Competition no. 241: results

Winifred Holtby sets this competition (further evidence, perhaps, that the competition allows us to see across the literary left). She was a reviewer for Time and Tide and The Bookman, but this is a very conservative competition. Rose Macaulay had just published an anthology called The Minor Pleasures of Life (there were a lot of them – there are over 600 pages of text). Holtby asks for six extracts to go with the title The Minor Exasperations of Life (apart from the need to mirror Macaulay’s book, I think exasperations are automatically Minor).

However, competitors seem to stretch the idea of exasperation to the limit. Redling pops up with a verse from Hardy’s The Dead Man Walking and James Hall offers the opening of Ode to a Nightingale. As Holtby says, hardly exasperation in either case.

The novelist and crossword setter E.B.C. (Basil) Thornett chips in with Byron on sea-sickness:

He felt that chilling heaviness of heart,
Or rather stomach, which, alas! attends,
Beyond the best apothecary’s art,
The loss of love, the treachery of friends,
Or death of those we dote on, when a part
Of us dies with them as each fond hope ends:
No doubt he would have been much more pathetic,
But the sea acted as a strong emetic.

Again, as Holtby remarks, this is a misfortune. It would only be an exasperation for another reason, e.g. if you had arranged to met a lover but sea-sickness got in the way. As she also says, Disillusionment and Lies are not cause of exasperation, whereas Book Borrowers and Missing Trains are (she means missing a train, not that the trains are missing, as I first – o tempora! o mores! – read it.

Chauvve-Souris, not seen for a while has her entry printed, but as Holtby astutely spots, it wouldn’t be funny without the entrant’s own headings. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The proxime accessits, who include Allan M. Laing, H.C.M. and H.C. Riddell, also include someone who was in particularly good place to enter – A.M. Smyth, an employee of Oxford University Press. This is Alice Mary Smyth (probably the one born in Gloucestershire in 1908), the first editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1941). A librarian, she was a prolific writer, both under her own name and as Alice Mary Hadfield. She died in 1989 ‘in distressing circumstances’, according to the obituary of her husband, Charles Hadfield, the canal historian (1909 – 1996). (His obituary calls her Alice Mary Miller, but I am not sure if this is an earlier married name or a birthname: probably the former. Alice Smyth is repeatedly identified as ‘later Hadfield’. She wrote a life of her co-worker Charles Williams as A.M. Hadfield. A Mrs. A.M. Hadfield comments on the weather of the 1920s and 1960s in South Cerney’s parish newsletter. This newsletter has been founded by Eric Charles Raymond Hadfield – Charles Hadfield wrote under this name at times. He was joint founder of the Newton Abbot publishing company, David and Charles.)

The winners are Clarence and ‘Fairy’. Holtby says she has collected a neat anthology for herself, and says that Virginia Woolf seems the contemporary writer best fitted to expressions of fury. Woolf, of whom Holtby had written a study, had herself asked Holtby whether she would write an autobiography.

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Competition no. 240: results

Sylvia Lynd, perhaps with a distant eye (another ten or eleven months) on the General Election, asks for a marching song for the Conservative Party. Several songs, she says, should have been sent straight to Pall Mall Chambers (the headquarters of the Conservative Party was The Carlton Club, then in Pall Mall; the club was bombed almost to the ground in October 1940 – with half of the war cabinet there). She suggests they put in for a fiver, rather than the paltry two guineas she has to offer.

Lynd has a curious, and I suspect unironical style of address – competitors are Miss or Mr, and first names are not always supplied. Mr. Upward comes near as does a Miss Horsey, and ditto Mr. Summers. The victory, however, goes to William Bliss, who is in good form. Xerophyte gets the bonus prize:

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I am not sure they would have caused Baldwin much loss of sleep.

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Competition no. 239: results

Raymond Mortimer, on his his first stint as a judge – far from the last, not least because he was to be made Literary Editor of New Statesman within the year, a post he maintained for twelve years – begins with some agreeable self-congratulation: ‘I sincerely congratulate myself on having set this competition, for the entries have been many and in my opinion brilliant. Indeed, I fancy I may have invented a new paper-game.’

Competitions like this – requiring short bursts of wit, and encouraging a mass response – are always good news for a reader. This is perhaps the first successful one in the competition’s history, barring the first clerihew competition in The Week-end Review (34B). It asks for the best suggested last words for any three of the following: Columbus, Pope Alexander VI, Marlowe, Sir Thomas Browne, Bishop Berkeley, Gibbon, Boswell, Catherine The Great, Horace Walpole, Jane Austen, The Duke of Wellington, Karl Marx, Macaulay, Ruskin, Dr. Bowdler, Mrs Eddy [Mary Baker Eddy], Napoleon III, W.G.Grace, Queen Victoria, Cezanne, Mr. Balfour, Proust, Freud, Al Capone, Einstein, Rockefeller, Hitler and Mae West.

Proust and Balfour (a rare instance of a prime minister who subsequently becomes foreign secretary, the other being Alec Douglas-Home – Balfour was held the post in World War One, although his remit did not cover the war) had died in the previous decade – Proust in 1922, Balfour in 1930. Freud, Capone, Einstein, Walpole, Rockefeller, Hitler and West were all living. John D(avison) Rockefeller died in 1937 a few weeks shy of his 98th birthday, at which point his worth was over 1.5% of American GDP – a fortune which dwarfs all contemporary fortunes.

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John D. Rockefeller

Capone (only 33 in 1934) was two-and-a-half years into his spell in Alcatraz for tax evasion – he had five years to go. Freud lived until 1939. Walpole died in 1941 (in 1934, he had finished the film adaptation for David Copperfield, a film in which he appears as the tedious sermoniser, the Vicar of Blundlestone).  Only Mae West (1980) and Albert Einstein (1970) survived the following decade. West was four years younger than Hitler, and eleven years older than Einstein. The inclusion of Cezanne is a nod towards Mortimer’s taste in painters.

Alexander IV was pope from 1492 to 1509 – he was Rodrigo Borcia, the father (by the second of his three wives) of Lucrezia. Napoleon III was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, and was both President and Emperor (after a coup d’etat) of France. His widow Eugenie was a friend of Queen Victoria’s; she is to be found (as ‘Ex-empress’) at Windsor in the 1881 census. Perhaps, of all these individuals, Napoleon III is the most lost to history.

NapoIII

Napoleon III

It becomes clear from the report that Mortimer will be taking this slightly more seriously than (say) Julian Barnes or Francis Wheen in the late 1970s incarnations of the competition. Entrants are rebuked (gently) for forgetting that Jane Austen was a religious woman, for forgetting that Rockefeller was a strict Baptist (besides, Mortimer does not like the entries on Rockefeller or Marx, though we are not told what went wrong with the latter). Macaulay and Gibbon and Cezanne attract almost no entries. The popular ones are, in order, West, Hitler, Grace, Queen Victoria, Bowdler.

The entries aren’t all chucklers! And you can see how stern Mortimer is in his rejoinder to “Magdalen Fillgrave” about Mary Baker Eddy.

The competition brings a number of no-longer-seen WR entrants out of the woods, like Eremita (carefully decribed as a woman, three times) and old lag contestants like James Hall, Alice Herbert, L.V. Upward and E.W. Fordham. There are several fresh names. (These are not ‘winners’ but authors’ entries that are printed.) The first example of a joint entry (well, a printed one) is from G. Mann and T. H. Somervell. G. Mann was a Kent-born, London-based accountant, Gerald Corry Mann, and he is featured here together with his brother-in-law, (Theodore) Howard Somervell (1890-1975). Somervell is actually not the first Olympian to have an entry a WR/NS competition printed (see W.E.B.Henderson), but he is the first gold medallist – for mountaineering! He was awarded this by Coubertin in 1924 after being part of the nearly successful 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions (there is some possibility that he may have climbed higher than George Mallory, who was his particular friend). He was a remarkable man, a medical man who had served on the Somme in one of the Casualty Clearing Stations, and who later used his money to set up a hospital in India, which is where he was at this stage of his career. Perhaps he was home (Windermere) on holiday. His book After Everest came out in 1936, and was well-received. But here I am celebrating his 50% stake in a non-winning three-word entry …

1922_Everest_expedition_at_Base_Camp THS 3 from R, B

1922 Everest expedition. Somervell is third from right (back row). Mallory is front, row, far left.

W.P. Barrett may be William Phillips Barrett, the engraver of bookplates, but this an insecure identification. More likely is that the Michael Holland who is eventually picked as runner-up (twice over) – and who has won before, but not since 1932, is (Major) Michael (James) Holland, who was keen on light verse and the like and had a volume privately published. There is a photograph on the web here of him as a child which I reproduce here:

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Born in 1870s, he died in 1956, gaining an MC during World War One in the campaign in Africa.

Now for the scoring. Mortimer decides he wants three good ones, entered in one trio (Bliss, as you will see, is much quoted, but from a number of different entries.) After much toing and froing, H.C. Riddell gets the guinea, and the second prize is divided between Michael Holland – and Michael Holland. I imagine Mortimer being pleased with this complicated little judgment.

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Is it me, or are these attempts at French and German just not funny at all?

Competition no. 238: results

John Brophy sets an unusual (and I am afraid, not howlingly successful) competition. He has been stung by an (unnamed) author writing that Greta Garbo is a “puppet” (this is actually a commonplace), and wants a reasoned and specific criticism of Garbo’s skills as an actress in the talkies. By the way, Brophy does not like the shortening of her name to “Garbo”. He sees this as a mannerism borrowed from opera. However, all the contestants call her ‘Garbo’ so he is forced to back down.

In 1934, Garbo was between Queen Christina and Anna Karenina, and had starred in the indifferently-received The Painted Veil. You can see a little of it here. In fact, she was more or less halfway through her brief career – ten years only – of talkies.

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Garbo in The Painted Veil, 1934

Brophy swats away reference to her sex appeal – Lionel Millard extols her in these terms, and Brophy simply says he gets more for his money than he (Brophy) does. Edmund Casson admits he has never seen her. Or a film. (It apparently does not stop him being sarcastic about her.)

Several are congratulated on their discrimination: N.A. Smith, H.C. Riddell, John Skinner, Lester Ralph, Jane Short, Waverley. But the winner is Guy Hadley (there is a runner-up, Touchstone, but his entry is not printed, presumably for reasons of space). Oddly, Brophy admits that Hadley’s prose lacks specifics and originality, but claims it is ‘deftly expressed’. Beg to differ!

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Competition no. 237: results

Richard Church hits on the subject of car accidents and speeding police cars. They were much in the news. The Road Traffic Act of 1934 reinstated speed limits (incredibly they had been removed in 1930) – 1934 was the year in which the 30 m.p.h limit was introduced (as was a compulsory driving test). The Minister for Transport was Sir Samuel Hore-Belisha, and it was in 1934 that half of his surname was attached to roadside beacons. The numbers of injuries had risen each year by about 8% since 1930.

Ford Police car

Church’s idea is to ask for a poem to speed-cops, who he says he admires as they cruise about. He wants the poems to be based on Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – two stanzas’ worth.

The judging errs on the side of literary appreciation. All but one of the near-misses are from regulars who won in The Week-end Review – L.V.Upward, H.C.M. (carelessly unmasked as Sir Horace Munro), T.E. Casson, E.W.Fordham, Chauve-Souris. It is therefore no surprise that William Bliss is the easy winner.

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The runner-up is W. Summers. I suspect very strongly that this is Walter Summers, a screenwriter who had recently switched from scripting silent films to scripting talkies. He had once been a colleague of Hitchcock’s. One of the films he had made (not highly regarded) in 1934 was The Return of Bulldog Drummond. As perhaps you can see, it starred Ralph Richardson. If you look at this DVD cover, however, there is a serious mistake. The actors John Lodge and Victor Jory appeared in a 1937 film, Bulldog Drummond at Bay – so the title here does not match the performers.

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Walter Summers, 1892-1973

 

Competition no. 236: results

Margaret A. Macalister, a very occasional competitor (she came second in 122A in The Week-end Review – the Frank Sidgwick competition that asked for numerical references in literature to make a sum), but a well-connected Cambridge resident (her brother-in-law had been Chancellor of Glasgow University, and her father Cambridge’s professor of Anatomy) sets a competition that already feels like a throwback – she wants a selection of ten books suitable for each of the following:

a) a fraudulent company promoter’s prison cell

b) a youth hostel

c) an off-duty librarian and

d) a dyspeptic lighthouse keeper.

As she remarks, the entries are always mixed in quality – and she then finds that there is not enough space to print the four lists of each winner (the winners are Allan M. Laing and Peter Hadley), just one list each, so we have to take it on trust that they are the best two.

A scattering of other suggestions is provided – for the banker, The Wages Of Sin, Crime and Punishment, Goodbye to all that, and Songs of Innocence, for instance. He is also given Eden Philpotts’ Dartmoor Stories (geddit?).

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Youth hostels, she argues, need quick books. William Bliss suggests sets of an omnibus Wodehouse. Classicist Edmund Casson is sterner, offering Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Hobbes, Locke. A better suggestion is Cold Comfort Farm. The librarian causes problems (it is alleged): he is supposed by many to want ‘censored literature’. (I suspect Macalister has this the wrong way round – doesn’t she mean ‘uncensored’?) The lighthouse keeper gives competitors a headache but I rather liked A Room of One’s Own and Shrimps For Tea. (The latter was a very popular collection of short stories, written by Josephine Blumenfeld and published in 1930.)

 

The near-winner Hugh Shearman was in later life known for books about the occult.

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Competition no. 235: results

BANNED

The Japanese authorities were reported in the papers as having said ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ were un-Japanese, spots Norman Collins. In his book, Kabuki’s Forgotten War, James R. Brandon comments that this was ‘playful’, before pointing out, that by 1940, levity had vanished. All drama was ‘Japanised’. Among the words banned from display were toilet, entrance, platform, revue, show, matinée – and so on. (There is a good presentation on the subject here.) So the extent to which it was playful is questionable. Collins asks for English equivalents of the ‘distressingly un-English’ flair, metier, chassis, garage, omelette, hors d’oeuvre, soufflé, negligé (sic), déshabillé, bete noire, affaire, and fete. (Is it me or is ‘flair’ a curious choice? It is also equally unusual that he should specify the 12 words exactly.)

This turns out to be a very popular competition indeed – it would run well today, too, I think. One wag sends an entry as Adolf Hitler, Preston (probably an accommodation address – Collins) , suggesting ‘addle’ for omelette and ‘hittle’ for soufflé. Collins gives several individual examples, including jinker for fete (high jinker for a fete under civic patronage) – J.H.G. Gibbs; and ‘a do’ for the same – Parisienne. Affaire gets several ‘love affair’s – but as Collins points out, there was no love in l’affaire Dreyfus. Lester Ralph nearly wins but misses a word. Laing also nearly wins, but Collins doesn’t like ‘carenought’ for negligé. So the first prize goes to H.C. Riddell, and the second to E.V. Warne. The latter has been trying to win for over a year, but the former is a new face. He is Henry Riddell (1908-1986), who was one of the BBC’s radio announcers, a role he continued to fulfil until the 1960s. He was to be one of the coronation broadcast team, and he was a familiar voice in sports reports, too.

Notice that the winners eschew the cheap joke. They are being perfectly serious.

HC Riddell

H.C. Riddell

 

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