Competitions nos. 195A and 195B: results

V.S.Pritchett continues the Christmas theme by asking for a poem in the style of Thomas Hardy (who had only died, aged 88, five years earlier) spoken by an assistant in a store obliged to dress up as Father Christmas, and with a report of a disquieting thing that has happened to him. The idea of dressing up as Santa goes back to 1500, but had fallen into abeyance until Victorian times. The first appearance of Santa Claus in a store seems to be in the 1870s in the USA, and in the 1890s in the UK.

Santa 1930sImitating Hardy, notes Pritchett, is popular and attracts two kinds of entry – ballads, and word-tortured poems a la ‘Winter Words’ (Hardy’s posthumous collection, published in 1928, of which this is an example, although not too word-tortured).

The Son’s Portrait

I walked the streets of a market town,
And came to a lumber-shop,
Which I had known ere I met the frown
Of fate and fortune,
And habit led me to stop.

In burrowing mid this chattel and that,
High, low, or edgewise thrown,
I lit upon something lying flat─
A fly-flecked portrait,
Framed. ‘Twas my dead son’s own.

“That photo? … A lady ─ I know not whence─
Sold it me, Ma’am, one day,
With more. You can have it for eighteen­pence:
The picture’s nothing;
It’s but for the frame you pay.”

He had given it her in their heyday shine,
When she wedded him, long her wooer:
And then he was sent to the front-trench-line,
And fell there fighting;
And she took a new bridegroom to her.

I bought the gift she had held so light,
And buried it ─ as ’twere he.─
Well, well! Such things are trifling, quite,
But when one’s lonely
How cruel they can be !

The word-torturers, Pritchett observes, tended to torture every other word. The balladeers were obsessed with illegitimate children. The winners are Chauve-Souris and W.M.G.


The B competition takes a popular saying that seems to have died out by the end of World War II – ‘I do not care if it snows ink’ (usually ‘I don’t …’). It can be found in a Nevil Shute novel in 1940, for instance. But what if it did snow ink? Pritchett asks for an Express front page article.

The first prize belongs to ‘Ballet‘ (who is referred to as a she). The second is R.C.A., and, we are told,  lived in Shortlands (near Bromley). The second might be traceable. Both entries are great – this is one of the best competitions for a while.


(Sir James [Hopwood] Jeans, by the way, was an eminent quantum physicist, who had been in the news because he had been invited to give the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lecture in December 1933. His subject was ‘Through Space and Time’.)


Competitions no. 100A and 100B: results

A hundred up … It’s J.C.Squire who takes the judge’s chair for these two milestone competitions. He wants a parody of Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners with particular reference to the Phone Service. There is a large entry, and it’s interesting to see, amongst the near-winners, the name of A.M. Harbord – Arthur Macdonald Harbord – who is very well-known for a single poem about a man at a station watching another one depart for the Highlands. This poem is much used in Scotland, and you can buy illustrated and decorated versions of it. Harbord, who was born in 1897, and who was the son of an Anglican vicar in Sussex, also produced light verse under the name Riff (the illustrator went under the name Raff).  Here’s his well-known poem:

Stranger with the pile of luggage proudly labelled for Portree,

How I wish this night of August I were you and you were me!

Think of all that lies before you when the train goes sliding forth

And the lines athwart the sunset lead you swiftly to the North!

Think of breakfast at Kingussie, think of high Drumochter Pass.

Think of highland breezes singing through the bracken and the grass.

Scabious blue and yellow daisy, tender fern beside the train,

Rowdy Tummel falling, brawling, seen and lost and glimpsed again!

You will pass my golden roadway of the days of long ago:

Will you realise the magic of the names I used to know;

Clachnaharry, Achnashellash, Achnasheen and Duirinish?

Ev’ry moor alive with coveys, every pool aboil with fish;

Every well remembered vista more exciting by the mile

Till the wheeling gulls are screaming round the engine at the Kyle

Think of cloud on Bheinn na Cailleach, jagged Cuillins soaring high

Scent of peat and all the glamour of the misty Isle of Skye!

Rods and gun case in the carriage, wise retriever in the van;

Go, and good luck travel with you!

(Wish I’d half your luck, my man!)


‘The Listeners’, published in 1912, or at any rate the title poem of a collection published in 1912, is just the kind of poem Squire would have admired (and Walter de la Mare had contributed to the WR). His entrants have fun with it. T.E. Casson almost wins … so do Marion Peacock and Guy Hadley, W. Hodgson Burnet and (obviously) Seacape. But the prize goes to a new (nick-)name, Peejay, and the runner-up is Chauve-Souris. Peejay is preferred because he or she shows a better knowledge of the phone system! (Interesting that, as in a previous competition, phone operators come in for some stick.) Incidentally, Button A and Button B had only been around since 1925:


Here are the winners:


The B competition is typical Squire. He wants a list of ten men or women in European history who have made the most permanent mischief. ‘The setter’s prejudices,’ he adds, ‘must be taken as final.’ Rousseau turned out to be top pest, but the list, to Squire’s incredulity, included Bessemer, Torquemada (both of them), Sir John Simon, Gauguin, Aristotle, and the first ten Popes. The winner is another new sobriquet, Sennacherib, but the runner-up is none other than Eileen Power (1889-1940) , whose life is well described in a review of a 1996 autobiography here, and by an obituary to be found on JSTOR (you can read the first page, but you’ll need access to read the rest) here. Power was at this time the Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics, although she is probably best known for her books on the medieval world, some for children (co-written with her sister Rhoda, a children’s writer). She was married (after an engagement to Reginald Johnston, the man who tutored ‘The Last Emperor’, Pu Yi) to Michael Postan in 1937, just three years before her death at 51.


Eileen Power



Here are the winning entries (the first item on the first list is at the bottom of a page so I’ll type it in)

                          FIRST PRIZE

                          Paul, otherwise Saul of Tarsus, for turning a religion into a church.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Competitions 75A and 75B: results

Clennell Wilkinson, still technically in the silly season, asks for wills in verse. (The season was far from ‘silly’: the government had just resolved itself into an all-party National Government, with a promise of an election – this was the last week of August and the election was to come in October.)

As Wilkinson observes, it was easy enough to write good verse, but they had to be good wills as well. This competition plays into W.Hodgson Burnet’s way of thinking. He cunningly works the names and the addresses into the rhyme-structure:


The runner-up is Chauve-Souris:


75B asks for a barristers defence of a young man attempting to kiss a woman policeman on Hampstead Heath. Are you thinking what I’m thinking.? Guy Innes was, although Heber beats him to the first prize (to Wilkinson’s surprise, there are no parodies of specific barristers):


Competitions nos 60A and 60B: results

Anthony Bertram firstly gives us a poem in the shape of a triangle or pyramid, which he ascribes to Drummond. There is more than one poet called Drummond, but I am going to hazard that this is a slightly modernised version of a poem by Shakespeare’s contemporary, William Drummond of Hawthornden. There is an article (as much about his being a bibliophile as a poet) about him here. Please let me know if you think I’m wrong. There is a nineteenth century Drummond who writes almost exclusively in dialect. There is a Brazilian concrete poet (the term ‘concrete poetry’ did not get used till the 1950s, although Apollinaire’s experiments with calligrammes  in1915 were well-known – however, this poem, rather like George Herbert’s efforts, rhymes), but the Brazilian’s first collection did not appear until 1935. So I think it must be the earlier one. ‘Only the form need be imitated,’ says Bertram.

WR Comp 60

Since we already know that W. Hodgson Burnet likes anything that allows him to be visual, it’s no surprise that he’s the first honourable mention (ruled out regretfully because his entry did not rhyme) as well as Seacape, R. Mal (not a winner yet, but increasingly mentioned as a runner-up), H.C.M, Myra Verney, R.W.MacGoun, Henry Sharp – and, of course, running ‘close to prizewinners with the Pyramid of Cestius as his subject’ is T.E. Casson. Myra Verney, whose portrait can be seen here, was a well-known soprano, who died in the early 1990s, and whose life and career are commemorated by a recital prize. Her sister, Harriet Cohen, is famous not only as a singer, but as the mistress of Sir Arnold Bax, and also of Ramsay Macdonald; and as someone who put a huge effort into rescuing Jewish friends from Nazi Germany. R.W.Macgoun may be the reverend from Morningside, Edinburgh, whose daughter was a painter (but is more probably a son of his).

The winners were Guy Innes and Chauve-Souris, and Bertram can’t decide between them, so splits the two-and-half-guineas equally between them:

WR Comp 60b

60B (where is the idea for this coming from?) asks for a four-line verse supposed written by (A.E.) Housman in a condemned murderer’s autograph book. Do condemned murderers have autograph books? Odd. Bertram also drops into the slightly schoolmasterly finger-wagging that a couple of other judges are prone to: ‘I did not ask for parody, but lines supposedly written by Mr. Housman. I think that we may therefore presume that he would not have employed whole lines out of his other poems, as many competitors do. I am afraid that some people do not know their Housman as well as they should …’ He’d like to give the prize to Guy Innes, but the rules forbid winning both contests, so he gives the prizes to two newcomers, Cumbrian and Mariamne (and not Marianne, as spelt):

WR Comp 60d

Competitions 54A and 54B: results

T. Earle Welby first sets the task of composing a brief rhymed eulogy of a contemporary composer, to end with the ‘great line the late Eric Mackay produced on Beethoven’:

The sweetest soul that ever struck an octave in disaster

and the previous line had to end ‘master’.

The original is called ‘Beethoven At The Piano’ and is 40 lines long, in ten quatrains. Here are the last two in full:

An Angel by direct descent, a German by alliance,
Thou didst intone the wonder-chords which made Despair a science.
Yea, thou didst strike so grand a note that, in its large vibration,
It seemed the roaring of the sea in nature’s jubilation.


O Sire of Song! Sonata-King! Sublime and loving master;
The sweetest soul that ever struck an octave in disaster;
In thee were found the fires of thought–the splendours of endeavour,–
And thou shalt sway the minds of men for ever and for ever!

As Welby is not impressed by any bar two of the entries, and as it looks like he’s had some space cut, we can be brief. The surprise will be the choice of subject – Charlie Chaplin (Seacape on the film City Lights , which had come out in 1929). There is a very good article on the music in this and other Chaplin films here. The other choice is Sir Harry Lauder (Welby actually preferred this one, but complains that she hasn’t quoted a couple of significant lyrics!). The ‘she’ uses the pseudonym Chauve-Souris, has come close a few times, and her alias means ‘The Bat’.

Chaplin in CL

Chaplin in ‘City Lights’


Sir Harry Lauder handily with Winston Churchill, since the latter is relevant to 54B

WR Comp 54a

Duff Cooper

Duff Cooper

54B requested a rhymed epigram on the ‘amenities’ of the electoral contest in the constituency of St. George’s. To our ears, ‘amenities’ will seem a strange word, but it is being used here as an ironic ‘pleasures of’, or perhaps even ‘events surrounding’. These are partly described in the Origins section, but I’ll recap. Beaverbrook and Rothermere, the sworn enemies of The Week-end Review, after the circumstances of its foundation, were desperate to get an ‘Empire’ candidate into Parliament. The St. George’s seat in Westminster was a safe Conservative seat, whose member had died. The Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was, it seemed to him, at risk at the time – if the Conservative candidate was beaten (and the opponent was an Independent Conservative – neither the Liberals nor Labour put up a candidate), it would look very much as if Baldwin had lost hold of his natural supporters. Beaverbrook and Rothermere wanted an Empire loyalist, and the issue on which they campaigned most vigorously was India, which they did not wish to acquire Dominion status, let alone independence. Their particular target was Gandhi, who was, they knew, due to visit England in the second half of 1931. Rothermere and Beaverbrook had a very definite choice of man to replace Baldwin – Churchill. And Churchill, in an act which drove an even more solid wedge between himself and his party, stoked their flames by making a highly provocative speech at the Albert Hall, not long before the by-election. He does not mention the by-election, but he is particularly vicious about Gandhi. The speech is here. The same night, Baldwin made a speech comparing Beaverbrook and Rothermere to harlots (‘power without responsibility’) – a phrase nicked from Rudyard Kipling (who happened to be Baldwin’s cousin). The coincidence of the two speeches, widely reported, played in Baldwin’s favour, and, having lost the first candidate, won by about 60:40 when Duff Cooper stepped in. Cooper had been a Conservative MP until losing his seat in 1929, but he was also a Week-end Review contributor. His victory saved Baldwin (and Cooper held the seat until 1945).

But the competition (after all that!) was a wash-out. There were some pretty dreadful puns on Gandhi (‘propagandhist’), so Welby simply apologises for setting the contest, and acknowledges the disgust of the competitors with Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Churchill. ‘I should apologise for having offered an emetic subject, especially to those competitors who, naturally enough, rhymed St. George’s and gorges.’