Competition no. 233: results

William Archibald Spooner died in 1930, just four years before this competition (there were obituaries in the national papers that spoke of the way Punch and others lampooned him, and, inevitably, quoted one or two possibly genuine examples). But this, the first NS spoonerism competition, is notable for the brief mention of the hapless Warden, and yet the absence of reference to his -ism.

spoonerThe setter is Seacape. It is like having a visit from the king over the water – he hasn’t been seen more than a couple of times in 1934. But here he is, with a patrician drawl, and with a chat about the old times (he notes that H.C.M. is familiar with this kind of competition from ‘the old Saturday Review days’). In fact, H.C.M. also says that it’s the hardest competition he has come across, whereas Seacape thought it would be ‘a nice little exercise in metathesis’, indeed something to be dispatched at the beach. But the extent of the problem may seem clearer when i tell you he’s asked for twenty lines and transposition of at least two words in every line. He quotes an extract from Punch:


I hate spoonerisms! They scramble my brain. I would rather do anagrams, and that is saying something.

The competitors jumble the words a bit too far. Seacape courteously thanks those who have given him ‘translations’ (gamesmanship!). He quotes a few, including

a hole in seven; dines in the shark (Miss G.)

glossy men (Chauve-Souris)

the pain roars (H.C.M.)

he gives maize to the prune (Midas)

Guy Innes comes close, and the prizes go to two of Seacape’s vintage: Little Billee and Pibwob, neither of whom have had much luck as yet in the NS. What becomes clear is that a Georgian poem is actually ripe for spoonerising. The old system of putting competitors after their entries is restored.




Competitions nos. 183A and 183B: results

Guy Innes is the latest competitor to be put in charge. He starts by observing that the rhythm of ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ is identical to that of Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. So, to see how far a poem can be sustained despite the unsuitability of the metre, he asks for a dirge on the death of a soldier in limerick form. A serious limerick is not at all easy to manage.

The best poem submitted (but rejected as it is an epitaph and not a dirge) is by Peter Hadley. Keep an eye on this name. This is his first appearance in print, and he is to go on to become one of the major New Statesman winners. There are a few runners up (George van Raalte, for instance), but one who is ruthlessly excluded is James Agate (‘who has misread the title of the competition and  … cannot claim even the Order of Chastity of the Second Class). This is a timely revenge on a judge who specialises in being rude, although of course Agate has to try to have the last word, as we shall see.

The winner (a runner-up earlier in the year, and certainly a future winner as well) is Hassall Pitman, who must be Thomas James Hassall Pitman (1876-1954), at that time of Thornton Heath, Surrey. Pitman is an interesting figure because he does not quite fit the leisured middle-class mould into which most of the competitors can be placed all too easily – he’s a ledger clerk in his late fifties. Little Billee is a runner-up (a bit mawkish, I’d say).


As mentioned, Agate fires off a letter to Gerald Barry which is both unfunny and facetious as it is apparently long (Barry has had to cut it):


The B competition is a hard one to do well in. You are given five words to provide cryptic crossword clues for: Hitler; Loon; Boomerang; Recapitulation; Levant. It’s a novel idea.

Some near-misses are printed:


The winners are Cassandra and Noel Archer. Note that literary clues are preferred.


Competitions nos. 178A and 178B: results

J.C. Squire – now of course Sir John Squire – sets a competition in which you are to write as Queen Victoria to Lord Beaconsfield (Disraeli) about Lytton Strachey’s book about her. It’s an odd choice, given that Strachey is only a year or so dead – and also given that Squire had just been knighted by her grandson! Victoria’s letters had started to be released not long after her death (oddly so, in that one can’t imagine it now, even if they were heavily censored) and were striking for their use of emphasis. Published exchanges between Disraeli and Victoria existed, but the point is to satirise Victoria’s style.

There are a few close also-rans, but a newbie, P.S.C. (commended for his use of italics) beats off N.B. to the guineas. They’re both skilful, but pointless, I think:


The B competition, however, is far more modern and blatantly political-satirical in intent, in that it asks for twenty lines either about the Government front bench OR the Opposition front bench. The Government consisted of Macdonald, a few other Labour MPs, the Conservatives, and the ‘National Liberals’. The opposition was a Labour rump. Neither was much admired by the entrants, but then they were to be represented in the style of Pope. The prize-winners are Yury and Little Billee.


They were to hear Attlee’s name again …


George Lansbury, leader of the 46 remaining Labour MPs. Attlee, his deputy, was to take over the next year. (He’s Angela Lansbury’s grandfather.)


The Prime Gyrator, is, of course, the hapless Macdonald. Faithless Philip is Snowden.

Here’s a picture of members of Macdonald’s extraordinary Cabinet taken after the 1931 election:

1931 cabinet

Left to right: Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister (Conservative), Neville Chamberlain (Conservative), Jimmy Thomas (Labour), Rufus Isaacs (Lord Reading) (Liberal, replaced by Sir John Simon within two months), and Samuel Hoare (Viscount Templewood) (Conservative). Front row (left to right): Philip Snowden (Labour, by 1933 ennobled and resigned), Stanley Baldwin (Conservative), Ramsay MacDonald (Labour), Herbert Samuel (Liberal) and Lord (Edward) Stanley (Conservative). It’s quite a selective group: by no means all the Cabinet (and Stanley was not at this point a member).

A little disdainfully, Squire finishes thus:

‘Good enough, but Strube does better than either.’


Strube was the highly-paid Daily Express cartoonist – Sidney Conrad Strube (1892-1956) – there’s a good article about him here. He had in fact produced a calendar just before Christmas 1932, for 1933, that proves Squire’s point:

Strube cartoon



Competitions nos. 167A and 167B: results

A spot of bad planning here. Last week we had Pope. This week we have Pope. That surely could have been avoided unless it’s a case of ‘No-one says ‘No’ to Naomi Royde-Smith‘. She asks for up to 21 lines (21! One competitor chides her for suggesting there could be a line over) by Pope on the premise that he has had lunch at the Ivy, and spent the afternoon round Covent Garden and Fleet Street with various editors and agents.

Royde-Smith is taking no prisoners here. Why do the entrants start writing before reading the instructions? Her brief report is a slightly cack-handed piece of disguised Pope:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADamon is the only recipient of any prize money:


The second competition, however, is, even allowing for the fact that Royde-Smith thinks it is, something of a success. Competitors are asked to come up with ‘six suggested improvements to the human frame’. She prints two winners, but also some of the other suggestions. One of these entrants is P.Y.Betts – Phyllis Yvonne Betts – then a short-story writer in her early twenties, but later to fade from view until 1989, when her memoir People Who Say Goodbye was published to considerable acclaim. (She had vanished, rather as Jean Rhys did, from sight – first to East Anglia, then to a secluded part of Wales.) There is a very good blog about her here.

People-Who-Say-Goodbye-coverThe main prizewinners are Majolica and Little Billee.


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. 137A and 137B: results

J.C.Squire, the most ebullient setter, asks for epigrams on the current state of Germany, so we will get a little insight into the middle-class perspective on the country. This competition was judged just before the second election in Germany in 1932. In July, Hitler’s Nazi Party had become the largest, with 37% of the vote, and, although this was to fall back to 33% in the November election, Hitler’s rise to power was now unstoppable – he gained power in January 1933, since both elections proved so indecisive overall. One of the also-rans is Sir Robert (Claremont) Witt, who had co-founded the Courtauld Institute with the WR‘s owner in 1932 (curious in one way, as it was at about this point that Courtauld was getting ready to withdraw his backing). Witt was an eminent art historian, and there is a good article about him here and a contemporary portrait of him here. But the two winners are Little Billee and H.C.M. – Little Billee is allowed three winners, but H.C.M.’s is, I think, the best:

Election 1932

October 1932 and a pro-Hitler poster (‘our last hope’)


The B competition is for Dr. Johnson’s prognostications on the next Australian cricket tour. There are ten entries in the frame (one of them from ‘Herkers’ Henderson, the athlete/ novelist/ poet who came close in 134B). The tour (leaving in late 1932 to play in early 1933) was the infamous ‘bodyline’ series (the term ‘bodyline’ is Australian press slang. The English called it ‘fast leg theory’). Its chief exponent, Harold Larwood, achieved an unnecessary degree of notoriety in this series, which England won 4-1, perhaps because one ball fractured the Australian wicket-keeper’s skull, an unhappy event that the wicket-keeper (Oldfield) blamed on himself. The Australian captain, Woodfull, was also injured when the ball hit his heart. There is some ancient film of Larwood in action here. One of the cricket team was the Leicestershire player Iftikhar Ali Khan, who was the Nawab of Pataudi – one of only three players to play for two different test countries (in fact he later captained India). The Nawab, who scored a century in the first match, was later dropped (and was one of the few opponents of the bodyline bowling).

The competition of course is before all these events take place, and, while the winners, W.G. and E.W.Fordham, manage a pretty good pastiche of Johnson, it isn’t a bundle of laughs, and the reference to ‘the Ethiopian’ won’t pass muster now:


Larwood’s ball strikes Woodfull


Competitions nos. 133A and 133B: results

An apparently rather snooty Valimus, the veteran competitor, asks for poems on harvest: a nice, safe, Georgian subject. The report is so mock-acerbic that it feels as if it might actually be acerbic … ‘a certain technical failure, a regrettable inattention to finish” knock Marion Peacock, William Bliss and Majolica out of the running. James Hall, H.C.M and Pibwob (‘who should learn not to rhyme on an unstressed syllable’) are also dismissed as below par. Chauve-Souris, Prudence, W.A.Rathkey, Lester Ralph, Damon, Una Monk and Hilary are ‘lingered on’. D.C.R.Francombe’s poem ‘seems’ good, but the last four lines are produced as evidence of incoherence. Money is once again snaffled from the B competition to bulk up the winnings, and the second prize is awarded jointly to a new competitor A.D-J and Little Billee, but, ‘well, it can’t be helped’, the winner is Seacape. Set a Georgian subject and he’s your man. ‘They call it Seacape’s Corner already,’ he adds – a reference to a letter published a couple of weeks earlier (from Guy Hadley: see below)






The B competition asks for a mathematical axiom about boarding houses, based on the piece ‘Boarding House Geometry’ in Stephen Leacock’s ‘Literary Lapses’. You can read the piece here. John Britton and Seacape (again) are commended; the rest (again) are dismissed, namelessly, and the single winner is Mariamne.


We are now well into October 1932, and an advertisement, with one explicit eye on Christmas, is placed. As it says, the original plan was to produce an anthology of the competitions, but this has been expanded into something more representative of the whole magazine. Nevertheless, the competitions take up about half the available space, suggesting that they were a major selling-point.