Competitions nos 176A and 176B: results

In the first explicit reference to armament, Philip Jordan asks for a ballade to be in the voice of an armament manufacturer, the refrain to be ‘Why should I worry? Death will always pay!’

The ballade (beloved of Chesterton) is a real favourite of the early competitions, and would continue to be revered as a comic form until the fifties, at least (I don’t think one has been set in the last 40 or 50 years, not least because it is quite a long form. The refrain here is perhaps (perhaps? definitely!) something of a sledgehammer. Wryly, Jordan notes that he is surprised some of the envelopes did not combust in the post, because so many contained poems of ‘corroding venom’. Unfortunately, he adds (since he would like to have included some venom), innumerable poems bore little resemblance to the ballade form, so his winners are milder. They are W. Leslie Nicholls, Dermot Spence, and (as another B competition has done poorly), Arthur Oliver.





For the B competition, a short poem on the (just-concluded, albeit inconclusively) economic conference is requested. There are several entries, many of which write about having a drink now it’s all over, but Jordan is only disposed to give out a single prize, to J.N. Wales. I think this must be John Nicholson Wales, who worked at Dartington for Leonard Elmhirst, and who had been given the task of producing a daily ‘news of the day’ in 1928. He may also be the J.N.Wales who, rather later, contributes to books about economics:


Competitions nos. 116A and 116B

Lance Sieveking is the first to judge a competition in the wake of the dinner, where he claims to have met ‘hardened old competitors and cynical judges’, the latter having been accused of crimes by the former. In a spirit of spoofery, he commends the ‘seven hundred and sixty’ entrants to competition A as all ‘brilliant’. What he has asked them to do is to create a title for any six of the following people he assumes will be raised to the peerage. They are: Mr. Justice McCardie; Mr. A.P. Herbert; Mr. Gillie Potter; Mr. C.B.Cochran; ‘Beachcomber’; Mr. James Douglas; Mr. Gordon Selfridge; Mr. Austin Reed; ‘Low’; ‘The Controller of the London Telephone Service.

Mr. Justice McCardie, an outspoken high court judge, has already been spoofed in 106B (where you can see a picture of him) here – and was within nine months of suicide, a victim of illness and blackmail. A.P. Herbert, at this stage a well-known humorist, was to become the Independent MP for Oxford University, and was already a favourite of the WR. Like McCardie, he was knighted, but never ennobled. Gillie Potter (real name, Hugh Wiliam Peel) was a music-hall comedian, whose act went out of fashion, and who subsequently became a severe critic of lapses in moral standards at the BBC. Charles B. (‘C.B.’ Cochran) was a theatrical manager who made the careers of Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Jessie Matthews, among many others (and he too was knighted); he also brought a Russian theatre group to London called Chauve-Souris (so the origin of that pseudonym is solved). ‘Beachcomber’ is the famous humorist, J.B. Morton, who has already been a WR judge – the Express writer who wrote a daily column for over half a century. James Douglas had been, until 1931, the editor of the Daily Express, and the scourge of novels that he thought should be banned, including Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and James Hanley’s Boy (I’ll throw in the egregious fact that I was lucky enough to meet Hanley when I was about 30, and he was a gentle and kindly man). It’s odd, too, that the Express could have such a vicious editor and such an amenable columnist. (Harry) Gordon Selfridge was an American-born store manager (responsible for the phrase, allegedly) that there are ‘only [x] shopping days to Christmas’, and also, even more allegedly, ‘The customer is always right’. He visted London in 1906, and in 1909 founded Selfridge’s, which he ran until forced out in 1941, by which time his colossal fortune had gone – partly the cause of the Depression, but also, as with McCardie, due to an addiction to gambling.

Austin (Leonard) Reed, was the Reading-born founder of the shop of the same name (still trading) in 1900, which offered high-class but ready-to-wear tailoring (he was only 27 when he founded the business). (David) Low was the greatest cartoonist of the first half of the twentieth century. New Zealand-born, he moved to London in 1919, working successively for the London Star, The Evening Standard (his longest stint, and given carte blanche by, of all people, Max Aitken aka Lord Beaverbrook) and finally, The Daily Herald, although he is also known for his New Statesman cartoons. He invented the character of Colonel Blimp, and specialised in lampooning the three great dictators – Mussolini, Franco and Hitler (hitting the mark in the last case). He was knighted a year before his death in 1963. I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the Controller, but it’s the office that is being offered for satire, not the person, I assume. Unless the last in the list was ennobled, none of the characters on offer made it to the House of Lords.

You can see a picture of Beachcomber here. Here is Austin Reed:

Austin Reed

And here is Gordon Selfridge:


Here’s Gillie Potter (cigarette card from 1934):

Gillie Potter

And here’s David Low:


Click here for a good short biography of him.

Here’s C.B.Cochran:

CB Cochran

You can see James Douglas here. And below is A.P. Herbert.

 AP Herbert

The Controller of course defeats me here.

Of course, you know, after that gallery, that all you are going to get are some puns. H.C.M. just beats off the opposition.


Close behind come (the prize being split, which scarcely seems fair for a half-guinea) Dermot Spence and new winner Launceston, who has, as Sieveking remarks, at least gone to the trouble of using real places.


We aren’t told which is the libellous one, but I wonder if it was Douglas.

The B competition is for a sixteen line poem on ‘What I Would Do If I Ruled The World’. There doesn’t seem to be any contemporary political reason for this being set, but it does allow Sieveking another pop at the competitors he has so recently met, and he offers a comic exaggeration of the number of entrants, and stresses again how successful they all are. He gives the first prize to Seacape (‘I gathered at the Dinner that he is quite used to this’). Second prize goes to Eremita. Olric (the third below) is printed without winning a prize. Sieveking also makes fun of William Bliss for having been so frightening that he was almost cowed into giving him a prize. T.E. Casson gets an honourable mention for the first time in a long time.




Competitions nos. 113A and 113B: results

Ernest Betts sets the task of writing a love-story, either flippant or serious (300 words). The shaol of entries makes Betts feel exhausted, and none of them match up to his idea of a love story (the only clue we get as to what this is, is that he doesn’t find any with a lyrical mood). Some new names (Jean Anderson, Frances Somerville) come close, as do Majolica and Chauve-Souris – most of the commendations are to women entrants. Betts notes that the competitors’ dinner is coming up, and toys with suggesting to the editor that the prize be increased to 100 guineas and divided by fifty, and distributed there – not a very amusing remark, but one that gives an idea how many takers there have been for the evening.

In the end, the prizes go to one old hand, D.C.R. Francombe and one new one, Whistletop (unless he, for it is a he, is an old name behind a new mask).




What an odd and sad story! But a lot better than the half-guinea effort below …




The B competition could easily be set today – although twenty lines wouldn’t be allowed. Competitors are asked to modernise/ update nursery rhymes (or one long rhyme – not an option exercised). This time there is a string of apparently worthier proxime accessits, including H.C.M., W.Hodgson Burnet, W.A.Rathkey, Jocelyn Lea, and one P. Seton Crisp, about whom I can only tell you that he was employed in Australia in 1915 as an actor, and that he was a leading mourner at Chesterton’s funeral in 1936. The first prize goes to Dermot Spence, who submits five and the second to E.W.Fordham, who submits four:


I’ve been trying to work out if there is any significance in ‘Schwartz’, but can’t see it. The spelling ‘gompromised’ turns up regularly as a parody of German pronunciation.


Megan and Gwilym Lloyd George were a Liberal party on their own, in effect, as opposed to those led by Sir Herbert Samuel, who was still in the National government, and a third faction, in opposition. Megan (the first woman Welsh MP) died in 1966, having joined the Labour Party. Her brother did the opposite, and joined the Conservatives (he was Home Secretary from 1954-1957). He died in 1967.

You can see a short fim of Gwilym in 1941 here. Megan Lloyd George is below.


Competitions nos. 111A and 111B: results

Sylvia Lynd sets this one, and, in variant forms, it persists to this day. A has been lent a house in the country by B. A’s letter of thanks is asked for, in which there is an apology for something (fairly slight) done. (It also to contain some idea of the house.)

It is interesting to think of the country house as a feasible option for Week-end Review readers. Of all the competitions so far, this is the one that gives us the best insight into the class and character of the entrants, and perhaps a majority of the readers. But first, a digression. I once stayed in a house (immaculate) in Devon, for which only a contribution to the energy bills was required. After an hour my then partner had a shower, and knocked something off a shelf, which duly smashed. Most of the rooms in the house had precious objects in them, but this one smashed so totally that the only evidence as to what it had been was a sign that it had been purchased in Mexico. The next week was clouded completely, and the remuneration at the end was substantially more than necessary, the guilt having weighed so heavily. Some years later I confessed the crime to the owner, only to discover that it was trinket costing zilch, a thank-you gift from a student. We had spent a week in a de Maupassant story, it seemed to me.

Lynd lists the sinking of a launch, the ruin of a cricket pitch, china being broken – and the departure of servants – as just some of the apparently based-on-real-life disasters.

She writes a colossally long judge’s report, splits the first prize  between D.L.Halliday and Majolica and awards a third. The third (W.Hodgson Burnet) has to be held over for reasons of space (Lynd seems quite unaware that she is the one who has caused this problem). Although published in the next issue, I’ve placed it here.






For the B competitors, a short poem beginning ‘And this is your peculiar art, I know’ (a Coleridge line) had to be written to the creators of Big Films to persuade patrons not to sit and watch the film a second time (still possible in the 1960s, but not after that, I think). The winner is Dermot Spence, but Lynd splits the runner-up prize between two – so the smallest sums so far won (5s 3d) are thereby dished out. One of the two is N.B., but the other, I am sure, is L(eonard) Marsland Gander – the ‘G’ is a printing error – who was, four years later, in 1936, to become The Daily Telegraph‘s very first television critic. He was still working as a radio and TV journalist in the 1970s (he was a Desert Island Disc castaway in 1969). Here’s a photo of him as a war correspondent in 1945:


And here are the winning entries:



Competition 83: result

Gerald Bullett takes the judge’s seat for a single competition. He quotes a private letter (I assume it’s real): ‘We have never had so many goods in the world before; therefore we must all economise. We must balance our Budget by letting people have less to spend and so creating more unemployment. Wemust save money by reducing unemploymentvrelief, and lose it (lose far more than we save) by increasing the number of unemployed persons . . . Even industrialists may learn one day that their interest is not the same as the financiers’ interest’ – he asks for not more than twelve epigrammatic couplets in the manner of Pope. The context is, of course, Snowden’s budget. Three prizes: two guineas, one guinea, half-a-guinea. In the event, he splits the two guineas between Dermot Spence and Little Billee, gives the third guinea to Geoffrey Vickers, and the bonus half-guinea to W.G. Vickers is the only new name here, and he is probably the Geoffrey Vickers (1892-1984) who had won a Victoria Cross in The First World War in 1915. He went on to become a lawyer, and in 1931 was working for Slaughter and May. In later life he had a successful career as a social scientist – at some times associated with The Open University. Seacape and T.E.Casson are among those in the running. Spence is effectively docked his guinea because of the run-on in line 2, which Bullett points out is not consistent with Pope.


Geoffrey Vickers

 WR 83 really

WR 83 really1

Competitions 81A and 81B: results

J.C.Squire asks for a narrative introducing as many English place-names as ordinary words e.g. How can I stoke the furniss when I’m reading? In principle this is exactly the same as Competition 2502, in 1978, which was the first one I entered (on that occasion it was poet’s names used as ordinary words).  the entry is predictably huge, with one competitor managing nearly a  hundred place-names in his allotted 300 (too many, says Squire, but gives him the ruinner-up spot).  D.A.M. is commended for his line  ‘She sat alone under the County Oak thinking that if a Manchester she would not be able to run Bacup the Busby lane because she was afraid of the Blackpool’ (My introduction to Martin Fagg, who gained the top prize in 2502, was his final couplet ‘A ralegh pleasant afternoon;/ I’m surrey though to have to leave sassoon’). The list of also-rans is huge; the winners are M.C.Trench and Dythe.

WR 81 really WR 81 really 2

The B competition, the winning entry of which Squire particularly admires, is for a sonnet ‘When I consider how my days were spent’ written by a young man or woman looking for a job after finishing their education. The linguist Dermot Spence is the winner and Kikine the runner-up.

WR 81 really 2a

Competitions nos. 70A and 70B: results

Humbert Wolfe, whose own poetry is a peculiar mixture of the witty and the sapless, has asked first for a sonnet on sonnets, and, although he is more pleased with the B competition, he still thinks that there are several excellent entries. He can’t resist a bit of dry sarcasm (almost everyone sent in fourteen-liners), and he commends the witty as well as the more serious. He cuts the shortlist to three, and the last one to be thrown out is Hilary. What is perhaps a bit of a bother is that he wished to keep Hilary because lines like ‘The sandals barefoot poesy endures’ are allegedly almost too good to lose, whereas I would have been reaching for the bin at the double, as would, I think, judges like J.C.Squire. Never mind. The winners are Dermot Spence and D. C.R. Francombe. In Spence’s case, this is a first appearance. He was a linguist who had been to Oxford and Heidelberg universities in the late 1920s, and who was fluent in German (and other languages, probably including Hungarian, since he would seem to be the translator of a number of Hungarian poems). He was working in publishing and in an art gallery, and had edited one of Conrad’s novels. His biographical details are largely visible because his son, Jonathan D. Spence, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Chinese history.

Here are the two sonnets:



What excites Wolfe is the response to a much more surreal competition, one that feels a great deal more contemporary in spirit. Competitors had to give six questions and editorial replies on the following subjects:

goldfish, automatic chess-players, gas-fitting as a career for girls, difficulties of growing orchids in the open air in Lapland, skiing as a qualification for beekeepers, and the advantages of reading modern poetry by candlelight

This elicited a large postbag. (In passing, automatic chess-players were still in their infancy, although two famous hoaxes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, involving chess masters hiding inside ‘machines’, had aroused interest, and there are references in some fiction, including a story by Ambrose Bierce. Not until the 1950s did automaton chess have any significance.) What Wolfe does is to select various entries to each question, and tot up who has the most entries overall:





The name of the last entrant quoted has been omitted by accident, not by me! The overall winners are Rosemary Higgins and Prudence. R. Graham’s name is a rarity: but he was one of the five original well-wishers, and the only one thus far to have won nothing (and has barely been mentioned, in fact) – although perhaps his ‘entry’ is misprinted. It’s worth noticing that the Sitwells are considered fair game (they are the subject of the next competitition). Vita Sackville-West had already had a skit on Edith Sitwell published in The Nation (under a pseudonym), and they were regarded as the leaders of a nonsensical and pretentious tendency.