Norman Collins was in charge of this competition, set at the start of July, but the results held over for a week to allow for a special competition advertised over a month earlier, with a five guinea prize, and (somehow the sum of money involved makes this inevitable) to be judged by Naomi Royde-Smith. Strictly speaking, this special competition isn’t within the remit of this project, although a previous ‘special’ competition, judged by NR-S, was numbered. So I’ll deal with 120A and 120B first, and put the special competition afterwards in this post.
Right. If you thought 119A was complicated, wait till you try to get your head round 120A. You are asked for four replies from four people (names coming), each no longer than 50 words, to the following quandary (which I’m sure you’ll agree is ‘everyday’). You are in a low-flying aeroplane when you see your worst enemy (who is a bad driver) with his family, coming round a dangerous corner near your house in a fast sports car (are or were there slow ones?). Your little daughter, aged two (were or are two-year-old daughters ever large?), is about to cross the road, and from your vantage point, you can see that the car won’t stop in time. You were a bomber in the war, and you have a heavy bag of tools in your plane. Should you ‘bomb’ the car, and thus save your child’s life?
If you have absorbed the many problems involved there – worst enemy, family with him, dangerous corner, bad driver, two-year-old daughter, bombing cars with hammers and spanners etc – it now falls to me to tell you that you have to construct your four replies as if from four of the following six: Lord Cecil, General Seely, Dr. Maude Royden, A.A. Milne, Lord Baden-Powell or Miss Evelyn Laye. (Only two of these, Milne and Baden-Powell, are really familiar to us now, I think we’d agree. Interestingly, they are all referred to as ‘celebrities’.)
First of all we – and perhaps they – might have been stumped by the very phrase ‘Lord Cecil’, since the Lords Cecil were not thin on the ground. However, it is the opinionated who come in for ridicule, so it’s plain we’re talking about Lord Robert Cecil (a former Conservative minister with responsibility for the organisation of which he had been the main proponent – the League of Nations. He fell out with many in his own party over their lack of support for the League; he won the Nobel prize in 1937 for its creation; born in 1864, he lived until 1958).
General Jack Seely (created Lord Mottistone in 1933, and living from 1868 to 1947) was Secretary of State for War until forced to resign in 1914, after which he served as a soldier for all four years of The Great War, surviving to return to the Cabinet, from which he resigned again in 1921. He was later in favour of appeasement. Like Cecil, he was known for taking stands. His horse ‘Warrior’ is often cited as the inspiration for War Horse. There’s a good biography of him here.
Maude Royden was a suffragist who broke with Emmeline Pankhurst over support for World War I – she didn’t renounce pacifism until 1940. She was highly active in the church, the country’s first female Doctor of Divinity – in 1931 – and the person who first described – and it wasn’t a compliment – the Church of England as ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’. Born in Liverpool in 1876, she died in 1956.
Jack Seely with Winston Churchill
A.A. – Alan Arthur – Milne was born in 1878 and died in 1956. Like Royden, his almost exact contemporary, he was by nature a pacifist, and was shortly to publish (1934) an explicit attack on war (Peace With Honour). Milne was principally a playwright, but he was also a Punch associate editor as E.H.Shepherd was a Punch illustrator. Their fortune was made in 1926 with Winnie-The-Pooh (drawn to resemble Shepherd’s son’s bear, by the way, not Milne’s) and its sequel, and then And Now We Are Six.
Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) had been a controversial army man (there is more than one way to interpret his successful defence of Mafeking), but is principally known as the Chief Scout, and the founder of the worldwide movement in the late Edwardian years – one could pick several dates for its ‘start’. The excised section of ‘Scouting For Boys’ (1908) here gives a flavour of his eccentricities, but also the clarity of his writing.
Finally, Evelyn Laye (1900-1996): she was a popular stage actress, who was in the process of becoming a film star, but she might well have been best known for the acrimonious divorce action in the late 1920s – her husband left her for Jessie Matthews, and she opposed the divorce, which made headlines.
Lord Robert Baden-Powell
Evelyn Laye in 1933
Before the competition results were published, the WR received a letter from a reader – A.A. Milne!
After all that palaver of an introduction, we come to the gags. Don’t raise your hopes, and remember the scenario. A near-winner is one R. Hartman, who has Evelyn Laye chat to Norman Collins:
T.D. Tremlett, in later life the leading expert on heraldry in Britain, chips in unsuccessfully with ‘Pooh says he would drop two bags’. But the winner is Guy Hadley and the runner-up is William Bliss:
The B competition refers to a calculation that had been recently made by the Rector of Bermondsey to the effect that, in twenty years, the mother of a family of six (does that include the father?) peels 87,600 potatoes, butters 175,200 slices of bread, darns 10,400 stockings. makes 29,200 beds, and kisses her offspring 45,000 times. Collins asked for an extra one or two verses to Home Sweet Home, but, very much as with 119B, the entry is so poor that only one prize is awarded (Collins suggests giving the money to charity …) The sole winner is Valimus.
Finally, there is the small matter of the special competition, which supersedes the regular competition for a week. Set by Naomi Royde-Smith, it asks for a piece entitled ‘Consolation Prizes’, with competitors writing to say which of books published between January 1 1932 and June 1 1932 most deserved a prize, excluding all those that had won a prize.
Royde-Smith notes that the popular vote goes (‘by 75%’)to Beatrice Curtis Brown’s ‘For The Delight of Nutorio’ – which turns out to be a misprint for ‘For The Delight of Antonio’, so not a good start for the subs. It is feasible, just, to find an image on the web:
Three books tie for second: Arabia Felix (Bertram Thomas), Hindoo Holiday (J.R.Ackerley) and Limits And Renewals (Rudyard Kipling). As Royde-Smith points out, the regulars like Seacape don’t perhaps have time like others to read – but in fact, the runner-up essay is written by a big-hitter, James Hall, and the winner of five guineas is D.C.R.Francombe, who is no slouch (and whose address is given to us as Pen-Dinas, Tuffley, Glos.) At a future stage I may be able to reproduce his whole essay, but for the moment I’ll leave this post with a list of the books he himself chose and the list Royde-Smith appends of others mentioned by the entrants. Read any of them?
Biographies of Chaucer, Clare, Harris and Bronte (C) I have never heard of, novels by H.E.Bates and Colette I don’t know … and something faintly reminiscent by Lawrence …