Competition no. 221: results

One craze that was gathering supporters in 1934 was the caravanning holiday – the acravan had become popular in the twenties, but the thirties (and later the fifties) saw a rapid growth in its popularity. This is from 1929:

Caravan 29

The judge is Richard Church. Church notes that caravanning is all the rage, and that ‘motor-gypsies’ will threaten the countryside, requiring competitors to submit six rules. It is interestingly evident that Church is not a regular reader of the competitions – he gives out addresses, for instance, and makes a feature of where the people are from. So we are told that T.E. Casson is from Newton-le-Willows, Lancs. Casson has bothered Church because he (Casson) suggests that there should be no drinking. This does not fit with Church’s view. He conjures up several rural vicars from the entry, and says none of them had a problem with wine. The prize goes to James Hall, and the runner-up (with a very unsatirical set of instructions, leading one to believe that he was a caravanner) is Allan M. Laing. (He is from Lyndale, 19 Wavertree Nook Road, Liverpool 15.)




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. 190A and 190B: results

Dyneley Hussey, as I mentioned, sets another ballade. This is inspired by the impending closure of the Alhambra in Leicester Square (the date given when the competition was set was November 4th 1933). However, all the records seem to show that the Alhambra (the Odeon stands on its site) was not actually closed until September 1st 1936 – at which point it was demolished. So these ballades appear to be premature epitaphs.

Alhambra Leicester SquareThere are some slips. Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood apparently writes a good ballade but has Nijinksky dancing there – too highbrow for the Alhambra. Seacape (entering under his main pseudonym, after stints as two others, and his resignation poem earlier in the year) refers to there having been madrigals there – same mistake. As ever, T.E. Casson is just off the money (he has a reputation among the setters for using classical references). The winners are E.W.Fordham and James Hall (the former is wrongly credited as C.W. Fordham).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you ask me, both a bit grandiose for their own good ….

The B competition: in The Burlington Magazine of October 1933, the scholar Paul Ganz declared that a painting at Castle Howard of Henry VIII was an original Holbein. This was the subject of much argument (it is a theory that seems to have been discredited) – indeed, the next issue of the Burlington Magazine contained complaints about the paucity of evidence. This is the picture in question:

henryVIII 1542An epigram on the arguments was asked for. Among the entrants was Sir Robert Witt (the art historian friend of WR proprietor Sam Courtauld), who sent in half-a-dozen shots and (rather unfairly) is discounted because he should have chosen his best and sent that in (no reference to this in the rules!). The winners are R.G. (a new name) and D.S. Meldrum (a Scots historian who almost won 118B, which Sir Robert Witt also almost won).



Competitions nos. 186A and 186B: results

Frank Sidgwick sets a competition which was actually set again earlier this year (2014) in New Statesman. The idea is to take a proverb, and add a rider to it. An American agricultural journal had actually remarked that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness, but as far as cows are concerned, cleanliness should come first’. The recent NS competition gave its entrants free rein, more stimulating that Sidgwick’s stipulating (but okay, not insisting on) three well-known adages by the same writer: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Nearly fifty entrants, but many cheerily missed out that dull insistence ‘by the same writer’. In other words, folks, farming jokes called for. Only fourteen were left at this stage. Several were eliminated for writing bad American. Having kyboshed his own competition, Sidgwick is left only with the option of divvying up the two and a half guineas so that James Hall gets one, and three others (Phiz, M.C.Trench and T.E. Casson) carry off half a guinea.


More than fifty entrants have a bash at the B competition – to make a single heroic couplet out of Walter Savage Landor’s quatrain:


This is a well-known whole poem from the first half of the nineteenth century, but one suspects that Dirce is not so well-known – she was killed by her niece’s sons, by being tied to a bull’s horns. My question is, why turn it into a couplet? Oh well. Several competitors said it couldn’t be done.

Sidgwick, who is nothing if not a rigmaroler, discusses whether is right to use a word from the poem as a rhyme word, and eventually stops fretting giving out just one guinea to a very fortunate Charles G. Box (since it is a poor effort!), although it’s first win, and he’s come close:



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. 156A and 156B: results

Time to reveal the identity of another famous competitor. The judge this week is W.R. Hughes. But W.R. Hughes (full name, William Ravenscroft Hughes) is the real name behind Little Billee, who continued to win competitions well into the 1950s, and I think the early 1960s too. He gives his address as Shepton Mallet in Somerset in the 1950s, but he lived before that in Welwyn Garden City. He appears to have had several books published including The Seeker (1945) and Ye Cheerful Saints: verses, translations, trifles and toys (1959). He was also a Quaker who wrote a book on a famous Quaker called Corder Catchpool, published in 1952, and an equally famous, abolitionist Quaker, Sophia Sturge. I am now sure of the William Ravenscroft Hughes connection (there is a photo here if you click on the name and move down the page).

Hughes was born on 11 February 1880 in Barton Regis, Gloucestershire (which confirms the Shepton Mallet link). In 1911, he is the warden in Mansfield House, Canning Town, a ‘university settlement’, as he had been since 1908. His full name is given as William Ravenscroft Hughes in the 1911 census. He had been a student (Mathematics) at Jesus College Cambridge, after leaving Clifton School in Bristol. In 1906 he was called to the Bar, Middle Temple, on November 19. He was a member of West Ham Borough Council from 1909-22, and chairman of its Education Committee for five years. In 1945, his address was 21, Elmwood, Welwyn Garden City, Herts.; in 1945, he was a member of Welwyn U.D.C. as he had been from its from its formation in 1927. (Most of this information comes from the University of Cambridge’s records.)

Product Details
The A competition is to write the last paragraph of a ‘surprise-ending’ story, involving a policeman, a cat, and a lady scientist. The cats, says Hughes, fell into two camps. One was a vicious lot, as likely as not to have poisoned claws; the other lot suffered (the combination of ‘cat’ and ‘lady scientist’ apparently gave rises to several vivisection themes – ‘by no means a rich vein’, as Hughes remarks. The problem with the competition, reckons Hughes, is that many gave an anecdote, or supplied endings that were incomprehensible. He can’t help quoting two uncredited last sentences (both of which I like): (a) ‘Mrs Gray looked sadly at the husband she was murdering’, and (b), with no warning, [Brabbles the policeman] ‘looking into her smiling face, took hold of both her wrists and whispered ‘Joanna!”
Lester Ralph, S. Barrington Maclean, Bydand, and the pretty all-conquering William Bliss are all commended. But the winner is James Hall, edging Lapin (who is female) into second place.
For the B competition: it is said that the advertising departments of both Aberdeen Council and Ford Motor Company have established a joke manufactory. Hughes asks for new and original jokes on Aberdonian parsimony and on the Ford motor car. ‘On the whole, no,’ admits Hughes, agreeing that it has been cruelty to ask for jokes on such well-worn subjects. He gives a first prize to … William Bliss (but do not prepare to hold your sides). He does manage to work both Aberdeen and Fords into one story.
Aberdeen, 1930 - no joke, but I think that's a Ford.

Aberdeen, 1930 – no joke, but I think that’s a Ford.

Competitions nos. 155A and 155B: results

Obispo – a fairly successful competitor – sets a long-winded competition. ‘An eminent novelist has recently shown us,’ he says, ‘what might have happened to Don Juan if he had visited America’. He goes on to ask for three stanzas by Byron on Hollywood. (I’ve cut the instructions right down.) The novel he’s referring to – not sure why he doesn’t name it – is Eric Linklater’s ‘Juan in America’, set just before the Wall Street crash. Linklater still has a fairly high reputation, but this novel, which was published in 1931, tends to get a poorer press these days than his many others.

Juan in AmericaBlack Gnat and E.V.W. are commended, but the winners are William Bliss and James Hall. Obispo admits that he has picked Bliss over Hall because Bliss would have won the B competition as well, had the rules not forbidden it. A curious thing about competitors being elevated to judges is that they feel doubly free to criticise the details of the entries viz. ‘I don’t like the scansion of line 4 of verse 3’ (in Bliss’s poem) and ‘I am not sure about ‘cental” (in James Hall’s poem). I think they’re both very good.


The B competition instructions are also long-winded. The Greek poet Aeschylus is famous for the boldness of his language, so bold it goes beyond the limits of grotesque and ridiculous e.g. ‘The voiceless children of the undefiled’ (fish in the sea) and ‘Dust, the thirsty brother of mud’. Competitors are asked to use this style to describe a) a cigarette, b) a lipstick, c) whisky, d) a wireless receiving set [note how long-winded that seems to us] e) a tank and f) a cricket ball. Now for the detailed bit. ‘Competitors are reminded that they are being asked to produce poetry manqué in the grand style, and not clues for a crossword puzzle. Phrases should be rhythmical, and should not exceed greatly in length an ordinary line of blank verse. Rhyme is permitted, but not demanded.’ (It feels to me like those last two lines are contradicting one another.) Competitors (apart from Bliss, who can’t win because he’s already carried off the two guineas in A) are told that most of them managed one good one, but few managed more. Sir Robert Witt and Little Billee come close, but the prizes go to Phiz and J.H.


Honours Board 1932

I predicted this would be a close run thing between Seacape and William Hodgson Burnet, and my instinct was right. However, although Seacape is for the third year the winner, the margin of his victory is not so colossal.

Here are some statistics (1931’s in brackets and italics). In 1932, there were 114 [108] winners, who won 201 prizes [175] to the value of £210.15s3d [£181.3s.3d]. 36 [26] entrants won more than once.

Of the entrants, 15 appeared behind initials and 45 behind pseudonyms – so, just over half, as with the previous year.

The additional prize fund has to so with the fact that there was an extra competition (Jan 1 and Dec 31 both included), and because there were a few additional A prizes. This brings me to the winners, all of whom have won more than two competitions (unlike 1931). Previous years’ achievements are shown in brackets.

1. Seacape                                   10 victories             £12.0s.0d   (1,1)

2. W. Hodgson Burnet         8 victories              £9.9s.0d     (3, -)

3=  James Hall                          8 victories              £7.10s.6d   (-, -)

3=  W.G.                                         4 victories              £7.10s.6d    (-,-)

5.  Wiliam Bliss                        5 victories              £5.15s.6d    (-,-)

6. E.W.Fordham                     6 victories             £5.10s.6d     (-,-)

7. Valimus                                  3 victories             £5.5s.0d       (5,-)

8. Non Omnia                           3 victories              £4.14s.6d     (-,-)

9. Little Billee                           3 victories             £4.7s.3d       (2,-)

10= W.A.Rathkey                   3 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)

10= Lester Ralph                    3 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)

10= Eremita                              4 victories              £3.3s.0d      (-,-)


A few notes ….

William Bliss also won a further guinea as ‘W.B.’; Seacape won a further two guineas as ‘Black Gnat’ – on Dec 31, and perhaps an attempt to start a new year under a new name, but one which misfired.

W.G. – who may be W.Gladden – only really does so well because he is handed a four-guinea prize by Humbert Wolfe (who implies he wasn’t worth it!)

It is probable that some people are entering under more than one name and/or pseudonym. This becomes a pattern once the competitions are established in New Statesman.

Of the five signatories of the letter in the first edition of The Week-end Review, who declare themselves Saturday Review entrants ready for more, four are in this honours board (the fifth has never featured, at least not under his own name, in any competition) – Seacape, Valimus, Non Omnia and Lester Ralph.

No sign at all of two of the top ten from 1931 – Belinda and Heber. Just behind those named above are Pibwob (7= in 1931, and 2nd in 1930), Issachar, Guy Innes, Prudence, L.V.Upward, Olric and George van Raalte (the last three also featuring on the honours board the previous year).

Competitions nos. 144A and 144B: results

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1932, when this competition’s results are announced. The entrants and setters don’t know it, but there is now only one further complete year to go before the baton is passed to New Statesman. The setter is Dyneley Hussey and he notes that 1933 will be the centenary of Brahms’ birth. So an acrostic sonnet in honour of Johannes Brahms is asked for. It’s a small postbag (the season? The entrants would have had to have entered over Christmas). Just a dozen entries for this.

BrahmsAmong the also-rans (in both the A and the B competition, so the festive season doesn’t deter him) is the continuously luckless king of the Highly Commendeds, T.E. Casson. Hussey, however, does a spot of damning with faint praise before awarding first prize to a new (well, not-seen-before pseudonym) name: Black Gnat; the runner up is a close run thing between James Hall and William Bliss, which the former wins. (Bliss has also entered both competitions).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhoever Black Gnat is, he also has a shot at the B competition under the name Verb Sap (Hussey spots it’s the same typewriter and paper, and winning both competitions was off-limits). In fact Hussey suspects that Black Gnat/ Verb Sap is also one who ‘left his clothes on a beach, hoping to persuade us he was drowned’. So I take it that Black Gnat and Verb Sap are actually Seacape.  The B competition is to write in verse the fable of the man who gave the shears of Atropos, Atropos being the mythological woman, one of the Fates, who cuts the thread of life with shears, to the goddess of mischief and delusion (I think that’s right), Até, and what became of him. (I don’t know if this is an extant fable.) William Bliss and Lester Ralph win. (These aren’t very distinguished entries.)

Atropos is on the right:

FatesAnd this is Até:



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