Competition no. 218: results

A return to the competition for John Moore. He reports the experience of receiving a letter from from an indignant male reader, who accuses him and his novel of ‘bare filth’ and ‘sensual garbage’ that is an ‘insult to the modern girl’. He has been advised that the book has been burned. How ought one to respond to such a letter?

James Hall proposes that he offers to charge him for a copy of his next novel, with all the objectionable bits marked up.  There are many names mentioned as runners-up, several familiar (Southron, W.E.B. Henderson, W. Leslie Nicholls, Marion Peacock, Allan M. Laing), but two notable. One is T.S. – Thomas Simons – Attlee (mis-spelt as Atlee); the other is W.A. Ismay. Tom Attlee (1880-1960) was the elder brother of Clement Attlee, with whom he had a lifelong correspondence – Tom was an architect, and had had a very different Great War – the elder boy had been a conscientious objector. Tom Attlee had also published a book called ‘Man And His Buildings’, an account of the influence of building on the working man’s experience. This was first published in 1919, but based on a talk he had done in 1914. The book was still being reprinted in the 1950s.

Tom Attlee

Tom, Laurence and Clement Attlee as children

W.A. Ismay – William Alfred – Ismay (known as Bill) was born in Wakefield in 1910, and died in 2001. He was a librarian who lived in a two-bedroom terrace in his home town, and accumulated no fewer than 3,500 pots, a collection that earned him the MBE in 1982, for services to studio pottery, of which he was an enthusiastic proselyte.


Bill Ismay

However, the winners are L.V.Upward and John Rutherford (a nice example of not using the words available):


Moore takes time at the end of his report to say how nice it is to see the Week-end Review crowd, noting in particular William Bliss and T.E. Casson, respectively memorable for adding footnotes, and for quoting from the Classics.


Competition no. 217: results

Gerald Bullett oversees this competition, which asks for an extract from Earle’s Microcosomography (you can read it here). This is the second time it has been used as the basis for a competition (it was used by Anthony Bertram in 170B). The idea is to come up with a denunciation of rearmament, and arms manufacturers (and by the by, to come up with a term of abuse for them). Rearmament had started to become a major issue with the failure of the Zurich arms conference in 1933, and Hitler’s rise to power – and his refusal to be part of the League of Nations. Macdonald’s government hads a huge majority, but he himself was now becoming ill. New Statesman and Nation was vocal in its antipathy to rearmament, thereby siding with the Labour Party in opposition (and Lloyd George’s Liberals and a few other Liberals). Baldwin, effectively the prime minister, began planning a growth in armament, and was harried by men like Churchill for moving too slowly. It is worth remembering that there was quite a feeling in favour of peace, as was suggested by the ‘Peace Ballot’ held later in 1934 – which found the population far from decisive about armament, and split 50:50 on the subject. There is a good outline here.

Bullett is aggrieved that no-one has come up with a good word; but he has no uncertainty about the direction to be taken by the prizes. In this still relatively rare political competition, it seems appropriate that the conscientious objector Allan M. Laing should grab the first prize. L.V. Upward is second. Redling is commended for the word ‘gunster’.


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. 185A and 185B: results

H.G. Wells is quoted by Ernest Betts as having said that ‘Luncheon parties for literary men may give way to lynching parties before my time is over.” (It was far from a flippant comment. He made the remark on his sixty-sixth birthday, 21 September 1933, in a speech attacking the loutish behaviour of Hitlerism.) But Betts sees some potential for a jape, and asks for a description of a Lynching party with names supplied. the competitors duly went to town with accounts, for instance, of J.H. Thomas (the Colonial Secretary in the National Government, and expelled from the Labour Party for sticking with MacDonald) being hanged with his own tie (he was known as an elegant dresser). Wells, Shaw, Belloc, Chesterton and Sir John Squire are the principal sufferers. In fact two of the best entrants, W. Leslie Nicholls and William Bliss, are so carried away that they over-shoot the word limit. P.S.C. grabs the guineas, and L.V. Upward adds another half-guinea to his mounting stash:


I like the drollery here. I am afraid the Bishop Narkover joke sails over my head; Ethel Mannin, however, was a radical writer and forceful political thinker who had written a very well-received account of the 1920s in 1930 (‘Impressions and Confessions’), and was to become the lover of W.B. Yeats in 1935 before marrying Reginald Reynolds, 176 of whose poems appeared in New Statesman.

The B competition emanates from the proposal that policemen be recruited from universities, and a police college established. Betts asks for a college song (the college was opened by the Prince of Wales at Hendon in May 1934, and closed at the outset of the war. It did not re-open until 1974, and closed again in 2007). He is so pleased that he prints three – by Peter Hadley (here’s his first win), W.E.B. Henderson and (although he gets no reward), W. J. Halliday:


Lord (Hugh) Trenchard, mentioned in all three printed entries,  had been the first head of the Royal Flying Corps, and was later Chief of the Air Staff. In the 1930s, he was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police:



Competitions nos. 182A and 182B: results

R. Ellis Roberts makes his second appearance as a judge. He wants a ballade with the title ‘Any Wife To Any Husband’ or ‘Any Husband To Any Wife’, and the refrain ‘And that was his (her) idea of tact’. (Not a great refrain, I’d say.)

Roberts is not impressed with the results – should have been done in the voice of a third person, rhymes too far fetched etc. He mentions Rose Fitzpatrick as having contributed a good last stanza – unusual to see her name. She is in fact always to be found hiding behind the pseudonym ‘Chauve-Souris’. He plumps for Black Gnat before L.V. Upward (now on a serious roll), despite the former’s rather desperate -ay rhymes (there is no easier syllable, so ‘popinjay’ seems especially pointless).


It’s a purely personal thing, but I am underwhelmed by the ballade: goes on too long, stretches repetition to breaking point, is rarely able to sustain humour. Ah well.


The B competition – only eleven entrants, which is a very bad sign, and suggests to me that the circulation has started to fall – is a more interesting proposition. Which six ‘legal restrictions on personal liberty’ should be abolished? Apart from admiring a couple of facetious entries, which are discounted, Roberts is anxious to point out that some of what was assumed to be illegal is not illegal at all. Bathing in the sea naked, he points out, is not illegal – there are simply some local bye-laws and an act against indecent exposure. It is not illegal to get married after three in the afternoon (just expensive). Women are not legally obliged to take their husbands’ names. In fact, and perhaps this is a better argument as to why only eleven have entered, perhaps it’s quite hard to think of six obstacles to personal liberty. Roberts says he hasn’t discriminated by using his own views, but is pleased that a law forbidding the destitute from sleeping out comes in for such a bashing. (Divorce laws are also mentioned.)

The business of not being allowed to sleep rough can be traced back to the 1824 Vagrancy Act in particular, but to a series of eighteenth century laws as well. In fact the 1824 Vagrancy Act is still in force, although it has been amended, as it was just two years after this competition, in 1935, at which point you could not be called a rogue or a vagabond if you had been offered but turned down a place of refuge. It is a little chilling to realise that the word ‘vagabond’ has legal force.

The winners are N.B. and (suddenly appearing almost weekly), Redling. Roberts is not sure about the ‘legitimacy’ of Redling’s points 3 and 5. I’m not quite sure what he means by this. It is interesting that ‘compulsory retirement’ is raised as an issue so long ago, since it is only a few years since it was officially banned.


vagrancy-act 1824

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.

Competition no. 179: results

We are now in September 1933, and this is the week in which the competition was moved to the place where it still remains in New Statesman – at the end. You’ll notice that the writer (Gerald Barry or just perhaps Max Nicholson, who seems to be the deputy editor now) make a point of saying how successful a feature it has been:


The judge, Norman Collins, asks for a poem to the metre of ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ – about packing for going on holiday. The competition would have been set in August, and it must have seemed a curiously dated exercise when read. There is no B competition, but an offer of three prizes (two, one, half a guinea). Collins has to put up with some stick for asking for 16 lines, when the stipulated poem has six line verses; and he also declines to give out the third prize. It’s perhaps the shortest competition column there has been.

The prizewinners are old hands: L.V.Upward and Black Gnat: