Competitions nos. 103A and 103B: results

A new judge, Philip Jordan (later better known as a war correspondent) sets a competition for American style tabloid headlines (he wonders what will happen ‘if tabloid newspapers ever reach this country’ and suggests that there is headline-making talent aplenty, although the commended and winning entries seem quite long-winded to a modern eye). The competitors had to come up with headlines for any two of the following historical events: the landing of the Ark on Ararat; Drake’s game of bowls; the death of the Earl of Chatham [Pitt the elder]; Queen Victoria being ‘not amused’; the execution of Katherine Howard. Let’s leave aside the fact that the first two didn’t happen, and the fourth is thought to be an invention. Pitt the elder’s death is variously reported as containing different anti-American epithets.

The flood is the most popular subject, and Jordan likes what he sees:  YID ZOO HITS HIGH SPOT (Lester Ralph) and ARARATTA BOY! (W.G.Fraser) But he also commends the very long SHOWBOAT CHEATS PROHIBITION FAN (Seacape). Drake (not so successful says Jordan) includes BIG SHOTS QUIZ HIJACKER FOR SLANT ON ARMADA RACKET (C.G.M.) and – ‘more of a tabloid length’, which shows you how times have changed, DRAKE RAZZES DAGO FLEET AT PLYMOUTH WHOOPEE PARTY: “SIT IN THE GAME, THEM SAPS CAN WAIT”, SEZ FRANKY (M. Pigott). Almost nobody tries Pitt (perhaps, like me, they couldn’t recall his last words).  Queen Victoria becomes VICKY and ENGLAND’S HEAD GIRL and he commends David Waycher’s QUEEN VIC RASPBERRIES COURT SAP (better, says Jordan, if he’d left out QUEEN or VIC). Howard’s death gives us ROYAL BLUEBEARD EUCHRES NAP-HAND GIRL FRIEND (Ophelia).

But the winners are Jocelyn C. Lea and Rowley Mile (a pseudonym: it’s a course at Newmarket):


The next task is to write a joint obituary notice in the style of Hannen Swaffer and James Douglas, after (oh the perpetual fantasy of the WR journalists) Rothermere and Beaverbrook have been killed in a car accident. One of the winners professes not to know much about Swaffer (although Swaffer has already featured in 34B and 39A as the butt of jokes – he was the Daily Express gossip columnist); James Douglas had been the Sunday Express’s editor until a year before this. The winner is ‘Anonymous’ (who is asked to supply an address, which wouldn’t be enough, I suspect). Jordan speculates that it may be Douglas himself, the style being ‘exactly as though one had read it all before while sitting in a hot bath sipping warm creme-de-menthe out of a teacup’, a long epithet I very much admire. Douglas can be seen here, head in hand, so probably thinking about the censorship of The Well of Loneliness, one of his obsessions. Here is Swaffer:


And here is Anonymous (some of the text is corrupted so I’ll complete the entry):


templating it. Caught in the fine steel meshes of a materialism they sought to avoid, their death is a tragedy that cannot be paralleled even in literature: a tragedy that ascends to the highest heights and descends to the deepest depths. The malevolence of circumstance bewilders one. Faith reels beneath such a blow. Yet one’s reason absolves God from guilt. Materialistic machinery is the malignant machination of morbid man, not the work of his Creator. These men, prophets, imperialists were martyrs at the stake of American unspirituality and speech. Fate mocks …


The runner up is H.A. L. Cockerell:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACockerell – Hugh Anthony Lewis Cockerell – was the most prolific and populist expert on insurance in the twentieth century, incidentally. All the guide books, from the professional manuals to Teach Yourself Insurance (1958) were his work. He was born in 1909, and married in 1939. He was the son of a managing director of a bedstead-making firm, was born in Fulham, and died in Brent in 1997. With his wife Fanny, he was a leading light in anti-censorship campaigns. Their son Michael is the BBC political documetary-maker.

Competitions nos. 92A and 92B: results

In the final competition of 1931, Ivor Brown points out that geology is the Cinderella of poetry, whereas ornithology and botany have plenty dedicated to them. So he asks for an Ode to Oolite        (24 lines max) …


Ooids, which make up oolite

Apparently the Cenotaph is made of oolite, but the winning poems went an extra half-a-mile, and the old stagers sweep the guineas: Valimus and Seacape.



92B was for a four-liner on a ‘Treasured Joke Which Fell Dead’ – not easy, I’d have thought. There are several runners-up (T.E. Casson is a runner-up in both competitions). W. Hodgson Burnet, Heber, Mariamne, James Hall, Lyn Carruthers and Non Omnia are all just edged out by Jocelyn Lea (winner of 1B) and Cuniculus.


At which point, we have reached the end of the first complete year of the competitions, and it is time to get out the abacus.

Competitions nos. 71A and 71B: results

Charles Riddell firstly sets a three-stanza song on the subject of ‘sherry’, the drink havingmade something of a comeback, after a period of being eclipsed by the cocktail. Entrants are upbraided (as they still are) for sending in poems that cannot be sung. Riddell had hoped for something ‘rollicking’ and crying out for a music-hall tune, but no such luck. Guy Innes, Gertrude Pitt and Seacape are among the commended, T.E.Casson is noted as having gone to the trouble of producing an effort about Sherry being the nickname of the playwright Sheridan. Casson spent so long in getting to his first prize, one despairs of his reaching the second. Riddell gives the first prize to William Bliss (while excoriating his use of ‘post-prandial’ as ‘obnoxious’); the second goes to D.B.




1930s sherry advertisement

The B competition originates with an idea proposed by Osbert Sitwell that there be a society recommending the worst book to be published each month. Riddell wants an extract from a prospectus setting out such a society’s name, aims, advantages, and five nominees for the selection committee (and why they are qualified to fill these positions). This had the air to me of a competition that was going to fall over its feet. And so it proved. Almost everyone proposed either Sitwell himself or (more often) the Dean of St. Paul’s (or, a bit predictably, five WR staff members). The Dean of St. Paul’s was Dean Inge (rhymes with twinge), colloquially known as the gloomy dean, because of his repeated pessimism (he was anxious about the intelligence, or lack of it, of the masses, and was an advocate of eugenics. Born in 1860, he lived to be 94).

Dean Inge

Dean W.R.Inge

In the event, only one prize is awarded, and it goes to Jocelyn C. Lea – last seen as ‘Mrs. G.P. Lea’, winning the very first competition.