Competitions nos. 106A and 106B: results

Humbert Wolfe returns to the fray with a request for a poem (‘no more than twenty lines’) rebuking Flora for having invented the fritillary (it is very hard to get under Wolfe’s skin and get a sense of what drives him, but you can read about Fritillaria here). This is a competition which attracts familiar names to the near-winners’ enclosure, including Dermot Spence, W. Hodgson Burnet, Lester Ralph, William Bliss, and, naturally, the ‘accomplished’ T.E. Casson. Issachar narrowly wins, with Prudence and Hilary being so, as it were, inseparable, that Wolfe asks if they can have a prize each. (This coy ‘meekly asking permission’ of the editor always means one thing – the other competition has gone wrong, and there is a half-guinea going spare.)

Here are the winners, all writing as if Eliot had never happened:



The other second prize I’ll have to type in:

Flora, can it really be
Your taste is lacking?
Or was it sheer fauity?
Or want of backing?
Some shortage in the scheme of things
That painted Fritillaria’s wings
Yet left you nought to clothe this waif
But the dull semblance of a leaf?
You clad the prettier ones in white,
The remainder in domestic checks.
I think you must admit it wasn’t right
Or fair to this poor child our eyes to [ ]*.
Forbar then to depress
Us, but for next year’s spring
A lovelier lily bring
With sprinkled silver on a cloth of gold
And to our sight unfold
An earthbound butterfly,
The true fritillary.


* There is plainly a word missing in the printed text, and the best I can suggest is ‘flex’.

Competition 106B could easily be set today – a list of the twelve worst phrases in journalistic use, the examples given being ‘acid test’ and ‘old Parliamentary hand’, both still with us. The results, though, says Wolfe, are disappointing (he says he nearly put ‘frankly disappointing’ , thereby adding another one to the list. He wants sloppy phrases not bad grammar or slogans. Wolfe provides a list of the twelve most common entries:


Numbers 2, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12 are certainly still around but not the others, I’d suggest. He allows one prizewinner, A. Raybould (a new name), who has 4 of these 12 in his entry:

If and when; gives furiously to think; to implement their promises; an inferiority complex; taking in one another’s washing; the psychological moment; making up on the swings what you lose on the roundabouts; getting together; exploring every avenue; a fair crack o’ the whip; placing their cards on the table; the eternal triangle.

Raybould’s list sounds dated apart from getting together, exploring every avenue, and maybe placing their cards on the table. It’s interesting to see the word ‘implement’ in there at such an early date (it’s a hate-word of mine, but I’ve always dated it as the 1980s, along with its buddy ‘proactive’).