Frank Sidgwick asks for a companion poem to go with Beachcomber’s ‘Epitaph on a Lighthousekeeper’s Horse’, which goes thus:
On December 13 1950, the poem cropped up in a radio broadcast on the Home Service, (recorded two days earlier) in which the poet W. R. Rodgers quoted it admiringly, and Dylan Thomas, chairing, said he couldn’t see why Rodgers though Beachcomber was a good poet. The show was reviewed for The Listener … by Martin Armstrong. Neither Armstrong nor Beachcomber (J.B. Morton, the Daily Express columnist for over 50 years and whose only rival as a humourist of this type is Flann O’Brien) would have been enamoured of Thomas’s work. Morton and Armstrong were NS judges. Thomas was an entrant!
Sidgwick suggested four-liners but gamely half-conceded this was not an absolute rule (not good! competitors hate it when the rules are not precise!). He had not bargained non the number of entries, however (54). The cause was easy to spot – there was a heatwave in July 1934, captured by this picture from the Getty Archive:
While George V stopped watering his gardens, a judge (Lord Merrivale) sat without a wig, and prayers were offered for rain. And NS readers in a mood of indolence, dashed off four line epitaphs to pass the time.
Sidgwick spends his time defining – how judges love doing this – what is not right about various entries. I don’t yet know which entrant was from Wimborne, in Dorset, but he or she sent in four entries that Sidgwick dismisses as being anything but companion pieces to Morton. They refer t0 a lighthousekeeper’s wife, girl, hens and debtors: but they don’t sound similar to Morton. He quotes approvingly two verses that are ‘hors concours’, which presumably in this case means he wrote them himself … a desperate strategy for any judge, although I confess I’ve done it once, as a TES competition judge. Here are Sidgwick’s efforts:
He quotes a failed entry by David Holland, but only out of admiration for the wonderful rhyme for 3d, he/ discrepancy. In the end he splits the prizes into five half-guineas and hands them out – now here’s a surprise! Out of retirement once more comes the veteran Seacape. He is joined on the podium by H.C.M., John Mavrogordato, Saumarez, and Alfred Holland (perhaps related to David? But if not, Alfred Holland was a Derby Methodist who became Clay Cross MP in the 1935 election, in succession to Arthur Henderson, the Labour Party leader (and first cabinet minister), who died in 1935. Holland, who was 35, won the seat as the third Labour MP for Clay Cross in four years. He died of spinal meningitis within a year.His last exchange in the Commons, in April 1936, was about head teachers refusing to allow fresh milk to be delivered. The Scots Conservative MP Frederick Macquisten picked him up on this – he suggested the milk being held back was pasterised, pasteurised milk being ‘devitalised’.
One of the entries has interruptions by Prodnose. A prodnose is an inquisitive person, but Sidgwick is referring to Beachcomber, whose columns were often ‘interrupted’ by Prodnose, playing the part of the readers who were bored with his rambling (in Flann O’Brien’s journalism as Myles naGopaleen, the same role is taken by ‘The Plain People of Ireland’).