Competition no. 224: results

Frank Sidgwick asks for a companion poem to go with Beachcomber’s ‘Epitaph on a Lighthousekeeper’s Horse’, which goes thus:


On December 13 1950, the poem cropped up in a radio broadcast on the Home Service, (recorded two days earlier) in which the poet W. R. Rodgers quoted it admiringly, and Dylan Thomas, chairing, said he couldn’t see why Rodgers though Beachcomber was a good poet. The show was reviewed for The Listener … by Martin Armstrong. Neither Armstrong nor Beachcomber (J.B. Morton, the Daily Express columnist for over 50 years and whose only rival as a humourist of this type is Flann O’Brien) would have been enamoured of Thomas’s work. Morton and Armstrong were NS judges. Thomas was an entrant!

Sidgwick suggested four-liners but gamely half-conceded this was not an absolute rule (not good! competitors hate it when the rules are not precise!). He had not bargained non the number of entries, however (54). The cause was easy to spot – there was a heatwave in July 1934, captured by this picture from the Getty Archive:

1934 drought

While George V stopped watering his gardens, a judge (Lord Merrivale) sat without a wig, and prayers were offered for rain. And NS readers in a mood of indolence, dashed off four line epitaphs to pass the time.

Sidgwick spends his time defining – how judges love doing this – what is not right about various entries. I don’t yet know which entrant was from Wimborne, in Dorset, but he or she sent in four entries that Sidgwick dismisses as being anything but companion pieces to Morton. They refer t0 a lighthousekeeper’s wife, girl, hens and debtors: but they don’t sound similar to Morton. He quotes approvingly two verses that are ‘hors concours’, which presumably in this case means he wrote them himself … a desperate strategy for any judge, although I confess I’ve done it once, as a TES competition judge. Here are Sidgwick’s efforts:


He quotes a failed entry by David Holland, but only out of admiration for the wonderful rhyme for 3d, he/ discrepancy. In the end he splits the prizes into five half-guineas and hands them out – now here’s a surprise! Out of retirement once more comes the veteran Seacape. He is joined on the podium by H.C.M., John Mavrogordato, Saumarez, and Alfred Holland (perhaps related to David? But if not, Alfred Holland was a Derby Methodist who became Clay Cross MP in the 1935 election, in succession to Arthur Henderson, the Labour Party leader (and first cabinet minister), who died in 1935. Holland, who was 35, won the seat as the third Labour MP for Clay Cross in four years. He died of spinal meningitis within a year.His last exchange in the Commons, in April 1936, was about head teachers refusing to allow fresh milk to be delivered. The Scots Conservative MP Frederick Macquisten picked him up on this – he suggested the milk being held back was pasterised, pasteurised milk being ‘devitalised’.

One of the entries has interruptions by Prodnose. A prodnose is an inquisitive person, but Sidgwick is referring to Beachcomber, whose columns were often ‘interrupted’ by Prodnose, playing the part of the readers who were bored with his rambling (in Flann O’Brien’s journalism as Myles naGopaleen, the same role is taken by ‘The Plain People of Ireland’).




Competition no. 219: results

After spending so long masterminding the competition, the WR’s editor, Gerald Barry, now on the board of New Statesman and Nation, judges his first competition. He has asked for a hate poem, of which he notes that there are examples in The Week-End Book (1923, with sixteen reprints before a new and expanded edition in 1928), an anthology edited by Francis and Vera Meynell that seems likely to be the major influence on the title of The Week-end Review. It was published by the Nonesuch Press. The targets of all this hate were to be either a) the manager of a pretentious country hotel that has monstrously overcharged, or b) a bank Holiday party that has marauded a local copse and uprooted wild flowers (a rare example of marauded as a transitive verb).

‘When I said ‘hate’, I meant ‘hate”, starts Barry, adding ‘and when I said ‘poem’, I meant ‘poem’.’ He concedes that you can’t order up hate as he has done; that a good hate poem is only going to come from genuine rather than manufactured rage. (Barry has had in mind something like Chesterton’s The White Horse (1911), a fragment of which appears in TWB.) Like Moore in 218, Barry has words of greeting for competitors old and new (he adds ‘Hail!’ to Lester Ralph’s name, and picks out W. Leslie Nicholls, Issachar and Marion Peacock amongst others). The prizes are split so that D.C.R. Francombe gets one and a half guineas, while H.C.M and Palermo get a half-guinea each. Francombe is said to be writing in the ‘style of Mrs. Kinsfoot’, a slip for ‘Mrs. Kinfoot’, who features in an elaborate social satire by Osbert Sitwell, printed in 1921 (sixteen pages long, and limited to 101 copies, you can pick one up today for between £100 and £250). Mrs. Kinfoot, an opinionated bore, is said to be based on the society hostess, Sybil, Lady Colefax (1874 – 1950). (There is a surprising number of mis-attributed photos of her on the web, mostly of Nancy Lancaster, who bought Colefax’s interest in the interior decoration firm, Colefax and Fowler, just before World War Two. The firm still exists.) There is one of her with Cecil Beaton, in the 1930s, at the National Portrait Gallery here. An extract from Osbert Sitwell’s lampoon of Mrs. Kinfoot appears in TWB. He, his brother Sacheverell, and his sister Edith, had contributed to The Week-End Review. Curiously enough, Osbert’s third (of three) forenames was Sacheverell.

Here is a sample from ‘At the House of Mrs. Kinfoot’:

The black curls of Mrs. Kinfoot
Are symmetrical.
Descended, it is said,
From the Kings of Ethiopia
But the British bourgeoisie has triumphed.

Mr. Kinfoot is bald
And talks
In front of the fireplace
With his head on one side,
And his right hand
In his pocket.


Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell Sitwell


The Weekend Book was extremely popular and well-designed. After a collection of ‘Great Poems’ there are several further selections, including the Hate Poems, but also including songs, instructions on making cocktails, sandwiches and playing games of all sorts when out in the country. (The cocktails are lethal, and the presumption is that readers have driven to their destination.) There is an entertaining section on legal untruths, and the whole thing would appeal to anyone who liked This England. I rather like the first two and last two pages, which fold out to make a serviceable chess board and checkers board.

TWB 001

Inside The Weekend Book (1923) – note that it’s a ruler as well.

Competition no. 215: results

This is the first competition published in New Statesman and Nation to be judged by Sylvia Lynd. She must have been pleased by the move to the NS&N: her husband Robert, aka ‘Y.Y.’, was its star columnist. She chooses a subject still under debate today – pronouncing foreign place names. Why do we say Paris instead of Paree, but Nees instead of Nice? Answers on a postcard from the appropriately mispronounced place. (Even within England it is a problem. Nobody in Newcastle says Newcastle with a long a, and an emphasis on the second syllable; they say Newcastle with a short a, and an even beat on each syllable.)

She asks for a poem from 14-40 lines on the subject ‘The Discoveries of Foreign Travel’. This is characteristic of Lynd, who tends to give everyone a lot of rope, and then gives herself plenty of rope as well. 40 lines! And there is a specific insistence on the last line: ‘And Guadalquivir called ‘Gwad-al-kee-ver’. She doesn’t give a precise ruling on the weight on those syllables, and even her suggested pronunciation is open to doubt. For instance, here’s Fisher’s account of the river in 1797-8:

Fisher on Gquivir

But here’s Paul Gwynne from 1912 (see the footnote):


These are treacherous waters. But here’s the picture from Gwynne’s edition:


Lynd’s style is as ever chatty and distinctive (very few of the judges can be recognised without seeing the name. Lynd is one; Squire another; the dreadful Agate a third). If Barry, now on the NS&N board had any advice, it would have been to clear an additional column (effectively what happens). A couple of entrants, Palermo and Bow-wow, attempt to impress (e.g. Chicago = Shee-cago), but the latter apparently can’t do Valladolid … Guy Innes sees his whole entry printed but Lynd says it’s too clever for her (she can’t ‘do his eighth or nineteenth line’):


Perhaps the problem here is the switch between new and old (has no/ doth oft). Lynd has a great line in suggesting that she has heard gentlemen fall out when lunching in Soho because one has pronounced the second t in risotto… In her scatty way, pausing to accidentally reveal Pibwob’s name but call him Goldsmith instead of Goldsmid, she winnows her list to four, discards Allan M. Laing, and divides first prize (a guinea each) between H.C.M. and E.J., with W. Leslie Nicholls sneaking in for the half-guinea.






This is the first successful competition to be published in New Statesman, in my view.

Competition no. 200: results

We finally arrive at the first competition to be set and judged in New Statesman, with 200 being a nice round number, and curiously also as far the Saturday Review had reached before the defections. But come the hour, come not the man. Frank Sidgwick sets an almost impenetrable competition. Sidgwick recognises there is a problem, but seems to think it’s the 20-line limit. But what would you do with this?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second sentence is a nightmare. It confuses some entrants (although I don’t see why) into only using words in the instructions – as you’ll see, the winner uses ‘conduit’. The idea is to satirise the obsession with ‘correctness’ (this recurred in the 1970s or 1980s, when Angela Rippon, for instance, made a point of making the ‘l’s silent in ‘guerilla’. But a poem on this?

William Bliss (another returnee) had a nice rhyme between ‘constable’ and ‘unstable’, apparently. Allan M. Laing starts well but limps home (give him time). In the end, Sidgwick declines to give the full first prize, and hands a guinea each to H.C.M. and N.B. for these rather trifling affairs (the Cholmondley gag has it seems been around forever):





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. 181A and 181B: results

A new judge, John C. Moore – the C is for Cecil – arrives. He was just 26 at the time (he lived from 1907 to 1967, during which time he wrote over forty books about English landscape and countryside and conservation). He asks entrants to imagine that The Taming of the Shrew ends with Kate winning the battle, and sending for a chastened Petruchio, Hortensio and Lucentio, to give a speech about what Husbands Owe Their Wives. (There had been been a Fairbanks/Pickford film version of the play a few years earlier in 1929, which you can watch the end of here. I’ve always preferred it to the Burton/Taylor effort and other ones – including a curious Charlton Heston TV one in about 1950. At the end of the speech declaring obedience, she turns to the audience and winks.)


One of the runners up is Lilian Oldfield-Davies, a teacher from Hayes (nee Lewis) who had recently married Alun Oldfield-Davies, who was destined to become the controller of BBC Wales, and one of the principal influences on the Welsh cultural revival.

Moore claims to have judged this on holiday at the sea-side. He picks L.V. Upward (on a streak) and W.E.B. Henderson. They’re both good entries, even if I doubt Shakespeare would have coined the phrase ‘tun-bellied tosspots’. But it’s a good one, and I may take to using it.


The B competition asks you to imagine a naturalist dreaming that he has a cabinet not of butterflies, but of public figures, and asks for Latin names. So we may not all get all the jokes in this. There is a huge set of runners-up (in which Little Billee appears as himself and as W.R. Hughes; and Lester Ralph – written as B. Lester Ralph – is the other main proxime accessit).

The entrants were given six specific specimens: MacDonald, Snowden, Shaw, Hitler, Lady Astor and Charlie Chaplin. I wondered to what extent they were the same age, and in what order they were born. They’re in this order:




NPG x122244; Philip Snowden, Viscount Snowden by Bassano











In fact, Chaplin and Hitler were born in the same April week in 1889.

Now for the imaginary botany, won by Redling and H.C.M. (though Moore doesn’t like the latter’s Chaplin):


It’s clear that Snowden and MacDonald are seen as a waffler and an argumentative so-and-so.

Competitions nos. 180A and 180B: results

For the first time a competitor is given a second shot at being a judge – the honour falls, of course, to Seacape. He firstly asks for a ‘main clause or clauses’ of a Better England Act, 1933. As with the previous week, there seems less space given over to the report, although this may be because not many quite get the idea of parodying the language of parliamentary law (not many lawgivers, as Seacape remarks). Both of the winners here seem to me very skilled, although the newbie who picks up the second prize, Redling, is really parodying the language of legal documents relating to land. The downbeat nature of this competition is a combination of Seacape (a laconic) and the dry irony of the winners: H.C.M. and Redling, as noted. Seacape remarks that the word ‘etc.’ never been seen in a parliamentary act.



The B competition asks for a requiem, for anything, in eight lines. Everyone channels their inner Georgian, and the winners are Rosellen Bett and Marion Peacock: