Competition no. 213: results

Returning after a while, Vita Sackville-West says she regrets that H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage hasn’t included, for example, a section on ‘purple prose’. She asks for a section of 600 (600!!!) words that might get into a future edition. Fowler – Henry Watson Fowler – had published his book in 1926, and had died in 1933, i.e. a year earlier.


In her adjudication, Sackville-West wonders if she’s not been clear enough. All but four entrants ignore the ‘for example’ and produce entries on ‘purple prose’ or ‘purple patch’ (one of the runners-up is Allan M. Laing on ‘Americanisms’, which, alas, is overlooked). Fowler is not at all easy to parody – he is scholarly and subversive, and a great read.

Lester Ralph grabs the two guineas with a definition of ‘purple patch’; Eremita comes close behind with ‘Pulpitry’.




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.





Competition no. 157: results

Just the one competition this week, from Gerald Bullett: the winner to get two guineas, the second to get one guinea, and the third-placed to get half a guinea (a saving of half a guinea on the usual prize pot!). ‘Spring has survived her poets, and will survive others,’ writes Bullett, a bit nebulously. He asks for a poem entitled ‘April 1933’, in three six- or eight-line stanzas, the stanzas to be in a combination of two metres. He gives an example (not to be slavishly followed) from Blake’s ‘Night’:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOddly enough, he also says that anyone who wants to drop the 1933 is welcome to, and that those who do opt to go with 1933 ‘and who write with some consciousness of our times, are advised not to make specific political allusions’. Why? What’s the point of that?

Anyway, it’s a disaster: ‘Many entrants seemed to misunderstand the terms of the competition, thinking it sufficient to vary the length of their lines, and not troubling to introduce a definite metrical change; and others, having achieved such a change in the first stanza, failed to sustain it throughout.’ Ouch. He then proceeds to take apart Prudence’s poem (Prudence is a ‘she”), despite it being ‘charming’. William Bliss and Pibwob and ‘a few others’ are let off. The prizes go to D.C.R.Francombe, Lester Ralph and Cottontail in that order. He hasn’t got space for Cottontail’s poem, but promises it will be published very soon. It never is: the first and only example of a half-guinea being handed to a writer whose work remained unpublished in the WR.


No two ways about it: these poems could and would have won competitions set over thirty years earlier.


Competitions nos. 150A and 150B: results

When I saw that James Agate was the setter, my heart sank a little. His previous stints have consisted of much moaning. He has asked for an essay (300 words max) on which of the following inventions have done the most harm, and why: printing, steam power, the internal combustion engine, electricity, wireless. Not much fun.

His feedback is brief and as curmudgeonly as I’d feared it might be: ‘The entries for this competition were of a dullness which could not have been surpassed if dullness was the quality asked for. There was a complete absence of wit.’ All the competitors have shied away from the amusing, bar one, he says, citing Wilde and Belloc as models they might have adopted. The one man standing is Lester Ralph. Grudgingly, he gives a second prize to Brutus (‘who has tried to be amusing’). There is even space for an unpaid Commended – Black Gnat aka Seacape again (‘his essay might be part of a sermon’).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANever mind, eh? There’s still the B competition to come. The prizes are for the best impromptu witticism yet to be printed. The example is this:

A plain, pot-bellied, undersized Jew, returning from a holiday in Margate, was asked how he liked it. He replied: ‘I hated it – everyone looked like me!’

Well …

I am going to break a habit, and print Agate’s comments in full.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope he wasn’t paid!

Competitions nos. 147A and 147B: results

Clennell Wilkinson suggests an ode to the Christmas Stilton, begging it not to grow over-ripe too soon, and in the manner of Herrick’s ‘Fair Daffodils’:

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
         You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
         Has not attain’d his noon.
                        Stay, stay,
                Until the hasting day
                        Has run
                But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.


We have short time to stay, as you,
         We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
         As you, or anything.
                        We die
                As your hours do, and dry
                Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

Wilkinson is surprised to find that there are many WR readers who don’t actually like Stilton, but thinks the standard of entry – a compliment for the competitors at last! – is very high. He gives out three prizes to Lester Ralph, to B.R. Gibbs, and to William Bliss, because, wouldn’t you know it, the B competition is in trouble again. But Wilkinson is right: these are good (Herrick is a hard poet to parody).



The B competition was for an epigram on the following three rulers: Charles II, Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. (There seems no reason why this should be set.) A George Robey effort is offered as an example:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMusic hall star Robey (1869-1854) was still very much alive, by the way

RobeyBut he wouldn’t have thought a lot of the sole winning entry, which comes from Eremita, and which runs as follows:


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: