This one is every judge’s nightmare. On the same theme as 243, Gerald Barry, no less, asks for (a fragment of) an ode on the subject of Belisha beacons – ‘Ode to a Belisha beacon: that it be not cast down’, from which we get the information that they were much-mocked. But a slip in the process of getting the NS&N type-set has meant that the word ‘not’ had been omitted. Various familiar compers have set about an onslaught on the Belisha beacon, with only one or two spotting (and apparently with feeble results) that the opposite was intended (‘a sorry crop of the facetiously forcibe-feeble’). It is to Barry’s credit that he gets an entertaining few paragraphs out of the debacle. However, in batting away William Bliss, Lester Ralph, Allan M. Laing, Guy Hadley, W. Summers and Marion Peacock, and cancelling the second prize, Barry does select a winner: Audrey Brodhurst. Audrey Cecilia Brodhurst was born in Birmingham (Harborne) in 1912, and died in Islington in 2005. She went to Oxford (Somerville) in 1930 or 1931, and Somerville has a manuscript which I assume covers or includes material on being a woman and an Oxford student (it is used as source material by Jane Robinson for her book ‘Bluestockings’). She seem to have been a historian with a special interest in revolutionary France. Her father was a civil servant in Birmingham. In the 1950s and 1960s she lived in very select Dolphin Square.
Another find-a-quotation competition. V.S.Pritchett asks for one-line quotations that could be used to advertise the following: bread;wireless valves; beer; lipstick; a General’s memoirs; gas-masks; meat extract; a perfume; a cruise; the new pedestrian crossings (these were Belisha beacons, plus parallel studs, and had been introduced in July 1934. Zebra crossings are post-war (1951). I bet there are many films that get this wrong); woollen underwear; the telephone. The example given is petrol (‘Hail to thee, Blithe Sprit’). Here is a 1948, pre-zebra, information film that shows the crossings, and here’s a still from it: 1930s adverts so we can check? (Most are from 1934 itself.) Pritchett has underestimated the extent of the page-turning of dictionaries of quotations that entrants are unafraid to do. He gets a large postbag, and his job is not helped by the fact that most entrants have one or two good ones, but not a full hand. Many entrants used the same dictionary. Lots of them used Rupert Brooke’s Heaven for beer: One may not doubt that, somehow, Good Shall come of Water and of Mud; And, sure, the reverent eye must see A Purpose in Liquidity. We darkly know, by Faith we cry, The future is not Wholly Dry. Pritchett offers a short selection of near-misses: Still dubious about Wolsey? Here’s a contemporary ad: And this brings me to the winning entries. A.S. Gray and Anthony S. Watson come close. The result, says Pritchett, was almost awkward: hard to judge between the witty and the wittier. Jointly heading the pack with Alphamu (they split the first prize), and 24 years of age, is a name new to the competitions: Angela Milne. Angela (Mary) Milne was the daughter of Kenneth Milne, a senior civil servant who had given up his work through illness in 1926, and had died in 1929. Kenneth Milne had been admired by his brother, A.A. Milne (a third brother, Barry, was loathed). After Kenneth Milne died, AAM took over the organisation of the family he left – a widow and four children, of whom Angela (born in 1909) was the second (the third was Ian Innes ‘Tim’ Milne, a section head after the Second World War at MI5, thanks to Kim Philby). At the time Angela won this competition, AAM had spent the first of four summers with Angela’s mother and her family in Dorset, while his wife travelled elsewhere. He was also by this time writing for Punch, and Angela followed him there (her father Kenneth had also briefly been given work by AAM at Punch). Angela Milne was one of the most highly regarded Punch contributors (she turns up repeatedly in Pick of Punch from the forties onwards, and she also wrote as ‘Ande’. She was a regular contributor to London-based magazines until the 1980s), and she was also valued as a reviewer (she reviewed for The Observer). She was still publishing humorous books in her seventies. At least two collections of her Punch pieces came out, of which the better-selling one was Jam and Genius, published in 1948, a year before she married Reginald Killey. She had a daughter, Mary (not yet sure if she married twice) and a son, Nigel Killey, in 1949, and she died in 1990 in Hampshire. The runner-up is another new name, Calluna. Francis Ledwidge, incidentally, whose name is not well-known, was a poet – from Ireland – killed in World War 1 at Passchendaele in 1917, when he was days away from turning 30. Three poems appeared in Marsh’s Georgian Poetry. His age and his Irish nationality are unusual in this context. His last collection of poems is here.
Vita Sackville-West offers competitors the chance to be autobiographical, although she admits she won’t know if it’s fiction. The instructions, which could easily be set today (and which have been set in The Spectator, when Jaspistos was in charge), run as follows:
VSW says the competition is easy to judge, the easiest ever, because nearly all the entries misunderstand or ignore the task, and send in when they have been most frightened. Surely the instructions were clear, she says. Yes, but ‘the most painful moment’ is probably the phrase that has sent competitors astray, although they had to work hard to miss ‘social solecism’. Four hundred words! It does seem a luxury.
Both the prizewinners are new winners, and that might well suggest that they are telling the truth. Three others are mentioned – Agatgha (not very funny story about a mannequin on a mantelpiece; the Rev. A. Ferguson, who once mixed up a fish-cake and a bread-roll (the worst solecism?); and William Bliss, whose improving story about a Jesuit father is so good that VSW says he could get more than two guineas elsewhere (Yes, but …). The winners (and I like them both) are Antigone and Lemuel. Antigone offers an interesting insight into the kind of people who were amongst New Statesman and Nation‘s readers.
There are plenty of adverts on eBay for what should be -warmers, but are shown as -pans.