The task of setting and judging the very last double-competition (no more Bs, and the prize fund down to two and a half guineas after this) is the novelist John Brophy, at that point a rising star as a novelist and as a reviewer (his daughter was Brigid Brophy, whom writers have to thank for Public Lending Right). This is also of course the very last competition to have been set in The Week-end Review.
For the A competition he uses the news that Godfrey Elton (1892-1973) had been ennobled by the MacDonald government. Elton was a prolific writer, and had served throughout World One, becoming a POW of the Turks after capture in 1916 in Mesopotamia. After the war, he taught at Oxford, where one of his students was MacDonald’s son. Although his background was public school – Rugby (where he must have been a near-contemporary of Rupert Brooke) and Oxford – he joined the Labour Party, and contested two elections as a Labour candidate (1924 and 1929), both unsuccessfully. He had stuck with MacDonald, and was expelled from the Labour Party in 1931 as a consequence.
Brophy suggests that his elevation to the peerage may give younger writers ideas, and asks entrants to imagine their reply to an approach from the PM’s office with the suggestion that they too join Elton. The entries have to be in the style of “younger novelists” (making this the first contemporary parody competition in New Statesman, although the scope is pretty broad …).
However, the competition doesn’t go well, and – perhaps because there is not nearly so much space – no winning entries are printed (very frustrating), and the money redistributed between A and B. Beverley Nichols and Compton Mackenzie (too old) and Beachcomber are all parodied to modest effect, we’re told, and the half-guineas (three) given out are for parodies of Rose Macaulay, Nichols and A.P. Herbert by (respectively) Noel Archer, Comins and A.H. Ellerington. Among the also-rans are T.E. Casson and James Hall, so we can already see the continuity. The names of the first two winners are put into inverted commas, signalling that “Noel Archer” is a pseudonym.
On its last run out, the B competition is by contrast given a clean bill of health by Brophy, who has asked for a sonnet ‘on the Decay of Liberty’ (‘to be judged purely on its poetic qualities’). There are several commendations – Pibwob, Hassall Pitman, Hazel Jenner, and a back-handed one to W.A.Rathkey (“sounded magnificent … repeated readings did not make its meaning clear, and I am not one of those who are impressed by the unintelligible” T.S. Eliot, take note!)
More half-guineas are dispensed to unprinted entries (Southron, Palermo, W. Leslie Nicholls) – there is no worse torture for an entrant to win money but not to have the entry printed – far better the other way round, in my opinion – and the only piece published in this final WR comp is a guinea-winning sonnet by Rufus. (I’m not impressed by it either.)
The end of one era; the start of another.