Competition no. 234: results

John Moore has to admit that he has set a poor competition. He has asked the competitors to imagine that, in Shakespearean times, they have set up an anti-Vice society, and that after the first performance of Romeo And Juliet, it has sprung into action with a protest. It is suggested that the umbrage have been felt against the words of Mercutio before the balcony scene.

Sigh. This is presumably intended as a sort of reproof to authoritarian states, but it strikes me as an almost text-book example of how not to attract punters. It is too specific, too detailed, drops a heavy hint (Mercutio) … It is no surprise to find that there are few entrants and only six who spot that Moore wants a Shakespearean-language protest. The first to be commended is Allan. M. Laing, quoted at length:


However, let’s see what Mercutio had to say:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.—
O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were
An open arse, and thou a poperin pear.
Romeo, good night. I’ll to my truckle bed.
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep.—
Come, shall we go?
Aha .. the much-cut reference to open arse (it is still edited out in online as well as offline versions. But then even the folios allegedly differ: one says ‘et cetera’ after ‘open’). Is our judge indulging in tittering behind his hand? I fear so. However: a medlar was said to be called an open-arse in slang, although whether one wants to go the whole hog and read it as ’embracing the sodomitical as well as the normative’ (a critic), I somehow don’t care.
Welles as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet

Orson Welles as Mercutio in 1934 (Basil Rathbone played Romeo). He was replaced by Ralph Richardson in December of that year. Richardson went on to alternate the part with Laurence Olivier’s Romeo in 1935. The part of the Nurse in 1934 was played by Edith Evans.

On to the winners, one of whom I can’t quote, as he wasn’t printed – Moore has stupidly given no word-limit and his main winner has taken colossal advantage of this. So Hugh Shearman – presumably the Northern Irish novelist born in 1915 and later the foremost writer on Theosophy – gets a name-check, half-a-guinea, but no publication (the reverse of Laing!). The winner, partly edited by Moore, is an interesting figure. He is Lionel (MacVicar) Millard, who had himself acted professionally in Shakespeare in the 1920s, and who actually took part in some 1930 schools radio broadcasts of Shakespearean scenes – including some from Romeo and Juliet! (In passing, it ought to be noted that this series not only featured Millard but Victor Clinton-Baddeley and Robert Speaight – both of whom had won competitions in the WR.) This was Millard’s second victory in 1934 (see no. 229).

Millard, born in 1900 in Cheltenham (he died in 1983), had also played a lucky role in the very first television broadcast of a play in July 1930, when he was given a part originally intended to be taken by Val Gielgud in a TV adaptation by Lance Sieveking of a Pirandello play, The Man With A Flower In His Mouth. Sieveking was of course also connected with the competitions – he had been a judge. Millard is the man in the hat in the two photographs of the Pirandello production (on a Baird system, and watched by, among others, Ramsay Macdonald). Sieveking, the producer, is standing, top left. Gielgud (brother of John) directed it.

In 1967, Sieveking was asked by the Inner London Education Authority to recreate the original broadcast, which he did using the same kinds of equipment as in 1930, and some of the original props/ scene dividers, designed by C.R.W. Nevinson (not said to have worked well in the original, incidentally). This was filmed when shown in 1967, and you can see that re-creation here.

Man with flower 2manwith flowr

I am guessing that Millard continued to do radio and even television work as well as stage work, but I have yet to find any trace of this work after 1930.




Competition no. 233: results

William Archibald Spooner died in 1930, just four years before this competition (there were obituaries in the national papers that spoke of the way Punch and others lampooned him, and, inevitably, quoted one or two possibly genuine examples). But this, the first NS spoonerism competition, is notable for the brief mention of the hapless Warden, and yet the absence of reference to his -ism.

spoonerThe setter is Seacape. It is like having a visit from the king over the water – he hasn’t been seen more than a couple of times in 1934. But here he is, with a patrician drawl, and with a chat about the old times (he notes that H.C.M. is familiar with this kind of competition from ‘the old Saturday Review days’). In fact, H.C.M. also says that it’s the hardest competition he has come across, whereas Seacape thought it would be ‘a nice little exercise in metathesis’, indeed something to be dispatched at the beach. But the extent of the problem may seem clearer when i tell you he’s asked for twenty lines and transposition of at least two words in every line. He quotes an extract from Punch:


I hate spoonerisms! They scramble my brain. I would rather do anagrams, and that is saying something.

The competitors jumble the words a bit too far. Seacape courteously thanks those who have given him ‘translations’ (gamesmanship!). He quotes a few, including

a hole in seven; dines in the shark (Miss G.)

glossy men (Chauve-Souris)

the pain roars (H.C.M.)

he gives maize to the prune (Midas)

Guy Innes comes close, and the prizes go to two of Seacape’s vintage: Little Billee and Pibwob, neither of whom have had much luck as yet in the NS. What becomes clear is that a Georgian poem is actually ripe for spoonerising. The old system of putting competitors after their entries is restored.




Competition no. 232: results

Gerald Bullett commends a poem published in the NS at the start of August, by the Scots poet Alice Vandockum Start – A.V. Stuart (1899 – 1983). Stuart is an occasional figure in the poetry magazines of the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties – she is published in Poetry Review as late as 1962, when she would be, er, my age (it is striking how many poets in PR in the fifties and sixties have a link to the NS – Eleanor Farjeon, Vita Sackville-West, Frances Cornford, for instance). She was born in Rangoon; she went to Oxford; she settled in Edinburgh – The Dark Tarn is her most visible collection (1955). Having Bullett single her out would have seemed a feather in the cap. Or perhaps not …

In the Stuart poem, a ‘lone, gaunt spinster’ thinks of the power of literature, and compares it unfavourably to the frivolity of youth:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABullett’s reaction has been ‘Very true. And yet …’ He wants the ‘And yet’ poem.

There is a large postbag, which Bullett winnows and winnows until he gets to five (one of whom is William Bliss). With a shrug, he admits he thinks none of them are worth a first prize. A character called Midas is given the second prize:



Gaunt Spinsters




Competition no. 231: results

Gerald Barry makes his second appearance as a judge. He has a conundrum for the competitors. You’re confronted by a ‘wanted’ gangster in your own house who has already shot a member of your household, but who now agrees to leave and to stop threatening you if you promise him that you won’t set the police on your track. So, a) would you give your word? And b) Would you keep it?

Confusingly, Barry says he has been inspired here by the case of Colonel Fey. Fey, however, is not a simple or attractive case. He is Emil Fey, the nationalist Austrian colonel who acted as deputy to Chancellor Dolfuss. While Fey and Dolfuss concentrated in July 1934 on repressing the social democrats and communists, the Nazis pt pressure on Dolfuss, and staged a putsch against him. Dolfuss was killed, and Fey saw off the Nazis by promising them safe passage and then reneging on the deal. However, there is some debate about Fey having been put up to this. Fey survived in government but ‘committed suicide’ in 1938 after ‘killing’ his family. One too many Nazi double bluff.


Almost everyone takes this competition intensely seriously, and there are appeals to Kant, to Shakespeare, to Aristotle. The winners are Sennacherib, and, at last welcomed back into the winners’ enclosure, T.E. Casson. Barry solemnly leaves the fray by saying that the winners don’t necessarily represent his own views.


Competition no. 230: results

Guy Hadley – still in his twenties, but an established figure who had been winning since competition 22 – is asked to set his first NS comp (he had set WR comps). He asks you to imagine that you are regaled, in Piccadilly, by a friend who is ‘just off to Dalmatia for six weeks’, when you have managed a fortnight in January. Your task is to regale them with the pleasures of London in August.

Dalmatia was then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – it is now principally in Croatia, although it has lost some territory to Montenegro. Split and Dubrovnik were starting to become accessible in the 1930s.

Dalmatia money

Hadley says he’d hoped for a study in hypocrisy, but he gets some Times leaders, or quite dull ‘Come to London’ fare. One wag suggests the lure of pushing a barrow in Whitechapel. The winner, Catharine, places Hadley in a quandary, as he knows it is 12 words over the limit (300 words). He says he is risking a lynching. He is. It’s not clear why he doesn’t have it published but withhold the prize: an exquisite torture. The runner up is Augustine.



Competition no. 229: results

V.S.Pritchett suggests, cagily, that the Hollywood version of Othello is under way. This wasn’t true – in fact, there were no film versions between the Finnish version in 1922 and the first US version – the Welles version – in 1952. However, never let the facts get in the way of a competition. Pritchett asks for Hollywood versions of the play, with a free rein as far as what this might consist of. Extracts from the scenario or dialogue are allowable.

The spoofs, pretty good, are uncomfortable for a modern audience – lots of cheery references to skin colour. Pritchett only quotes the winners (he has given them 400 words each), so here they are. These are first wins for Sach Novics and Lionel Millard. Millard had been one of three actors in the first televised play on the BBC in 1930, which was directed by Val Gielgud, and produced by competition judge Lance Sieveking. Millard’s entry was reprinted in a Melbourne paper within the fortnight, credited to ‘The Nation and Statesman competition’.

Sach Novics wins because of the detail relating to the gondola but Millard’s version seems better to me.


Othello Welles

Death in Venice



Footnote: Millard had in fact played a small role in the 1926-27 Old Vic production of Othello (as Lodovico).

Competition no. 228: results

Sylvia Lynd asks for ‘a recitative and an air (rhymed) beginning “Now I shall be able to live within my income”‘ from a modern opera. She also asks for the dramatis personae and a summary of the plot.

Everyone rhymes the recitative. Lynd spots that her ‘rhymed’ might be held to apply to both words, and apologies. She has time to thank Allan M. Laing, W. E. V. Burch (William Edward Victor Burch, 1907-1982, a company secretary like his father before him, and entering with an image of a shareholders’ meeting), F.M. Harris and Guy Hadley (another opera set in the City). But space only to say that no-one is worth the money, not even second prizes, nothing.

An ignominious chapter.