Treasure Island 1934

Still from the 1934 film being filmed at the time of the competition

Even before the results of the competition have appeared, this letter has appeared:


Mr. Owen is only the first pedant out of the starter’s blocks. Pedantry is an adjunct of an entrant to these competitions (guilty as charged), and when it comes to the report, Wilkinson is obliged to add in a host of extracts from ‘private correspondence’. Interesting, by the way, to see Seacape chipping in under his regular name.


After all that heave-ho, he awards the prizes, to new names, M.E.Durham (“despite the feeble rhyme, ‘Come'”) and Justin Clarke Hall:


Justin Clarke Hall was the elder of two sons of Edna Clarke Hall (nee Waugh, 1879-1979 – she reached 100), a notable painter who spent her summers in Cornwall, was a friend of Gwen John, and who frequently used her sons Justin and Denis as subjects (indeed, the Tate has a picture of Justin from the previous year. She had been widowed in 1932. Justin would have been 28 at the time of winning this competition). I can find no direct reference to his death – his brother Denis died in 2005, in his nineties, after a remarkable career as a pioneering architect of schools. Justin and Denis’s father and uncle had been co-founders of the NSPCC.

Justin Clarke HallThis is Justin as a teenager.

There is a consolation prize for Mariamne, for the usual reasons.


After all this, the B competition is a bit of a fizzle. It relays at length the story of an Irish owner of a steeplechaser which came in last, and his enquiry of the jockey ‘Did anything delay you?’ The entrants were to suppose that the jockey was an ironist, a student of modern Irish literature, and capable of up to 200 words in response. Popular though the competition was, Wilkinson can only find a guinea for William Bliss, and this:



Competitions nos. 183A and 183B: results

Guy Innes is the latest competitor to be put in charge. He starts by observing that the rhythm of ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ is identical to that of Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. So, to see how far a poem can be sustained despite the unsuitability of the metre, he asks for a dirge on the death of a soldier in limerick form. A serious limerick is not at all easy to manage.

The best poem submitted (but rejected as it is an epitaph and not a dirge) is by Peter Hadley. Keep an eye on this name. This is his first appearance in print, and he is to go on to become one of the major New Statesman winners. There are a few runners up (George van Raalte, for instance), but one who is ruthlessly excluded is James Agate (‘who has misread the title of the competition and  … cannot claim even the Order of Chastity of the Second Class). This is a timely revenge on a judge who specialises in being rude, although of course Agate has to try to have the last word, as we shall see.

The winner (a runner-up earlier in the year, and certainly a future winner as well) is Hassall Pitman, who must be Thomas James Hassall Pitman (1876-1954), at that time of Thornton Heath, Surrey. Pitman is an interesting figure because he does not quite fit the leisured middle-class mould into which most of the competitors can be placed all too easily – he’s a ledger clerk in his late fifties. Little Billee is a runner-up (a bit mawkish, I’d say).


As mentioned, Agate fires off a letter to Gerald Barry which is both unfunny and facetious as it is apparently long (Barry has had to cut it):


The B competition is a hard one to do well in. You are given five words to provide cryptic crossword clues for: Hitler; Loon; Boomerang; Recapitulation; Levant. It’s a novel idea.

Some near-misses are printed:


The winners are Cassandra and Noel Archer. Note that literary clues are preferred.


Competitions nos. 182A and 182B: results

R. Ellis Roberts makes his second appearance as a judge. He wants a ballade with the title ‘Any Wife To Any Husband’ or ‘Any Husband To Any Wife’, and the refrain ‘And that was his (her) idea of tact’. (Not a great refrain, I’d say.)

Roberts is not impressed with the results – should have been done in the voice of a third person, rhymes too far fetched etc. He mentions Rose Fitzpatrick as having contributed a good last stanza – unusual to see her name. She is in fact always to be found hiding behind the pseudonym ‘Chauve-Souris’. He plumps for Black Gnat before L.V. Upward (now on a serious roll), despite the former’s rather desperate -ay rhymes (there is no easier syllable, so ‘popinjay’ seems especially pointless).


It’s a purely personal thing, but I am underwhelmed by the ballade: goes on too long, stretches repetition to breaking point, is rarely able to sustain humour. Ah well.


The B competition – only eleven entrants, which is a very bad sign, and suggests to me that the circulation has started to fall – is a more interesting proposition. Which six ‘legal restrictions on personal liberty’ should be abolished? Apart from admiring a couple of facetious entries, which are discounted, Roberts is anxious to point out that some of what was assumed to be illegal is not illegal at all. Bathing in the sea naked, he points out, is not illegal – there are simply some local bye-laws and an act against indecent exposure. It is not illegal to get married after three in the afternoon (just expensive). Women are not legally obliged to take their husbands’ names. In fact, and perhaps this is a better argument as to why only eleven have entered, perhaps it’s quite hard to think of six obstacles to personal liberty. Roberts says he hasn’t discriminated by using his own views, but is pleased that a law forbidding the destitute from sleeping out comes in for such a bashing. (Divorce laws are also mentioned.)

The business of not being allowed to sleep rough can be traced back to the 1824 Vagrancy Act in particular, but to a series of eighteenth century laws as well. In fact the 1824 Vagrancy Act is still in force, although it has been amended, as it was just two years after this competition, in 1935, at which point you could not be called a rogue or a vagabond if you had been offered but turned down a place of refuge. It is a little chilling to realise that the word ‘vagabond’ has legal force.

The winners are N.B. and (suddenly appearing almost weekly), Redling. Roberts is not sure about the ‘legitimacy’ of Redling’s points 3 and 5. I’m not quite sure what he means by this. It is interesting that ‘compulsory retirement’ is raised as an issue so long ago, since it is only a few years since it was officially banned.


vagrancy-act 1824

Competitions nos. 181A and 181B: results

A new judge, John C. Moore – the C is for Cecil – arrives. He was just 26 at the time (he lived from 1907 to 1967, during which time he wrote over forty books about English landscape and countryside and conservation). He asks entrants to imagine that The Taming of the Shrew ends with Kate winning the battle, and sending for a chastened Petruchio, Hortensio and Lucentio, to give a speech about what Husbands Owe Their Wives. (There had been been a Fairbanks/Pickford film version of the play a few years earlier in 1929, which you can watch the end of here. I’ve always preferred it to the Burton/Taylor effort and other ones – including a curious Charlton Heston TV one in about 1950. At the end of the speech declaring obedience, she turns to the audience and winks.)


One of the runners up is Lilian Oldfield-Davies, a teacher from Hayes (nee Lewis) who had recently married Alun Oldfield-Davies, who was destined to become the controller of BBC Wales, and one of the principal influences on the Welsh cultural revival.

Moore claims to have judged this on holiday at the sea-side. He picks L.V. Upward (on a streak) and W.E.B. Henderson. They’re both good entries, even if I doubt Shakespeare would have coined the phrase ‘tun-bellied tosspots’. But it’s a good one, and I may take to using it.


The B competition asks you to imagine a naturalist dreaming that he has a cabinet not of butterflies, but of public figures, and asks for Latin names. So we may not all get all the jokes in this. There is a huge set of runners-up (in which Little Billee appears as himself and as W.R. Hughes; and Lester Ralph – written as B. Lester Ralph – is the other main proxime accessit).

The entrants were given six specific specimens: MacDonald, Snowden, Shaw, Hitler, Lady Astor and Charlie Chaplin. I wondered to what extent they were the same age, and in what order they were born. They’re in this order:




NPG x122244; Philip Snowden, Viscount Snowden by Bassano











In fact, Chaplin and Hitler were born in the same April week in 1889.

Now for the imaginary botany, won by Redling and H.C.M. (though Moore doesn’t like the latter’s Chaplin):


It’s clear that Snowden and MacDonald are seen as a waffler and an argumentative so-and-so.

Competitions nos. 180A and 180B: results

For the first time a competitor is given a second shot at being a judge – the honour falls, of course, to Seacape. He firstly asks for a ‘main clause or clauses’ of a Better England Act, 1933. As with the previous week, there seems less space given over to the report, although this may be because not many quite get the idea of parodying the language of parliamentary law (not many lawgivers, as Seacape remarks). Both of the winners here seem to me very skilled, although the newbie who picks up the second prize, Redling, is really parodying the language of legal documents relating to land. The downbeat nature of this competition is a combination of Seacape (a laconic) and the dry irony of the winners: H.C.M. and Redling, as noted. Seacape remarks that the word ‘etc.’ never been seen in a parliamentary act.



The B competition asks for a requiem, for anything, in eight lines. Everyone channels their inner Georgian, and the winners are Rosellen Bett and Marion Peacock: