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: