Competitions nos. 199A and 199B: results

The task of setting and judging the very last double-competition (no more Bs, and the prize fund down to two and a half guineas after this) is the novelist John Brophy, at that point a rising star as a novelist and as a reviewer (his daughter was Brigid Brophy, whom writers have to thank for Public Lending Right). This is also of course the very last competition to have been set in The Week-end Review.

For the A competition he uses the news that Godfrey Elton (1892-1973) had been ennobled by the MacDonald government. Elton was a prolific writer, and had served throughout World One, becoming a POW of the Turks after capture in 1916 in Mesopotamia. After the war, he taught at Oxford, where one of his students was MacDonald’s son. Although his background was public school – Rugby (where he must have been a near-contemporary of Rupert Brooke) and Oxford – he joined the Labour Party, and contested two elections as a Labour candidate (1924 and 1929), both unsuccessfully. He had stuck with MacDonald, and was expelled from the Labour Party in 1931 as a consequence.


Godfrey Elton

Brophy suggests that his elevation to the peerage may give younger writers ideas, and asks entrants to imagine their reply to an approach from the PM’s office with the suggestion that they too join Elton. The entries have to be in the style of “younger novelists” (making this the first contemporary parody competition in New Statesman, although the scope is pretty broad …).

However, the competition doesn’t go well, and – perhaps because there is not nearly so much space – no winning entries are printed (very frustrating), and the money redistributed between A and B. Beverley Nichols and Compton Mackenzie (too old) and Beachcomber are all parodied to modest effect, we’re told, and the half-guineas (three) given out are for parodies of Rose Macaulay, Nichols and A.P. Herbert by (respectively) Noel Archer, Comins and A.H. Ellerington. Among the also-rans are T.E. Casson and James Hall, so we can already see the continuity. The names of the first two winners are  put into inverted commas, signalling that “Noel Archer” is a pseudonym.

On its last run out, the B competition is by contrast given a clean bill of health by Brophy, who has asked for a sonnet ‘on the Decay of Liberty’ (‘to be judged purely on its poetic qualities’). There are several commendations – Pibwob, Hassall Pitman, Hazel Jenner, and a back-handed one to W.A.Rathkey (“sounded magnificent … repeated readings did not make its meaning clear, and I am not one of those who are impressed by the unintelligible” T.S. Eliot, take note!)

More half-guineas are dispensed to unprinted entries (Southron, Palermo, W. Leslie Nicholls) – there is no worse torture for an entrant to win money but not to have the entry printed – far better the other way round, in my opinion – and the only piece published in this final WR comp is a guinea-winning sonnet by Rufus. (I’m not impressed by it either.)


The end of one era; the start of another.

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.


Competition no. 177: results

A new judge – Ambrose Heath – is brought in, although this is a competition unlike anyone else’s except for the recondite ones that Frank Sidgwick began by setting. Heath had just published his second cookery book – for those who wished to cook on Agas, Agas having been invented in 1922 – and he was to publish numerous more in a long career. However, he was also well-read, and Barry (whose idea the competition really is) has spotted the potential in a piece he’s commissioned from Heath for a competition. The article was called ‘Literary Barmecides’, and for those of you who want to extend their vocabulary by one, a barmecide is an illusory but pleasant experience. Or a pleasant experience which is all in the mind. The most famous barmecide is in the Arabian Nights, and you can read the relevant section here.

The article describes the pleasures of twenty meals. The numbers – twenty of them – indicate that they are from a literary source. Barry’s idea is that this would make a good model for a) writing barmecides of a foody nature, and b) seeing if the competitors can identify Heath’s sources (pun not intended).

Here’s the article:






When you think that competitors had a mere six days to turn this competition round (technically, the A competition is to emulate it, and the B competition is to spot Heath’s references), you realise quickly that this is a tall order. How many references of the twenty did you get? I have to admit I only knew two of them.

Heath is just a trifle (pun not intended) cantankerous. He deals with both competitions at once. This is because absolutely no-one scores higher than 10 in identifying his references (Lilian manages this astounding total). And if only one person gets ten, then maybe the article is a bit too erudite for its own good. (Notice how I am subtly defending my own lamentable performance.)

So, taking the B competition first, here are the answers to Heath’s article:

1. Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles.

This was a highly successful crime novel, first published in 1931. ‘Francis Iles’ was one of several pseudonyms/ variants of his own name used by Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971) – a crime writer who doubled as a literary critic for the Telegraph and Guardian amongst others.


2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (this was one of the two I got).

3. Heloise and Abelard by George Moore. Moore, the author of Modern Painting and Esther Waters, and born in 1857, had died in January 1933, so only a few months earlier. Heloise and Abelard was published in 1921. There’s a good summary of his career here.

H&A Moore

4. A Ballad of Bouillabaisse by Thackeray. Written in 1855 – you can read it here.

5. L’Assommoir by Emile Zola, written in 1877, the seventh in a cycle of twenty-one novels.


6. Lettres de mon Moulin by Alphonse Daudet, short stories collected in 1867. (‘Letters From My Windmill’ in English.) This has never been out of print in France – and has even featured on stamps:


7. Le Physiologie du Goût by Brillat-Savarin. (One guesses not many sent this one in.) Goût is not gout but taste! This was an early gastronomic work, published in 1825, months before Brillat-Savarin died.


8. Rabelais passim.

Right … Francois Rabelais is 1494-1553. Tuck in. (I’ve never got very far.) I think Heath has now established in which country he feels most at home.


9. Le Cote de Guermantes by Marcel Proust. Published just after Proust’s death in 1922, this was the third of the seven in A la Recherche de Temps Perdu (originally it was two books). Incidentally, one of Proust’s lovers was the son of Daudet (see above).


10. Evelyn Innes by George Moore. 1898. ‘A curious and perhaps deplorable example of the modern psychological novel’ – The New York Times. This is about a wannabe Wagnerian.

11. Ivan Turgenev – The Torrents of Spring. 1877.


12. The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. Surprise! In fact, the ninth of the twelve books that make up the voyages had only just been published.


13. Fitzboodle’s Confessions by Thackeray (1852). To be pedantic, and I think I ought to be, The Confessions of Fitz-Boodle; and Some passages in the life of Major Gahagan (they were published together after separate serialisation in 1841 and 1842).

14. Thackeray again. Pendennis (1848-1850)


15. South Wind by Norman Douglas. This caused a minor frisson when first published in 1917 – it’s set on Capri, or rather a fictionalised version of it (Douglas lived on Capri). Still highly readable.

South Wind

16. George Meredith: The Egoist.  1879.


17. Arnold Bennett: The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902).

Bennett GBH

18. Samuel Butler’s (posthumous, 1902) The Way Of All Flesh (which has attracted some dodgy cover art in its time):


19. Hilaire Belloc’s The Four Men

This is the kind of passage that it is assumed the entrants will summon up:

In Sussex, let me tell you, we have but one cheese, the name of which is CHEESE.  It is One, and undivided, though divided into a thousand fragments, and unchanging, though changing in place and consumption.  There is in Sussex no Cheese but Cheese, and it is the same cheese from the head of the Eastern Rother to Harting Hill, and from the sea-beach to that part of Surrey which we gat from the Marches with sword and bow.  In colour it is yellow. It is neither young nor old.  Its taste is that of Cheese and nothing more.


And finally (the other one I managed)

20. Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.

The problem with Heath is that he is revealing himself to be a little bit of a show-off. He says of the entrants that they are perhaps ‘forgetful’. But too many of these books, whatever the considerable linguistic skills of WR readers, are in French, and the original article is revealed, I think, to be an exercise in obscurity. There were only a few of these books that I could say, ‘Never heard of it’, and I’ve actually – maybe 20-30 years ago in some cases – read seven of them. I don’t think detail about the food would have stuck with me, and they are sufficiently eclectic not to be owned by a single individual (other than Heath). But of course now we have to deal with his adjudication of those who might emulate him.

The winner is Thurston (B.) Macauley, whose first appearance this is. At the time he was 30 or 31, and a journalist working for the London Bureau of the New York Times. He went on to be an assistant foreign editor for Newsweek, covered Nuremberg for the International News Service, and died in Florida at the age of 95 in 1997. He was English (Maidenhead) by birth, although he is said by the NYT to have had a French connection as well – so perhaps this competition appealed. On the podium with him are Eremita and Noel Archer (who picks up a consolation prize because the A competition has gone haywire). Lots of others are commended (Guy Innes is ticked off for including 22 references).

Let’s see what you make of their sources!










Macauley doesn’t actually name all his writers, but it’s interesting that Woolf makes two lists (and with the same novel), that Butler makes it into one of these lists when he is also in Heath’s, and that Bennett novels now I think long forgotten are to the fore (Bennett was of course very much alive). One wonders how the A competition would go down nowadays.