Competitions nos 57A and 57B: results

Ivor Brown asks for a sonnet which opens

       I fain would be a poet but I lack
       A private income …

More miserabilia from the judges. ‘The number of sonnets (and also of poems that were not sonnets) was very large and the quality rather “sad”, as they say of baked dishes.’ Heavy plodding is mentioned. Alice Herbert, H.C.M and Non Omnia are among a small band who receive compliments, but the winners are the stalwarts Valimus and Gertrude Pitt. (He was asking for it with the word ‘fain’, in my view.) Valimus sends the competition up more than a little, and that’s welcome.

WR Comp 57

For 57B we are directed to Longfellow:

                  Lives of great men all remind us
                     We can make our lives sublime
                 And departing, leave behind us
                    Footprints on the sans of time

The extract (and isn’t it banal?) comes from ‘The Psalm of Life’. Brown suggests that modern biographies tend to reveal that the lives of great men are humdrum, and that a ‘quotation’ i.e. a new verse of four lines needs to be added. Several regulars (W. Hodgson Burnett, Little Billee, H.C.M., Majolica, Hutch, are commended but the prizes go to Evan John and Baldwin S. Harvey, neither of whose names have appeared in these columns before.

WR Comp 57b

Baldwin S(ydney) Harvey (1873-1945) was a banker who took over from his father Alfred Spalding Harvey at the bank Glyn, Mills, Currie and co. in 1905, as you can see here. He edited a collection of his father’s financial and economic articles. But he also seems to have published, some time in the 1920s, a children’s book (not in the BL) called The Magic Dragon (although I don’t think he had any children).Harvey

Competitions 53A and 53B: results

James Agate notes that the 100th anniversary of Mrs. Siddons’ death is approaching: June 8th 1931. He wants 250 words on the contention (‘fallacious or otherwise’) that we would not think much of her now.


Sarah Siddons as The Tragic Muse (detail) by Joshua Reynolds

It’s interesting that this is essentially a perfectly serious competition. You could ask the same question now about Laurence Olivier or Charlie Chaplin. Styles of acting come and go. I was intrigued to see what the response would be – Agate is of course the right person to ask, as he is the pre-eminent theatre critic of his day.

In the event not many more than twenty entered this competition, and many turned Agate tetchy. Rather unfairly, he suggests that ‘fallacious or otherwise’ is A Big Hint, and that it’s a waste of time comparing actresses who exist in very different contexts. That, he says, is ‘the correct answer, or rather the answer I was looking for’. He even quotes, anonymously, an entrant who has had the temerity to suggest that Marie Tempest and Sybil Thorndike must be regarded as superior. So I came away from this competition a little disgruntled.

Sybil Thorndiketempest-m000

He allocates a single prize to Belinda, and shifts the balance to 53B.


For 53B, parodies are invited of either a) Humbert Wolfe, b) A.A.Milne or c) Wilhelmina Stitch having encountered a dead bird. Wolfe we know from the WR, and I imagine most people are familiar with A.A.Milne …

Wilhelmina Stitch


AA Milne

But Wilhelmina Stitch (1888-1936)  a poet, was best known for her pearls, if that’s the word I’m looking for, of wisdom in The Daily Graphic, and there are some extracts here. Once you’ve spotted the rhymes, you may feel that Patience Strong was a positive Tennyson.

Agate picks out William Bliss (a regular entrant and near-winner) for suggesting that Wolfe is the only real poet, and he can’t see how to parody him, but offers what he might have written, and cites it rather dismissively as ‘how the right thing becomes the wrong when it is not the thing which is wanted’. I have unwarmed to James Agate. Lilian Braithwaite, the actress, once responded to Agate saying she was the second most beautiful woman in London by announcing that she would ‘long cherish that, coming from the second-best critic’. On this evidence, she let him off lightly.

To the spoils of the victors. Gertrude Pitt scoops the top prize (Wolfe), W.Hodgson Burnet follows hard behind (Milne) and Letty Stack gets the held-over half-guinea for a demolition job on Stitch:



1930 honours board and 41A and 41B competition results

Arthur Marshall started this after the war, and I’ll play it by his rules: it’s all about the total amount of cash accumulated during the year. The Week-end Review was sixpence a week, so £1.6s.0d would have helped you break even.

Twenty-two judges have judged 40 competitions, or, more properly, 80 (two a week). In that time, ninety-four people have won prizes, assuming there are no duplicates because of pseudonyms (a big ‘assuming’). Many more have been part-quoted or commended (none more so without winning than the indefatigably luckless T.E.Casson, with whom I am starting to become a little obsessed!). Of the ninety-four, about a fifth (twenty in all) are represented only by initials. A further thirty-one are represented by pseudonyms – so slightly more than half are not identifiable by name (R.G.Brett/R.J.Brett/R.J.B may be confusing these numbers). Only fourteen are definitely female, but the letters make it hard to tell. The age range runs from under 20 to over 70, with a bias towards those aged about 30.

Samuel Courtauld and William Jowitt have lashed out (or so I make it) £157 12s 0d over the year (well,  40 of the 42 weeks).

When you have that many judges – compare the New Statesman or The Spectator today – it seems likely that you’ll get more winners, but actually, the repetition of names is surpisingly impressive – and all this given that we know that some competitions have had up to a hundred entrants. But enough beating about the bush. Who is the victor or victrix ludorum for 1930?

Here are the frontrunners, the leader being all the more noteworthy for having won all his victories in the first fourteen competitions (he isn’t finished yet, by the way).

1.  Seacape        8 victories             £10 16s 3d

2. Pibwob          7 victories             £8 18s 6d

3. H.C.M.               7 victories             £7 17s 6d

4. James Hall    7 victories         £7 7s 0d

5. R.J. Brett            4 victories      £5 15s 6d

6. Lester Ralph    4 victories     £4 14s 6d

7. J.W.Pepper          2 victories     £4 4s 0d

and there is a small group of 8=   all on £3 3s 0d –



       Non Omnia




and James Hughes, although in his case, only because he won Nancy Royde-Smith’s three guineas.

Three of the five competitors who signed the congratulatory letter are here (the fourth, Valimus, is just adrift, and the fifth has won nothing).

When Arthur Marshall first published his (sometimes wrongly-counted!) honours boards, he commented that no-one knew who was really behind these names, and added ‘It is time for another dinner’. I’ve obviously been in this game at the wrong end of the century, because I know of no dinners having taken place, although we did all get invited to the launch of Never Rub Bottoms With A Porcupine in 1979. But as you’ll see as we go through 1931, a dinner was something that the competitors themselves had in mind …

Competitions 41A and 41B

George Morrow's cartoon Eros

George Morrow’s cartoon on how the return of Eros should have been celebrated

In Competition 41A, James Bone asked for a ‘chanty’ (i.e. a shanty) for workmen to sing as they hoist Eros into place – Eros had been removed from Piccadilly Circus while work was being undertaken by the L.C.C. and on the underground. His report sets the tone for the January judges. people can’t do sea-shanties, he complains, and very grudgingly gives Olric (a new name) the first prize and Gertrude Pitt the second.

WR Comp 41

WR Comp 41a

The epitaphs on 1930 for 41B he has requested are considered lamentable. But W. Hodgson Burnet has put in a special extra effort, and this wins him the guinea (the half-guinea being completely withheld).

WR Comp 41b

Competitions 27A and 27B: the results

James Bone first sets the task of writing a lament for the pigeons of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had just been ordered to be destroyed – by special act of parliament. This picture from the National Geographic in 1926 makes the case against:

Pigeons at St. Paul's

The competitors – mind you, James Bone has told them to lament – come out in flocks to support the pigeons. The winner, Miss Gertrude Pitt, makes a reference to Pepys’s diary – Pepys watched pigeons falling into the 1663 blaze that destroyed the original St. Paul’s. Pitt was evidently a keen entrant of these kinds of competitions. In a letter written to Pamela Hansford Johnson a couple of years later, Dylan Thomas can be found complaining about Pitt (who has been selected for her work in a Sunday Referee competition over his own effort. You can read his letter here.) Here’s Pitt’s entry:



The second prize goes to a new set of initials, O.C.S., and while I don’t love the Pitt poem, I really don’t love the runner-up’s!


27B was an epigram competition, with a choice of one or all of four London institutions – Christie’s; Crystal Palace; The Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington; the Cafe Royal. The third of these is not as well known, and Bone uses the competition-setting to wax lyrical about the many events it housed. It’s now the Business Design Centre, and has been since 1985. During the war, it was used as a parcels depot. In the event, this competition attracted no great entries, but, in response to Bone’s litany of events and organisations housed by the Royal Agricultural Hall, S. Barrington McLean – who has come close a couple of times – gets the guinea with this epigram (or gag, as I think of it):

                            The Royal Agricultural Hall is surely the shack of all trades.

The same writer had also sent in a good one on Christie’s – “remains resolutely standing while everything is being knocked down”.

A new name (or rather pseudonym), The Adite, gets the half-guinea with a four-line verse on the Cafe Royal:

                             The clash of wit has gone; the clash of tongues
                             Replaces it from psittacottic lungs;
                             If you would see Suburbia at its best,
                            Aping Bohemia’s ways – why, here’s your quest.

That’s a bit of a long way round of saying that the customers chatter like parrots.