Competitions 80A and 80B: results

Ernest Betts has curiously reversed the prize money for this one – a guina or half a guinea for A, and two guineas or half a guinea for B. The A competition asks for a poem marking the destruction of Bloomsbury by an earthquake. In all the entries, not a single note of grief is sounded, which is interesting, given that Bloomsbury (although a place as well as a clique) provides some of the competition judges. Nobody, notes Betts, mourns the passing of the Slade, and far too many rhyme British Museum with Te Deum (not that this stops the winner from winning!).

The winners are Olric and N.B. (who would have won the B competition as well, were it not for the one-competition-win-only rule). Here are their entries (they had 20 lines to play with but have resisted, wisely, the temptation):

WR 80

N.B.’s poem needs a few notes. ‘The Foundling site’ refers to an orphanage that had been situatd in Bloomsbury between 1739 and 1926, but had moved to the suburbs. There is still a museum about it (dating from 1937), with details here, The Carreras reference is to a cigarette factory built in the 1920s on the gardens of Mornington Crescent. A Royal Commission was set up in 1927 to consider the protection of buildings as a result, and led to the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931. There’s a good site here. Mr. Drage foxes me. A Commander Drage (whose daughter later became a ballerina, Mary Drage, and also the Duchess of Fife) worked for MI5 in Bloomsbury from 1933 onwards, but lived there earlier. I’m a bit dubious about this one. The Passing Of The Third Floor Back  is a play (first staged in 1910) written by Jerome K. Jerome, once much performed, and quite an earner for Jerome in his lifetime.

The B competition asks the competitors to imagine that the Budget was presented not by Phlip Snowden, but by W.H.Davies, Noel Coward and Augustus John, with six taxes apiece. Snowden had, just a week or two before this cmpetition was set, under the auspices of the new National Government, presented an ’emergency budget’ which cut emplyment benefit, civil servants’ pay, and was, as one might guess, extremely unpopular (although, having said that, the government won a huge majority in the October 1931 election, if the figures can be said to mean anything – what happened was that the Labour Party lost over 200 seats). Snowden – who had by that time been booted out of the Labour Party, along with Macdonald – had described Labour’s policies as ‘Bolshevism run mad’. He was given a peerage in 1931, but was always considered a traitor, as was Macdonald (with whom Snowden later fell out).

W.H. (William Henry) Davies (1872-1940) was a popular Georgian poet (although with a plainer, even more accessible style). Notoriously, he had spent some of his earlier years in the USA as a tramp, and wrote a successful account of it (The Autobiography of a Supertramp), which includes a description of how he came to have his leg amputated after jumping from a freight train. His best known poem begins ‘What is this life, if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare’. He had appeared in the anthologis edited by Marsh. Noel Coiward (1899 – 1973) had been writing and acting with great success since just before The First World War, and at this point in 1931, his earnings a staggering £50,000 a year, his new show Cavalcade was about to open. Augustus John (1878-1961) was also at the height of his career as a portrait painter (his sitters had included Elizabeth Bibesco, the WR judge, as well as Shaw, Yeats and many others).

After which, the winning entries by M.M.R.Higgins, whom Betts considers to be a man, but who is perhaps more likely to have been female, and by the entrant with familiar handwriting who forgets to sign the entry, ergo Anon, may seem a bit of a let-down …

WR 80a

Your Choice of Chancellors:

NPG x122244; Philip Snowden, Viscount Snowden by Bassano NoelCoward WHDavies AugustusJohn

Competitions 69A and 69B: results

Dyneley Hussey, noting that Lytton Strachey has just published Portraits in Miniature and other essays (which you can incidentally read here), has challenged competitors to add himself to the list of subjects, i.e. Strachey on Strachey. A new (female) name appears as the winner: Mopsa. Like many entrants, she neglects to include her address. Here is her winner, which Hussey reckons the best winner he’s ever picked:


There is a curious link to the previous competition but one: Virginia Woolf used Strachey as the model for a character in The Waves; and she used Vita Sackville-West as her model for Orlando.


Lytton Strachey

However for Hussey ‘not to know’ the address of ‘Mopsa’ is either a deliberate piece of false trail-laying, or, in Hussey’s admiration for the exactness of the piece, very astute. ‘Mopsa’ is Strachey’s companion Dora Carrington, the painter (generally known as ‘Carrington’), who lived with Strachey and felt guilty later that she had made fun of him – Strachey had, although he did not know it, only five months to live (he died in January 1932, and Carrington felt bereft without him: she committed suicide eight weeks after his death). One wonders if Hussey, when Strachey died, recalled having written that, since Strachey’s central figures invariably died at the end of the piece, he was surprised only one competitor adopted the same tactic – and perhaps regretted it. (Mopsa is the name of a country girl in The Winter’s Tale, but also the name of the heroine of Jean Ingelow’s 1869 children’s novel, which you can read here.) Mopsa was also one of the principal nicknames Carrington had used of Strachey for over a decade.


Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey

The second prize goes to N.B.:


Competition 69B asks for epigrams on Jacob Epstein, the sculptor, who was touring a piece of his called ‘Genesis’  to raise money for the preservation of ancient buildings. Epstein, a modernist, and not popular with WR readers, but arguing for a cause that might well have appealed to them, is a neat subject for the ever-popular epigram (popular then, but not with me!). James Hall takes the top prize; a new name, Athos, is the runner-up:


Here is Epstein with the piece the competitors disliked:

Epstein and Genesis

Competions nos. 67A and 67B: results

Ernest Betts (remember that he’s a film critic) wants a Negro Spiritual, beginning “De Lawd is strikin’ down de worl'”. The problem with this competition is that he hasn’t explained that he wants, essentially, Paul Robeson numbers. Several entrants come near, one of whom is Olive Rinder, one of the many women involved in the complex web of relationships involving Vita Sackville-West (already a WR judge herself, and the setter of the very next competition, so it is impossible not to imagine that Sackville-West encouraged her to have a go): indeed in 1931, Vita Sackville-West was having an affair with a journalist, Evelyn Irons, whose lover was Olive Rinder, but subsequently – in early 1932 – had an affair with Rinder as well. So complex are the relationships of Sackville-West that Rinder tends to be overlooked. It may well be the same Olive Rinder who married Derek Beck in 1938. She is probably also the Olive Rinder born in the early 1890s in Norfolk but who shows up in 1911 as a gardening student.

But it is Seacape who escapes with the two guineas, closely followed by Hazel Fordham.



I can’t prove it, but I’d bet that Hazel Fordham is the 21-year-old daughter of the Hampstead barrister E.W. Fordham who has already featured twice in the winners’ enclosure; if so, she is entering a couple of months before her wedding to Thomas Samuel Barnes.

The B competition assumes that a ‘talkie’ company, and remember that Betts was still more than a little ill-disposed towards talkies, has decided to film ‘Tristram Shandy’ as ‘Widow Wadman’s Wild Party’. Betts wants some publicity. I had a feeling when I saw this competition that it would not attract any great results, and sure enough, the first prize is withheld. Betts congratulates the entrants on being insufficiently vulgar, and lets N.B. have a half-guinea consolation prize:


Competitions 24A and 24B: results

For 24A, Ivor Brown has set the task of writing a Wordsworthian sonnet on riding a motorcycle up Scafell Pike. One of the winning entries refers to ‘Clarkson’ … However, I can’t find an obvious news report of anyone taking a motorbike up Scafell (over 3000 feet) in 1930, so I’m not sure if this was a topical reference (it sounds it). The list of also-rans is lengthy (including the luckless T.E.Casson), and Brown is more than a but surprised that there’s such little mischief. He gives the top prize to the best of the ‘reverents’, C.M.R., and the second to the best of the parodists, William A. Jesper.



Only one William A. Jesper is listed in the births and marriages register, which would suggest that this is William Alfred Jesper of York, born in 1878, and in 1911 a railway clerk in the same city.

24B asks for four rehearsed opening conversational gambits to be prepared for a Mr. Tremble (‘a modest author’) when at a party given by a literary hostess (‘Lady Booming’). The date of the party is given as August 23 1930. I’m not sure of the significance of the 23rd, but it was two days after the birth of this little girl:

Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret Rose, a few years later …

Brown awards the guinea to N.B. for a suicidal set of suggestions:

(1) I do hope you like Jane Austen.

(2) Tell me about your home life.

(3) Do tell me how one sews on buttons.

(4) Don’t you just adore Woolworth?

(None of these raised a smile in my case.)

The half-guinea goes to Hutch, and I do, like Brown, admire the fourth stage (Gilbert Jessop, by the way was regarded as the finest cricketer of the pre-WW1 years; a serious medical accident during World War I prevented him from playing again. Hobbs rated him the equal of Bradman).


“I hope we shan’t have an experience like the one I had last week at a dinner when the lights all went out

during the soup course.” (Failing a counter-reminiscence, you enlarge on an imaginary experience.)


The Test Match… “I have the advantage over you of being able to remember when Jessop …”


“I heard a rather amusing remark on the way here this evening.” Here follows some joke culled

from an old Punch. It is unlikely that your victim will remember it; if she does, “Is that so?

How truly Wilde said that Nature imitates Art!” If, however, she fails to see the joke, you

pass on to


“Do you believe in the lore of numbers? Someone has discovered that our new little Princess is

the second daughter of the second son of the second son of the second child of Queen

Victoria, and was born on the second day after the second decade of the second month of the

second half of the year.” To stop this kind of thing, she will have to start some subject of

her own.

[It actually took me a while to get this, as ‘decade’ is being used to mean ten days, i.e. two plus twenty days into August. I don’t know if it’s a better joke for getting the date of her birth wrong by one day, or a worse one, but it entertained me.]

Competitions 18A and 18B: results

For 18A, T.Earle Welby has come up with the idea of an English equivalent to Flaubert’s idea of a ‘Dictionnaire des Idees recues’. So he wants six ‘ ‘not necessarily consecutive’, and I like that ‘not necessarily’ – definitions, to be concerned with the sort of idea characteristic in 1930 (‘at least in the view of the Popular Press’).

For once everyone lets the side down, even Pibwob, who comes close. No-one is awarded a prize, and the whole mass of entrants is condemned for being either ‘straightforwardly abusive’ or offering ‘comment as a substitute’. Because there aren’t any examples given, it remains a bit hard to work out what Welby really wanted, and he duly blames himself. Ah well. No-one can say they didn’t have standards.

When it comes to 18B, epigrams are requested (in not more than eight lines of rhymed verse) for ‘liking Dr. Fell or any of his spiritual descendants’. Doctor Fell was John Fell, a seventeenth century churchman (Anglican Bishop of Oxford) who was a by-word for discipline, and was an obsessive martinet. He is commemorated in the rhyme that begins ‘I do not like thee, Doctor Fell’, allegedly composed by one Tom Brown as a translation of a Martial epigram, the translation being a punishment.


John Fell

Fell makes it as a bogeyman into the early chapters of ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, just after Jekyll’s friend Utterson first has a conversation with Hyde: 

Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him.  “There must be something else,”  said the perplexed gentleman.  “There is something more, if I could find a name for it.  God bless me, the man seems hardly human!  Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent?  

Among the candidates chosen were Dean Inge, the Anglican churchman (1860-1954) whose view of the Anglican church was that it was the bulwark of the state, and who had a view that the poorer classes should accept poorer pay; Lord Rothermere (the kind of target perhaps anticipated by Welby); and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, then Rt. Rev. St John Basil Wynne Willson, and about whom I can find nothing perverse at all, other than that – !! – I’m actually connected to him via several marriages (I wasn’t expecting that!).

The winning entry (‘the best of a not very bright batch’, so Welby must have been particularly glum), is by Marion Peacock, who picks out William Arbuthnot Lane, a notable surgeon, who resigned from the BMA to be able to speak freely. To take just four ways in which he was ahead of his time, rightly or wromgly, he was an exponent of homeopathy; the most successful surgeon in curing cleft palate and hare-lip; an advocate of the removal of the colon; and also one of the first to suggest that nutrition was the key to the growing Western disease of cancer.  He was born in 1856 and died in 1943 aged 87 – but not of ill health. He was run over outside the Athenaeum Club during a blackout.

William Arbuthnot Lane

William Arbuthnot Lane

Here is Marion Peacock’s epigram:

I like you well, Arbuthnot Lane,
You take the trouble to explain
In English words, without pretence,
How to keep well by common sense.
Just common sense, you rub it in,
Aided by liquid paraffin,
No lane are you, but one we bless,
The great by-pass to happiness.

This is Marion Peacock’s third victory. I don’t know anything firm about her, but I suspect she is the same Marion Peacock whose poems appeared in editions of Argosy in the late 1940s (one of them a re-publication from New Statesman). Gerald Barry’s correspondence includes letters from her. She may also be the author of two collections of poems – ‘Poems and Songs’ in 1923 and ‘Quiet Ladies’ in 1926.  That said, this really isn’t a great poem, and the final pun is a little feeble …

Second prize goes to ‘N.B.’, and he or she simply goes for the Dr. Fell option.

No work of reference doth tell
A fact about thee, Doctor Fell.
‘Who Was Who’ and the D.N.B.
Reticent are regarding thee.
A modest silence doth enshrine
Thee and all others of thy Line.
Good luck, my friend – I wish them well
That did descend from thee – or fell!

Another dicey pun. As for Doctor Fell, his name is incidentally also appropriated by Hannibal Lecter.