Robert Lynd now sets a sonnet in the style of Milton to be addressed to someone who has run off with the Speaker’s mace in the House of Commons. In our own time – okay, nearly four decades ago – this was a breach of parliamentary niceties most notoriously committed by Michael Heseltine. In 1976, as an opposition MP, he seized the mace and waved it at a Red-Flag-singing group of Labour members who were celebrating victory on a vote relating to the nationalisation of aerospace and shipbuilding.
However, the mace was also in the news in 1930. Gateshead’s Labour MP, John Beckett, who had been in 1924 the youngest MP in parliament, objected to the suspension of the disputatious Fenner Brockway (then MP for Leyton East, and to live to be a centenarian). Beckett seized the mace and attempted to take it from the chamber, and was duly suspended himself (Beckett lost his seat in 1931, joined Mosley’s fascist party, and was imprisoned during World War II).
Lynd is his usual playful self in his report: ‘It would be going too far to say that many of the sonnets which have been submitted to this Competition might have been written by Milton. It would be going too far, perhaps, to say that even one of them might have been written by Milton.’ One thing’s for sure: the competitors are not impressed by Beckett. A.D.M., Biddy, Gerald Leonard, W.B., Halcyon – all of them attempt to express some Miltonic fury. ‘Defiling the high symbol of our state/ With grin and caper like a clod-wit clown’ – which sounds a lot more like Shakespeare than Milton to me.
The winner is an entirely new name: J.W.Pepper. Here’s his effort – better for trying less hard to be serious:
The second prize goes to another newbie: Miss C.M. Bowen, who gets ticked off for her comparatively weak last line:
20B is an odd competition – to create a contents list of an imaginary ‘Post-Everything’ periodical, to be called ‘The Dustbin’. Lynd writes that most of the entrants, few in number, did not get the idea. But the winner did – that it was a spoof on experimental Gertrude-Stein-style writing. The winner was A.T. Chenhalls. What is extraordinary is that Chenhalls (his first name was Alfred) is another entrant who has a bit-part in a celebrated and disastrous incident which has never properly been solved. He was an accountant who worked for a number of actors, including Leslie Howard, the film star who readily signed up for anti-Nazi propaganda. He accompanied Howard (as his business manager) on a flight to Lisbon in June 1943, and was on board during the return. At the same time, Churchill had flown to North Africa, and there is a theory that Chenhalls was mistaken by spies for Churchill, to whom he was said to be similar (as Howard was also similar to Churchill’s assistant). The plane – Flight 777, handy for conspiracy theorists – was heavily targeted by eight Junkers aircraft and shot down, killing everyone on board. Churchill himself believed that the Germans had believed Chenhalls to be Churchill. A photo of Alfred Tregear Chenhalls survives from shortly before the flight:
Alfred T. Chenhalls
Runner up to Chenhalls was the classicist Gilbert Highet, a winner in a competition (16B) a month earlier. Here are their entries:
It would certainly seem that the readers of The Week-end Review, like the judges Wolfe, Squire, Lynd and Welby, amongst others, were firmly dismissive of all modernists – Joyce being a particular target, but Eliot (for ‘Dustbin’ read ‘Waste Land’) and Marinetti and Stein being further fodder for baiting.
There’s a 1956 Australian article, with pictures of Howard and Chenhalls, here, and another, with a longer description of Chenhalls, from a Tasmanian newspaper here.