Competition no. 238: results

John Brophy sets an unusual (and I am afraid, not howlingly successful) competition. He has been stung by an (unnamed) author writing that Greta Garbo is a “puppet” (this is actually a commonplace), and wants a reasoned and specific criticism of Garbo’s skills as an actress in the talkies. By the way, Brophy does not like the shortening of her name to “Garbo”. He sees this as a mannerism borrowed from opera. However, all the contestants call her ‘Garbo’ so he is forced to back down.

In 1934, Garbo was between Queen Christina and Anna Karenina, and had starred in the indifferently-received The Painted Veil. You can see a little of it here. In fact, she was more or less halfway through her brief career – ten years only – of talkies.


Garbo in The Painted Veil, 1934

Brophy swats away reference to her sex appeal – Lionel Millard extols her in these terms, and Brophy simply says he gets more for his money than he (Brophy) does. Edmund Casson admits he has never seen her. Or a film. (It apparently does not stop him being sarcastic about her.)

Several are congratulated on their discrimination: N.A. Smith, H.C. Riddell, John Skinner, Lester Ralph, Jane Short, Waverley. But the winner is Guy Hadley (there is a runner-up, Touchstone, but his entry is not printed, presumably for reasons of space). Oddly, Brophy admits that Hadley’s prose lacks specifics and originality, but claims it is ‘deftly expressed’. Beg to differ!



Competition no. 216: results

V.S.Pritchett asks us to assume Oedipus has just come across the fact that Freud has been mentioning him in his lectures, and brings an action for defamation of character. He wants up to 500 words of the speech for the plaintiff.


Pritchett says he finds judging this hard, and also says the entries fall into two categories: orthodox and original. The orthodox line says that Oedipus claims he didn’t know that his father was Laius and Jocasta was his mother. But, reasons Pritchett, isn’t the point of the Oedipus complex that it’s unconscious? (There is something slightly astray about this argument, but let it pass – from the point of view of a chooser of better winners, Pritchett is right.)

T.E. Casson, ever the classicist, is mentioned in dispatches for sending in an extract from an Aristophanic play. A new name, ‘Lamentable’, argues for Oedipus that his dignity is liable to be damaged. Pritchett comments that this is going to hold no water in an English court. He gives the first prize to Guy Hadley, who has done what winners do – gone beyond the brief. the The runner-up, Eremita, has Oedipus asking for the right to retire peacefully in Tunbridge Wells. Hmmm.

Hadley’s choice of an American wide guy is interesting in that many of the ‘Scarface’ films suggest an Oedipal motive. Freud himself, of course, was still alive, and still in Vienna – he didn’t come to England until 1938, well after Hitler’s annexation of Austria.




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. 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.




Competition no. 166: results

Once again, no B competition, and the prizes being 3 guineas, and one guinea. The dual competition format, inherited from The Saturday Review is doomed.

Norman Collins reveals the (startling) fact that, in Portugal, bulls were not allowed to be killed in bullfights, unless the bullfight were for charity. He asks for up to 20 lines of Popeian satire, as spoken by one of these Portuguese bulls.

Portuguese bullfight

A more recent Portuguese poster.

There is quite a large entry to this (Collins says he thinks Popeian couplets are easy), and there are quotations from Chauve-Souris, James Hall, Eremita, Little Billee, Guy Innes, and many other usual suspects. But we can be quick with this competition: the winners are Guy Hadley and F.C.Burgess (whom you may recall nearly won the last one, and has therefore been spurred on).


Competitions no. 160A and 160B: results

J.C.Squire amasses a huge postbag with his requests for ballades that have the refrain ‘I don’t know where the _______  ____ we are’. He is is driven to congratulating Lt Col H.P. Garwood, W. Leslie Nicholls, E.W.Parsons, and also (an unfamiliar name) Geoffrey Parsons, who, I suspect, is the lyricist who later (1954) co-provided the words for Charlie Chaplin’s melody ‘Smile’ (a song most associated with Nat ‘King’ Cole).

smileThere are also commendations for William Bliss and “Seacape II” – who’s this then, Black Gnat bored with not being Seacape?

After considerable flannelling, Squire gives first prize to Mariamne, and second to Obispo, while admitting that he’s not really sure what the latter always means with his blanks:



Ely Culbertson was a Russian with a surprising background, who popularised contract bridge, virtually single-handedly. There’s a piece about him here.


Ely Culbertson


The B competition goes awry, but perhaps because Squire worded it wrongly. He wanted an example of a ‘purple patch’ of prose, but he meant an existing one, and instead received lots of examples of the genre. He decides to give Guy Hadley a prize for some very purple prose, and a runner-up prize to Muriel M. Malvern, who has quoted something, albeit in translation (this was originally held over for space reasons, but I’ve restored it).


Competitions nos. 151A and 151B: results

A new judge, Dorothy Avery (about whom I can find nothing whatsoever, so any help appreciated), asks for a rhyming English translation of the following lines from Cyrano De Bergerac:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe says she hoped the tricksiness would deter entrants, but reports that scores have risen to the challenge. There are many commendations – Valimus, T.E. Casson (of course), a couple of entries who are following the vogue for reversing the letters in their name (Yram, Nagal Mac), Non Omnia, and Evan John (whom I suspect is the actor and screenplay-writer active at this time – born 1901, died 1953). But the winners are Black Gnat (Seacape) and William Bliss – note how the latter is now winning, usually by coming second, almost every week:


The B competition suggests that, in the current economic crisis, and where have I heard that term before, a case of whisky be used as the unit of currency. What would be the effect in Feb 1934 if this measure were to be adopted in Feb 1933 (prose or verse)? Why, asks Avery, is everyone so shy of the B competition? (the answer is threefold: it is often cancelled, rubbished, or just plain dull, and this one is no different). Casson has sent in a ballad, which she commends as a ballad, but says is not much to the point; Bliss, Nagal Cam and Ronald Bargate are commended, but the winners are reliables: W.A.Rathkey and Guy Hadley:


And at this point, Dorothy Avery disappears. She seems to have written no books, no articles, no letters. It may be that she is a pseudonym.

Competitions 139A and 139B: results

Ernest Betts asks for an introduction (up to 250 words) to a new aerial Bradshaw (a Bradshaw was the annual and hefty guide to the times of trains, connections between lines, and a) retained the name of Bradshaw though he had died in 1853 and b) survived until 1961: I can just remember it, and its pages of addenda). This didn’t strike me as a very promising subject for wit or humour, and I’m afraid I was right. ‘Few in number and not extraordinary in quality,’ is Betts’ laconic comment. The winner is J.H.G.Gibbs, and the runner-up is Guy Hadley.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe B competition was for a ‘Song On The Day I Was Born’, providing you were Masefield (a bit of a WR favourite for parody), Mussolini, Bertrand Russell, or Noel Coward.

Almost nobody goes for Coward or Russell, several for Masefield, but almost everyone for Il Duce.  Many says Betts, treated Mussolini ‘flippantly’, which is a ‘political crime of the first order’. I’m not so sure. The winner is nearly T.E. Casson, but Casson makes the mistake of introducing T.S. Eliot into his Mussolini song. The winner is Cottontail, and the runner-up is W.A.Rathkey.

Mussolini had been power for over 7 years at this stage. His invasion of Abyssinia was another three years in the future.




Competitions nos. 120A and 120B: results, plus special competition

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.

Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Jack Seely with Winston Churchill

Jack Seely with Winston Churchill


Maude Royden

Maude Royden











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

Lord Robert Baden-Powell






Evelyn Laye in 1933

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: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 …

Competitions 49A and 49B: results

In 1907, George Watts completed a statue called ‘Physical Energy’, a tribute to Cecil Rhodes (it’s based on a Rhodes memorial in South Africa). It stands in Kensington Gardens. You can read about it here, and it looks like this:

Physical Energy statue

Clennell Wilkinson asks for a valentine (the competition was set on Valentine’s Day) from ‘Physical Energy’ to Rima. He gets three kinds of poems back – charming love poems, music-hall songs, and rather rubbishy valentines … After some thought and regret he doesn’t choose the first lot, who include Seacape, but goes for D.S. Murgatroyd, and, holding his nose a bit, W. Hodgson Burnet, who has (not untypically) decorated his hand-written entry with hearts and arrows:


For 49B, he wonders what should be sent to Mars by way of greeting. In a rather vicious dismissal of the ‘habitual arrogance’ of mathematicians, he rubbishes the idea that Martians would understand our mathematical system. One of the entrants, who had then (as Wilkinson didn’t know) just won a first at Trinity College Cambridge in Mathematics, and was 23, suggested sending prime numbers. He disses and dismisses one H.M.S. Coxeter – always known as Donald Coxeter – who went on to be the most successful person on the planet in the field of geometry. You can read his Telegraph obituary here.

HMS Coxeter

Donald Coxeter in later life

In the end, he opts for a couple of witty messages from James Hall and Guy Hadley (I prefer Hadley’s but he gets the second prize; this is his second win after many close shaves and an earlier appearance as G.D.Hadley):