Competitions nos. 199A and 199B: results

The task of setting and judging the very last double-competition (no more Bs, and the prize fund down to two and a half guineas after this) is the novelist John Brophy, at that point a rising star as a novelist and as a reviewer (his daughter was Brigid Brophy, whom writers have to thank for Public Lending Right). This is also of course the very last competition to have been set in The Week-end Review.

For the A competition he uses the news that Godfrey Elton (1892-1973) had been ennobled by the MacDonald government. Elton was a prolific writer, and had served throughout World One, becoming a POW of the Turks after capture in 1916 in Mesopotamia. After the war, he taught at Oxford, where one of his students was MacDonald’s son. Although his background was public school – Rugby (where he must have been a near-contemporary of Rupert Brooke) and Oxford – he joined the Labour Party, and contested two elections as a Labour candidate (1924 and 1929), both unsuccessfully. He had stuck with MacDonald, and was expelled from the Labour Party in 1931 as a consequence.

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Godfrey Elton

Brophy suggests that his elevation to the peerage may give younger writers ideas, and asks entrants to imagine their reply to an approach from the PM’s office with the suggestion that they too join Elton. The entries have to be in the style of “younger novelists” (making this the first contemporary parody competition in New Statesman, although the scope is pretty broad …).

However, the competition doesn’t go well, and – perhaps because there is not nearly so much space – no winning entries are printed (very frustrating), and the money redistributed between A and B. Beverley Nichols and Compton Mackenzie (too old) and Beachcomber are all parodied to modest effect, we’re told, and the half-guineas (three) given out are for parodies of Rose Macaulay, Nichols and A.P. Herbert by (respectively) Noel Archer, Comins and A.H. Ellerington. Among the also-rans are T.E. Casson and James Hall, so we can already see the continuity. The names of the first two winners are  put into inverted commas, signalling that “Noel Archer” is a pseudonym.

On its last run out, the B competition is by contrast given a clean bill of health by Brophy, who has asked for a sonnet ‘on the Decay of Liberty’ (‘to be judged purely on its poetic qualities’). There are several commendations – Pibwob, Hassall Pitman, Hazel Jenner, and a back-handed one to W.A.Rathkey (“sounded magnificent … repeated readings did not make its meaning clear, and I am not one of those who are impressed by the unintelligible” T.S. Eliot, take note!)

More half-guineas are dispensed to unprinted entries (Southron, Palermo, W. Leslie Nicholls) – there is no worse torture for an entrant to win money but not to have the entry printed – far better the other way round, in my opinion – and the only piece published in this final WR comp is a guinea-winning sonnet by Rufus. (I’m not impressed by it either.)

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The end of one era; the start of another.

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Competitions nos. 187A and 187B: results

Richard Church asks for a three verse attack on a tyrant of the entrant’s choice in the style of Shelley’s attack on Castlereagh, that is, the one that opens

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

(the rest is here).

But the WR entrants are softies (a bit confusing though for Church to begin by writing My heart aches and a drowsy numbness etc.) – one chooses Stalin, one chooses a tax-inspector, one chooses a litter-leaver, one chooses his foreman, one chooses the Conservative Party, one chooses the family doctor, one even chooses Montagu Norman. Only four pick Hitler, who is a little bit more than the obvious choice. Perhaps, he muses, they were worried by a remark in his instructions about the dangers of libel.

Come the hour. T.E. Casson is handed the two guineas by trying to write like Shelley, about Hitler. The runner-up is Pibwob, who chooses ‘the road-hog’.

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The B competition asks for a reply to a producer who wants a scenario for ‘The Life of D.H. Lawrence’. Half the entrants independently think up the not-hilarious idea that D.H. and T.E. will be mixed up (T.E. Lawrence was still alive – he died in May 1935). The two winners, A.H.Ellerington and N.B. take interestingly opposing views of whether a beard is a good idea (the actor ‘Gilbert Faversham’ is an invention, by the way).

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DHL beardless

Lawrence before the beard

DHLawrence

… and after.

 

Competitions nos. 174A and 174B: results

A brand new judge, and the most eminent so far – not only that, but a judge who would over the next few years, with the absorption of the WR by New Statesman, judge many more: V.S.Pritchett (Victor Sawdon Pritchett, 1900 – 1997), one of the greatest short story writers in English, and the author of two memoirs as well as five novels (not successful) and countless collections of literary and other essays. (His first collection of short stories had appeared the previous year; he was already a New Statesman contributor, and was to become its literary editor.) At this point he was 33, and his first marriage was nearing its end. His second marriage began a dynasty that gives us the writer Oliver Pritchett and the cartoonist ‘Matt’. Not the least remarkable thing about this competition is the man who just misses out in the B competition …

The A competition asks for a love letter from a shy delegate at the Economic conference to a widow with three children (why this detail?!), using the language of economics. In his report, Pritchett notes that it was easy enough to come up with double-meanings, including ingenious ones, but harder to give a necessary sense of sentiment. He prints an entire entry by someone labouring under the pseudonym ‘Tentacle’, to illustrate that it is possible to be witty and amusing, but fail to win the competition. Here it is:

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Incidentally, the Economic conference, attended by representatives from 66 countries, lasted for most of June and almost all of July, and was eventually scuppered by Roosevelt, much to the chagrin of European leaders. One of the observers was H.G.Wells, who wrote about it in The Shape of Things To Come – see his description here. It was held in London at the Geological Museum, and its failure reflected badly on Macdonald, seen here at the opening with a German delegate:

UK WORLD ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

The winners are A.H. Ellerington (note the misprint) and Guy Hadley.

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The B competition is just as quirky – it asks for an apology in eight lines of verse by a surgeon who has left an implement inside a patient’s body, the patient being a purveyor of quack remedies. This strikes me as another competition in which the information is just too complex. Pritchett is sharp enough to spot that he should have allowed his entrants more lines (he also notes that opinions of surgeons and quack remedy-sellers are very low). He considers four winners and gives the first prize to E.W. Fordham and the second to W.E.B. Henderson (Henderson has been printed but not rewarded before – see Competition no. 134B here). Just off the money are L.V. Upward – and J.F.Wolfenden. This is none other than a thirty-year-old John Frederick Wolfenden, the educationist who was about to move from Oxford to become headmaster of Uppingham School, who was later to be Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, and who is best known for chairing the 1954 committee and subsequently producing the 1957 report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality – the report effectively that led to the 1967 Act that did just that.

Wolfenden

 

Still, he didn’t win half-a-guinea.

 

 

 

Competitions nos. 88A and 88B: results

James Agate returns to the judge’s seat. After his highly grumpy adjudications in 53A and 53B, we might fear the worst. We would be right. It’s a really difficult, but verging on pointless competition, in which a piece of prose has to contain all of the following (as phrases): Chinese metaphysics; ‘pig’s whisper’; the Atlantic Ocean; Charlie Chaplin; Bolshevism; pyjamas – in any order, with 350 words as the limit (350! modern competitors have never been given more than 200, and their usual maximum is 150, or even 120). The audience intended has to be given.

Agate’s report excoriates the entrants who fail to know the meaning of a pig’s whisper. One of the unlucky and more inventive entrants is Henrietta Heilgers, a writer who as Louise Heilgers had had several novels published, and a colourful private life, which involved living with a bigamist whom she subsequently married (and had by this time divorced). There is a good description of her here and here.Louise Heilgers

A pig’s whisper, anyway, is a ‘very short space of time’. The many inventive ways round it included inventing cocktails called pig’s whispers. The winner uses the device of a school speech, and he (or maybe she, but at any rate a Northerner) is A.H. Ellerington:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The finest example of such a speech he’s ever seen, says Agate, tongue locked in cheek, I hope. The runner-up satirises Gerald Barry, and, Agate says, gets him right, prompting an editorial note (‘Does it?’). The parodist is W.B.:

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Compeition 88B is a fiend, and Agate is very dogmatic about it. Starting with the assertion that the opening of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with its reference to the general’s dotage, is the best example of cutting to the chase after Genesis (Genesis?!) – he actually says ‘cutting the cackle and coming to the ‘osses’ – he asks for six similar examples from Shakespeare of avoiding having to show scenes (as here in avoiding having to show Antony and Cleopatra meet). Agate – a little pompously – says that there are two blindingly obvious ones, that is, the death of Falstaff, and also (really weird choice) the avoidance of seeing when Macbeth broaches killing Duncan to Lady Macbeth. But doesn’t he do this in a letter?

The winner is Doris N(ellie) Dalglish, a London born writer (born in 1894), who published some academic work on Stevenson and Clough, amongst others, but who whose best known work was on Quakers. She was also a poet, turning up in The Spectator in May 1941 with a curiously flat poem ‘Holbein in 1940′:

I took the pilgrims’ way to Hayles this morning,
And what shone out to me, as memory groped
Among the allusions and the lecture-notes,
But Fisher’s face, John Fisher as Holbein drew him?
Magnificence wore many Tudor habits,
Choosing at random to endow a college,
To write sweet sonnets, man adventurous ships …

Never mind, she scoops the only prize. She has had, unsurprisingly, to fend off only six other entrants, who will surely have better ways to waste their weekends –

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