Competitions nos. 193A and 193B: results

Seacape returns as a judge (he has had a strange year, what with his ‘resignation’, adoption of a second pseudonym and finally a return to form). He asks for an ‘ode to a ring of tobacco smoke’, but sets no line limit, so many entrants write odes of over 40 lines, and T.E. Casson goes over 50.


William Powell blowing a smoke ring in ‘The Thin Man’ (filmed in 1933, released in 1934)

Having noted that there is not as much light verse as expected, Seacape moves on to Eremita’s entry, which is in alcaics, and in Latin. The fifth line is apparently

Bacchantur extra turbine strenuo

– prompting Seacape, tongue wedged quietly in his cheek, to comment, ‘May I be corrected if I’m wrong, but I believe that the penultimate foot has a duty to be dactyl, whereas ‘turbine’ is amphimacered, as it were, by ‘strenuo’.’

The prizes go to Marion Peacock and Hazel Jenner. Hazel Jenner may well be Lady Hazel Lavery, whose maiden name was Martyn, but whose father was called Edward Jenner Martyn. She knew many of the radicals associated with the WR. Her Belfast-born husband had been an official war artist, and had painted over 400 portraits of her – one of which was used on Irish banknotes. Rumours persist that she had an affair with Michael Collins. She died in 1935 at the age of 49.

Lavery 1928



The B competition wants up to 8 lines of rhymed verse suitable to put in the front page of a collection of stamps from the British Empire. Seacape is clearly a philatelist. He responds to a suggestion that stamps are a poor investment by noting that ‘during the past year or so, the 1d Post Office of Mauritius of 1847 and the 1c British Guiana of 1856 fetched £2,400 and £7,000 respectively, and an English stamp of King Edward’s reign, issued at a face value of 10s, realised £825.’

Here is the Guianan stamp – the only example in the world:

1856 Guiana

In 2014, it sold for £5.6 million. That makes it, at least in weight, the most expensive item in the world.

There are plenty of puns, but Seacape rejects them on the grounds that the owner of an album would have to wince each time the album was opened. The prizes go to Issachar and W. Leslie Nicholls.


To finish on a melancholy note, this competition’s results appeared on December 9 1933. Six days earlier, William Hodgson Burnet had died. One of the most enthusiastic entrants, with a competitive pedigree going back to the Edwardian era, his death goes unremarked (compare the poem written in honour of ‘Ciel’). But it may be that his death coincided (as it did) with a period of particular turbulence in the magazine’s history.


Competitions nos. 169A and 169B: results

Say what you like about Frank Sidgwick, he constructs very off-the-wall competitions. The A competition here is intended to be both a parody of the proceedings of an academic discussion, and also a shot at solving a grammatical problem. He wants the minutes of the discussion between Dean, Bursar and Fellows of a College on an agenda item that runs ‘It is proposed to empower the Council to temporarily suspend vacant Fellowships’. (Apparently this was an actual item on an actual agenda, although Sidgwick won’t say where. The problem appears to be the split infinitive, until you start solving the split infinitive, at which point you start running into other problems. Sidgwick doesn’t think it’s a problem, splitting infinitives, and points out that it was only in 1893 and in America that it became an issue. (Fowler is very happy for some infinitives to be split.) But of course, it doesn’t end there. How do you suspend something that is vacant, for instance?

Only James Henderson, the winner, actually produces a set of minutes, but James Hall, whose entry is dialogue pure and simple, is allowed in because it amuses. (Nearly a fifth of the entrants wound up the debate by suggesting that they all retire for drinks!)


The B competition is to write a sonnet of any kind, but with the lines using the meter of ”Tis the voice of the sluggard,’ I heard him complain’. He gets thirty-one sonnets (and only one is discounted as not a sonnet, although there is some elaborate stuff about whether an octet/sestet principle is appropriate, and T.E. Casson is noted as having sent in fourteen and a bit lines. In the end, he cuts the footling and gives the prizes to Rosellen Bett and Issachar.


Competitions nos. 131A and 131B: results

Our latest judge is the son of a marquis (or marquess, I’ve never really sorted that out), which is why he is Lord David Cecil, or, to give him his full list of names, Edward Christian David Gascoyne-Cecil, had just turned 30 (he died on New Year’s Day 1986), and at this stage, the author of a single book, a life of Cowper, but one that had won the James Tait Black award AND the Hawthornden Prize. He wants a four line stanza poem (20 lines max) on ‘London in the Autumn’. Is it me or was I set this kind of thing at school?

The runners up include the trying-very-hard Sylvia Groves and also a Una Monk, who I think is probably the Una Monk who published two books about women and migration, and about the commonwealth, in the 1960s. But the winners are Seacape, and (splitting the half-guinea) Issachar and, yes, T.E. Casson (‘more fancy and finish’).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe B competition is very odd, and not very popular at all. It asks us to imagine D.H.Lawrence (only dead two years) meeting Dr. Johnson in Heaven and giving a description of him. These must be one of the earliest parodies of Lawrence, and, actuallyt, they’re pretty good. The winners are R.C.A. (was his name Victor?) and W.A. Rathkey.


Competitions nos. 126A and 126B: results

As seems just, W. Hodgson Burnet is given this competition to set and judge. This is the first competition (in this series) to give a creature the right to respond to its creator, in this case the cuckoo to Wordsworth. Here’s the original:

O blithe newcomer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice:
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear;
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off and near.

Though babbling only to the vale
Of sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;

The same whom in my schoolboy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.

To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou wert still a hope, a love;
Still longed for, never seen!

And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

O blessed birth! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, fairy place,
That is fit home for Thee!

The entries aren’t allowed to be longer than that (!) And, unable to hold back, WHB insists they begin with his own verse (one can sense the frustration that he isn’t allowed to enter):

Is that old Wordsworth there? Hold hard!
I thought I heard your voice.
Say, William! Shall I call you bard,
Or have you any choice?

Hmmm. Not that witty …

The winner is James Hall. (We know that there were 51 entrants, incidentally.) The runner-up is Issachar, who has previously been referred to as female, but is described as ‘he’ in this case. The one who just misses out is Sylvia Groves (and T.E. Casson not far behind). Groves had come close to winning a couple of Spectator competitions in 1932, so she was plainly keen. WHB starts his report with yet another piece of parody:

My heart leaped up when I beheld
So many pert replies,
But frankly, when I’d read them through,
I had it very hard to choose the two
To whom I felt myself compelled
To give a prize!
Until today I never knew
That cuckoos in their nests could be
So impudent with such variety!



For the B competition, he wants new but future dictionary definitions (competitions like this still exist) as in this (WHB-invented!) one for ‘Pedestrian’:

This is a natty little comp, but the curse of the B competition continues – there is only one winner, Ronald Bargate (as mentioned before, he is an architect’s son, and the only other thing I can discover is that he started World War II as a junior officer) although several who come up with one or two (there is an entrant called George T. Hay who is starting to figure in the nearly-made-it lists):OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Competitions nos. 123A and 123B: results

Alice Herbert – only the second competitor since Lester Ralph to be given this chance, as he was almost exactly a hundred competitions earlier – gets to set and judge this competition. It is certainly over 40 years since judginging has been farmed out to a competitor (setting a competition has been a regular opportunity). She was about 73, and had only won a smattering of competitions, but she had regularly been a runner-up, and would seem to have entered each week. She lived in Hampstead, and may have known some of the WR writers, but the most obviously significant event had been the competitors’ dinner. She observes that many familiar similes are pointless, citing ‘right as rain’, ‘as good as gold’, ‘as safe as a house’ and ‘as pretty as paint’ as four that have lost their force and sense. She asks for replacements for the four, adding two of competitors’ own devising. Hardly anyone, she reckons, has a successful set of six, though she admires H.C.M.’s ‘as slick as a slogan’. With a sort of cheery reluctance she allows the prize to go to Sawdust Asgold (an unfamiliar name), with Issachar – a she, Herbert reveals – coming second, particularly for her first three.???????????????????????????????               ??????????????????????The B competition is perhaps the first nod towards the rise of Fascism. A dictator, she suggests, has gained power in the country, and has suggested that the unemployed be eaten. Reactions? After setting the competition, Herbert writes, her pen ‘clove to the roof of my mouth’. She’s not being serious, but it’s a daft metaphor all the same. The ironists pitch in with H0dgson Burnet, Upward and L. Marsland Gander among the also-rans. But the winners are James Hall and Pibwob, neither of them newcomers to the podium:??????????????????????                                   ??????????????????????

Competitions nos. 106A and 106B: results

Humbert Wolfe returns to the fray with a request for a poem (‘no more than twenty lines’) rebuking Flora for having invented the fritillary (it is very hard to get under Wolfe’s skin and get a sense of what drives him, but you can read about Fritillaria here). This is a competition which attracts familiar names to the near-winners’ enclosure, including Dermot Spence, W. Hodgson Burnet, Lester Ralph, William Bliss, and, naturally, the ‘accomplished’ T.E. Casson. Issachar narrowly wins, with Prudence and Hilary being so, as it were, inseparable, that Wolfe asks if they can have a prize each. (This coy ‘meekly asking permission’ of the editor always means one thing – the other competition has gone wrong, and there is a half-guinea going spare.)

Here are the winners, all writing as if Eliot had never happened:



The other second prize I’ll have to type in:

Flora, can it really be
Your taste is lacking?
Or was it sheer fauity?
Or want of backing?
Some shortage in the scheme of things
That painted Fritillaria’s wings
Yet left you nought to clothe this waif
But the dull semblance of a leaf?
You clad the prettier ones in white,
The remainder in domestic checks.
I think you must admit it wasn’t right
Or fair to this poor child our eyes to [ ]*.
Forbar then to depress
Us, but for next year’s spring
A lovelier lily bring
With sprinkled silver on a cloth of gold
And to our sight unfold
An earthbound butterfly,
The true fritillary.


* There is plainly a word missing in the printed text, and the best I can suggest is ‘flex’.

Competition 106B could easily be set today – a list of the twelve worst phrases in journalistic use, the examples given being ‘acid test’ and ‘old Parliamentary hand’, both still with us. The results, though, says Wolfe, are disappointing (he says he nearly put ‘frankly disappointing’ , thereby adding another one to the list. He wants sloppy phrases not bad grammar or slogans. Wolfe provides a list of the twelve most common entries:


Numbers 2, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12 are certainly still around but not the others, I’d suggest. He allows one prizewinner, A. Raybould (a new name), who has 4 of these 12 in his entry:

If and when; gives furiously to think; to implement their promises; an inferiority complex; taking in one another’s washing; the psychological moment; making up on the swings what you lose on the roundabouts; getting together; exploring every avenue; a fair crack o’ the whip; placing their cards on the table; the eternal triangle.

Raybould’s list sounds dated apart from getting together, exploring every avenue, and maybe placing their cards on the table. It’s interesting to see the word ‘implement’ in there at such an early date (it’s a hate-word of mine, but I’ve always dated it as the 1980s, along with its buddy ‘proactive’).

Competitions nos 55A and 55B: results

Humbert Wolfe admits dropping himself in it with the first of these (the judges have been indulging a great deal of mea culpa of late). Having asked for a rhymed poem of not more than 20 lines, beginning ”You too at midnight suddenly awaking’, he has unleashed upon himself ‘ecstasies of sentimentality … if all the broken hearts among Week-end Review competitors were placed in a row, the last Trumpet would be instantly blown’. One competitor, Isabel Radcliffe, is told she nearly won but was ‘a little too Talbot Baines Reed’ (Reed was a Boys’ Own Paper writer, whose output included The Fifth Form At St. Dominic’s). Another competitor writes ‘with vigour’ of ‘Mary Stuart to Darnley’ (sic), but is not chosen. He is T.E.Casson.

The winners are Issachar and S.:

WR Comp 55

With all due respect to 1930s competitors, contemporary equivalents could have done 55B in their sleep. A short story of 300 – yes, 300! and the point is that that’s a lot! – words is asked for, which has to include the words solipsism, ludo, sundials, morticians, and ectoplasm. That’s five words. A modern version would ask for ten specified words in a total of 150 , or else within 16 lines. The winners are G.M.Gloag and H.C.M., the latter having had the ‘notion of working it in by crosswords’. Competitors looking back will recognise this as verging on cheating …

WR Comp 55a

WR Comp 55b

It is with a mixture of regret and a certain sense of inevitability that I report that one competitor alleged to have written a ‘neat’ story but of having made it ‘too easy’ by choosing a conversation with a philosophy tutor, is T.E.Casson.