John Roberts, the NS business manager, gets to set and judge 227, which is remarkable, at least in its outcome. Roberts was associated with New Statesman from the outset – he was ‘effectively advertising manager’ in 1913. Later, he was managing director. He remained in post until 1957, when he was eased out – ‘bribed out’ according to C.H. Rolph, who sees Roberts as having been poorly rewarded for loyalty, although he admits that he was an obstacle to an editor. (Rolph devotes half a chapter in his biography of Martin to Roberts: ‘it seemed to me that he never changed in appearance throughout that time: a strongly built man, 6 foot 2 inches tall, with a slight stoop, a loping walk, and a readiness to burst into hunched-up giggling laughter much more often than you might suppose’.) Roberts died in 1967, at the age of 75. He had been instrumental in the mergers with the Nation and the takeover of the Week-end Review.
Roberts begins by recalling an NS&N staff bash at which writers were asked to think of the title of a book least likely to sell, and recalls that Emil Davies was the winner with ‘How To Ride A Tricycle’ (Davies, born in 1875, was a major London county council figure, and also perhaps the most influential proponent of nationalisation, about which he had written a book as early as 1908, and which can be read here). It is a little glimpse of what journalists on the NS liked to do for amusement …
In fact, Roberts makes a good judge, doing almost exactly what Philip Jordan has lazily failed to do in 226. 227 is quite a modern competition, too, and one that has re-appeared many times over the decades. The unsaleable books include
Parachute Jumping for Pleasure and Profit
The History and Technique of Noughts and Crosses
Undertaking for Amateurs
The Rosy Footman Moth: its life and habits
Mortality among the Water Fleas of Madagascar
Roberts cannily discounts these as potentially good sellers. Now we come to the winner. You may recall that a competition a few weeks back laid into the supposedly careless spelling of Dartington Hall School pupils. This obviously stirred up a few amused hornets in Devon, and one suspects that an act of vengeance was encouraged. What better way than to win? The winning entry comes from the Junior School at Dartington – “and,” adds Roberts, “I leave you to decide whether the winner, Ivan Moffat, is a Mister or a Master.”
Here is Ivan Moffat’s excellent entry:
In fact, Moffat was sixteen. He had been born in Havana (his mother was the daughter of Herbert Beerbohm Tree) in 1918, and was to go on to an illustrious career as a screenwriter (e.g. Giant, Shane, Tender is the Night, even The Great Escape, on which he was brought in to spruce up the dialogue of James Clavell and W.R. Burnett), and a socialite. He had affairs with both Elizabeth Taylor and Lady Caroline Blackwood. He died in 2002.
Moffat can be heard interviewed on the DVD releases of Shane and Giant. Here are two posters that include him. Just!
Whether he holds the record for youngest winning entrant, I don’t know. But he must be in the mix. After the skill and surprise of his entry, it is easy to overlook that there was a second prize, awarded to ‘Fra Filippo Slapstick’, a desperate pseudonym, but a good entry with Songs about Stoolball.