Competition no. 211: results

Anstey 170px-Thomas_Anstey_Guthrie_by_Harry_FurnissOn 10 March 1934, about a fortnight before this competition was set, the novelist and humourist Thomas Anstey Guthrie (b.1856) had died (see above). He wrote under the name F. Anstey (the result of a typographical error), and was a regular contributor to Punch, as well as a comic novelist (he seems to have stopped writing novels in the Edwardian decade. His best known novel is Vice Versa, but he had written a series of pieces called Voces Populi for Punch in the 1880s). Frank Sidgwick recalls an uncollected example of one of these, spoken by a ‘Hyde Park reciter’, who breaks off his tragic tale when he spots a penny in the grass:


Competitors are asked to continue for a further 12 and a half lines, bringing it ‘to a culmination’ or ‘a similar aposiopesis’.

One snag was that, when the competition was set, there was a misprint in the last line, which finished ‘I .. to ..’  This apparently threw some of the thirty entrants (one of whom sent in two). Sidgwick spends a long time analysing what he expects. As he sees it, ‘maddened ‘orses’ are redolent of the Wild West’, until we come to the word ‘buttercups’ . He goes on to deconstruct almost all the entries, and, as I can’t give a proper flavour of his commentary by summary, here’s an extract:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAW.N.G. is the winner, but loses a half-guinea so that both E.W.Fordham and A.H. Grant can be runners-up.


Honours Board 1933

This year we can run to a top twenty (just). L.V.Upward (who is to feature for many years to come) is the first to claim Seacape’s crown, although not quite equal the number of his victories. The numbers at the end are previous placings. As the race for third, seventh and tenth place show, this was a close and far more even outcome than the previous three years.

1.    L.V.Upward              8 victories        £11.0s.0d     (-,9=,8=)

2.   E.W.Fordham           7 victories        £8.8s.0d       (6,-,-)

3=      William Bliss          9 victories       £7.7s.0d        (5,-,-)

W.Leslie Nicholls      7 victories       £7.7s.0d        (-,-,-)

T.E.Casson                 7 victories        £7.7s.0d       (-,-,-)

Black Gnat            5 victories       £6.6s.0d      (-,-,-)

7= Guy Hadley         4 victories        £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

 Southron              5 victories       £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

Lester Ralph        3 victories       £5.5s.0d      (10=,-,-)

10=  James Hall         5 victories       £4.14s.6d     (3=,-,4)

Alice Herbert      3 victories      £4.14s.6d     (-,-,-)

Marion Peacock  4 victories     £4.14s.6d         (-,-,-)

Redling                 5 victories     £4.14s.6d       (-,-,-)

H.C.M.                   3 victories    £4.14s.6d        (-,-,3)

15=  N.B.                   4 victories    £4.4s.0d         (-,-,-)

W.A.Rathkey       3 victories       £4.4s.0d      (10=,-,-)

Eremita                 5 victories    £4.4s.0d        (10=,-,-)

P.S.C.                     2 victories    £4.4s.0d        (-,-,-)

Seacape                 2 victories   £4.4s.0d         (1,1,1)

20= Rosellen Bett        3 victories   £3.13s.6d       (-,-,-)

Prudence              2 victories   £3.13s.6d        (-,-,-)


A few points:

The major absentees are W.Hodgson Burnet, who won no prizes (but did judge a competition), and who died in the last month after what must have been a severe illness; Pibwob and Little Billee, both of whom managed three wins, and both of whom will return with a vengeance; W.G.; Valimus and Non Omnia.

Black Gnat and Seacape are one and the same, so if they had entered as one, they would have come equal second.

T.E.Casson, in his fourth year, has finally seen rewards for his persistent, weekly entries.

W. Leslie Nicholls is the major new name.

It will be interesting to see who decides to keep going when the WR is taken over by New Statesman and Nation. At least three of the above were still winning prizes in the 1950s.

In 1933, there were 90 winners (down from 114, perhaps a sign of failing circulation) who won £192 (down from just over £201 – not least because of several prizeless B comps). The number appearing behind initials had shrunk from 15 to 8, and the number of pseudonyms was down from 45 to 30. So 50% of the entrants are now providing their names.





Competitions nos. 191A and 191B: results

These are set by Martin Armstrong. The first suggests that there might be a way of an author writing a blurb that might prevent a reviewer from being unkind to it. the more one thinks about this, the harder it seems to be to come up with an idea. But surely those intrepid entrants in the early thirties can do better.

No, not at all. This is the first time the A competition has come completely to grief (it’s happened to the B competition). Part of the problem is that the entrants automatically satirise the reviewer (and Armstrong is the lead reviewer for the WR). Two words: ‘No prizes’.

Armstrong doesn’t cover himself with glory in the B competition. He quotes Charles Kingsley from memory:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand asks for a ‘disgustingly mercenary’ version in the same form.

But as he admits, his memory is at fault – it’s ‘sweet maid’ and ‘let who can’. One of the many who write to correct him says that ‘sweet child’ is ‘too sickly sentimental’. As Armstrong says, why more than ‘sweet maid’? He doesn’t get it, and nor do I.

With all the money at his disposal from the collapse of A, he gives half-a-guinea each to Charles G. Box, William Bliss, E.W.Fordham (third consecutive victory) and C.J.S.:


Competitions nos. 190A and 190B: results

Dyneley Hussey, as I mentioned, sets another ballade. This is inspired by the impending closure of the Alhambra in Leicester Square (the date given when the competition was set was November 4th 1933). However, all the records seem to show that the Alhambra (the Odeon stands on its site) was not actually closed until September 1st 1936 – at which point it was demolished. So these ballades appear to be premature epitaphs.

Alhambra Leicester SquareThere are some slips. Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood apparently writes a good ballade but has Nijinksky dancing there – too highbrow for the Alhambra. Seacape (entering under his main pseudonym, after stints as two others, and his resignation poem earlier in the year) refers to there having been madrigals there – same mistake. As ever, T.E. Casson is just off the money (he has a reputation among the setters for using classical references). The winners are E.W.Fordham and James Hall (the former is wrongly credited as C.W. Fordham).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you ask me, both a bit grandiose for their own good ….

The B competition: in The Burlington Magazine of October 1933, the scholar Paul Ganz declared that a painting at Castle Howard of Henry VIII was an original Holbein. This was the subject of much argument (it is a theory that seems to have been discredited) – indeed, the next issue of the Burlington Magazine contained complaints about the paucity of evidence. This is the picture in question:

henryVIII 1542An epigram on the arguments was asked for. Among the entrants was Sir Robert Witt (the art historian friend of WR proprietor Sam Courtauld), who sent in half-a-dozen shots and (rather unfairly) is discounted because he should have chosen his best and sent that in (no reference to this in the rules!). The winners are R.G. (a new name) and D.S. Meldrum (a Scots historian who almost won 118B, which Sir Robert Witt also almost won).



Competitions nos. 189A and 189B: results

Having come out against the ballade a few posts ago, it is my melancholy pleasure to tell you that 189A is for yet another ballade, and that, looking ahead, 190A will be for yet another ballade. That’s not very great planning!

We can exculpate the first setter, I think: Sir John Squire. He wants a ballade that ends ‘I liked my partner but she trumped my ace’. (The idea that a man and woman might swap roles is not envisaged.) Extraordinarily – to Squire as well – there is a glut of red-headed shes’ among the entries, most of which (the entries) he admires. He has to cut out the ones who still can’t tell a ballad from a ballade; he cuts out all the ones who don’t seem to know what game is being played; and, very oddly, he cuts out the small minority who picture the ‘he’ as a condemned man awaiting execution. The winners are Arthur Oliver and W.R.Y:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbridge_simplifiedThe B competition asks for a summation by a loser [as in a gambler] after a horse-race. Actually, this turns out to have been a misprint, as Squire wanted the word ‘rumination’ (he says he is hanged if he would use ‘summation’ even if it existsed, as he must have known it did). Squire thinks that no entry is especially good, but, perhaps ruminating on ‘summation’, hands the prizes to W. Leslie Nicholls and E.W. Fordham (the latter very definitely a summation).


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:


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:


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


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.



Still, he didn’t win half-a-guinea.




Competitions nos. 153A and 153B: results

Anthony Bertram returns with one of the liveliest competitions for a while. He asks for a poem (two or three stanzas) modelled on Thomas Hood’s ‘Song Of the Shirt’ (which you can read in its entirety here and which begins

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread–
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

It’s a poem that has inspired countless images, of which this is just one (by Edward Radford):

Radford Song Of Shirt

However, Bertram wants a poem that mentions the grey (sic) shirts of Mosley, the brown shirts of Hitler, the black shirts of Mussolini, and (the less familiar) red shirts of the Independent Labour Party stewards who followed James Maxton (1885-1946). Maxton had by this time broken with Macdonald, with whom he had been a key force in leaving the First World War coalition (he was a conscientious objector in WWI), and who was highly regarded as a parliamentarian on all sides, and notably by Churchill.

James Maxton

James Maxton

In fact, any other notable shirts were allowed.

hitler brown shirts Mosley and grey shirts blackshirts

William Bliss comes unstuck because he goes for too many shirts. Other big-hitters who fall by the wayside are W. Hodgson Burnet, Lester Ralph and Guy Innes. Many are ticked off for never having read, it would seem, Hood’s poem, or indeed the rules. As Bertram notes, the rhythm is irregular, so plenty of latitude is allowed. The winners are W.R.Y. (‘real emotion’) and E.W. Fordham (‘sustained neatness’).


The B competition takes an extract from an Edmund Blunden poem, The Forefathers, and asks for a parody of footnotes (four) on it. Blunden (1896-1974) had been fortunate to survive the latter part of World War I, and had been a literary success with his own poetry in the 1920s, as well as with his book ‘Undertones of War’. He had also edited selections by Owen and Gurney. 1933 found him teaching at Merton College, Oxford (where his most famous acolyte would be Keith Douglas). One suspects Bertram knew him – it’s unusual for a living, and indeed 37-year-old poet to be made fun of like this.


Here they went with smock and crook,
Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
Here they mudded out the brook
And here their hatchet cleared the glade:
Harvest-supper woke their wit,
Huntsmen’s moon their wooings lit.

(You can read the whole here).

As Bertram says, the results will give Blunden a foretaste of his fate at the hands of scholars. Casson comes close, but Nick and Cuniculus are the winners.


Two great competitions for once – the second one is a great candidate for contemporary setters.