Competition no. 207: results

This is a dog of a competition, thanks to the setter R. Ellis Roberts (although I can’t help  recalling Kingsley Martin’s words about him – that he was the only writer whose work he loathed). For a start, has anyone heard of B.R.Haydon? No? They hadn’t in 1934 much either. He is Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), best known as a painter – including a well-known painting of Wordsworth – but also as a diarist. There is a volume entitled ‘B.R.Haydon and his friends’ that you can find and download here. No disrespect to him, but a bit obscure to feature in a weekend competition. And the competition is pretty off-putting anyway.

‘In a recent book on Charles Lamb,’ starts Roberts – could be James Lewis May’s Charles Lamb: A Study (London, 1934) or Edmund Blunden’s Charles Lamb and his Contemporaries (Cambridge, 1933) but probably the former – ‘the author states that Lamb was the ordinary man in excelsis‘ and that ‘he exactly conforms to the ordinary man’s view of the Ordinary Man’. That is such a bad sentence that I am very reluctant to attribute to Blunden, whom I admire. Anyway … Entrants are asked to ‘comment upon’ (comment!!!) these judgments either (a) in an imaginary conversation between Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Haydon and Blake (not finished yet), taking as a model “the famous passage in Haydon’s diary about Wordsworth, Lamb and the Collector of Stamps”. Bloody hell! Still, there is (b) invent comments on the judgments by Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, Coleridge, George Dyer, Thackeray or Charles Lamb himself. You’re allowed 400 words, by the way, or ‘fragments from something longer’. This is a competition for the hard nuts. (I hadn’t heard of Dyer either. He was a classicist and poet (1755-1841).)


George Dyer



Roberts is surprised that the postbag is nearly empty. He blames the poor range of reading of the entrants. He expected people to attack the epithets in their droves, or even, whimsically to defend them. But a weekend competition is supposed to entertain the readers, not send them into a coma.

Still, you can’t say this isn’t educational. Wordsworth was ‘the Distributor of Stamps’ for Westmorland, – a post that consisted of supervising the collection of duties for all kinds of things – medicine, lace-dealing, pawnbroking, wills, insurance policies, stage-coaches (the list is very, very long, and he had a network of collectors). Effectively, Wordsworth was a civil servant. His boss (‘the Comptroller of Stamps’) was a man called Kingston and he did indeed have dinner with Wordsworth, Lamb and Keats, at Haydon’s house – where Wordsworth and Kingston were both subjected to some mockery for being officials. The date was December 28th 1817, and here is Haydon’s account. Prepare to split your sides.

Diary 1Diary 2Diary 3Diary 4

It is plain not everyone had this hanging about in their book-case. The winners are Joan Jukes and Non Omnia (the latter described as a he, when described as a she on the previous occasion). This is Joan Jukes’ first win; but she has come close. I suspect she may be a Joan Godwin nee Nightingale from Dorset, whose mother was a Jukes, and that she was born in 1876, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that she had short stories published in anthologies throughout the 1930s, and is anthologised in good company – e.g. (this one is from 1938)


She has also read her Haydon, to be fair.



Competition no. 204: results

Gerald Bullett (who is sitting in the judge’s chair more often these days) suggests that Dr. Johnson would have had something to say about the Nazi persecution of the Jews and what he calls the ‘dejudaising’ of Jesus Christ. He wants a conversation between Boswell and Johnson (he allows anyone else Johnson met, e.g. Voltaire) to be part of the conversation. At the time, Hitler is consolidating his hold on Germany by putting all provinces under his direct power. This picture of Hitler and the ailing President Hindenburg was taken on the same weekend as this competition’s results were published.

Hitler shaking hands with Field-Marshal von Hindenburg on the State …Among the runners-up are Joan Jukes, whose short stories regularly appeared in magazines (and which were much anthologised, often alonside those of V.S. Pritchett). But the winner (first time) is Anthony Linell, who was a barrister (he wrote a book in 1938, The law of names : public, private & corporate). His father had been a solicitor, The runner-up is Non Omnia.


Lady Hailes (the second wife of the author of the Annals of Scotland, Lord Hailes aka David Dalrymple (1726-1792), and originally Helen Fergusson) can be seen here. There are published letters between Boswell and Hailes (whom Johnson much admired) but I can’t quite fathom the joke at Lady Hailes’ expense.

Competition no. 201: results

Sylvia Lynd (her husband was New Statesman and Nation‘s most popular columnist) offers this one (variations of which have appeared since, although not set at the same social level) – a letter of thanks to a ‘Useful Hostess’ from a weekend guest who has on arrival, either ‘met with a slight but disfiguring accident’, had no sleep, has a bad cold, has made a gaffe at tea, or (this is the giveaway phrase about the world the judges inhabited!) ‘from whose baggage in repacking, a servant has omitted an important item of apparel’.

Lynd nearly always goes her own way with competitions, but this one is completely different. She notes that it had to sound like a letter (many didn’t), and combine thanks with a sense of humiliation or misery (many didn’t manage this). What she then does is to print four extracts and give each of them half-a-guinea, before awarding second prize (another half a guinea) to a pseudonymous Thomas Truefitt, whose entry is mentioned but not printed. Since the extracts are buried in her commentary, the only way I can do this is to print her report. (It is interesting to note that Non Omnia‘s gender is revealed. She had been one of the original signatories of the congratulatory letter on the founding of the Week-end Review.) The other three ‘winners’ are E.B.C. Thornett (wrongly noted as ‘F.B.C.’), William Bliss and (W.) Leslie Nicholls. (Ernest) Basil (Charles) Thornett was a prolific writer, with two pesudonyms: Rupert Penny, and Martin Tanner. He worked at Bletchley in the war, and was in a senior position as a cryptologist. He was born in 1909, and died in 1970 (he had also edited the annual book belonging to the British Iris Society). As Rupert Penny, he produced a series of police novels in the late 1930s, one of them, Policeman’s Evidence, containing a fiendish cipher.


We start with Non Omnia:


As the runner-up is only patted on the head and slipped 10s 6d, I can’t add him in.

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. 141A and 141B: results

Another new judge, Beverley Nichols, (who had just published his classic Up the Garden Path), sets a quite badly-phrased competition, but this is the gist. Beaverbrook has sent James Douglas not (as he thinks) Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, but Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford by accident. Douglas, who has been the butt of parodies in these competitions before, was the editor of the Sunday Express, and known for his acerbic reviews and editorials, and his campaigns against obscene books, The Well of Loneliness in particular. Beaverbrook has asked for the headline ‘A Book That Britain Should Burn’. (The attack on Hall in 1928 had been headlined ‘A Book That Britain Should Ban’, and concluded ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul.’ The key line in The Well of Loneliness is ‘they were not divided that night’. Strong meat.)

Actually, although the setting is a mess, this is a competition that could be set now. In fact Nichols feels that not many readers have heard of Douglas (we know this is not true), and that the relatively light postbag is possibly because it is impossible to parody a parody. He quotes a Douglas line, ‘Mars is the Moloch of Motherhood’, an opening line, but to what, alas, I don’t know. It certainly augurs badly.

The first prize goes to William Bliss, and the second to Non Omnia.


I think these two are both brilliant. 141B also promises fun – six celebrities are banned from entry through the pearly gates by St. Peter. What witty remarks did they use to get in? The six are: Edith Sitwell, Gandhi, Noel Coward (a friend of Nichols), Winston Churchill, Bernard Shaw and Mayor Walker (Jimmy Walker was the mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932, until September 1st, when he stepped down in the face of corruption scandals. At the time, he was In Europe, keeping out of the way of any charges). But Nichols describes the entries as ‘third rate quibbling’, declines to give a prize, manages an honourable mention for Pibwob, and is prepared only to quote Cuniculus, who has Churchill saying ‘I have not yet worn a halo’.



Competitions nos. 109A and 109B: results

A new judge, Alfred Wareing (a theatre producer of twenty-five years’ standing), asks for an account of what happened when Dr. Johnson negotiated the publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield with a publisher. Did he drive a hard bargain? (Goldsmith wrote the novel in 1762-3, but seems to have been unable to do anything with it, so summoned his friend to help. Johnson sold it for £60 to a publisher (‘bookseller’ would be the right term then) called Newbery, and after it had finally been printed in 1766, it went on to be one of the most popular novels of that century. There is a famous painting of Johnson reading the novel (with Goldsmith’s creditors waiting on the result, which you can see here). Johnson had already advanced Goldsmith money that morning, and Goldsmith had already spent it on Madeira.


Oliver Goldsmith

It seems a curious kind of a competition to me, but there we are. The entrants are pulled up for failing to refer to Newbery, and also for suggesting that Johnson lacked integrity. T.E. Casson and Seacape are in the frame but the winners are Non Omnia and Muriel M. Malvern. The former wisely chooses Boswell.




The B competition asked – and this has been done much more recently – for new examples of rhyming slang. Four entrants suggested a George Bernard for a jaw (I like that – he punched him in the George Bernard), and, among the other selected suggestions were these, some of which seem deeply unfunny (and this is the pick of the bunch!):


The winners are L.V.Upward and George van Raalte (so all four winners this week are regulars).


Competitions nos. 105A and 105B: results

A new judge, Edward Shanks, sets a Wellsian competition – entrants are to imagine a World State, one hundred and fifty years in the future, looking back after its first fifty years at the earlier years. Shanks had in fact written a post-apocalyptic novel in 1920, so Wells would have interested him. He’s imagined a scholarly piece that covers history from the French Revolution to the foundation of the World State (so that’s 1789-2032), but specifically wants comments on Wells’s influence. The phrasing of the instruction does your head in a little,

As it did the entrants then: Shanks admits that he wanted one or both of a) irony and b) a serious assessment of Wells. ‘I have been disappointed,’ he says’ in both directions.’ He’s been handed a lot of doom and gloom – that things will get worse before they get better. He also gets rather tetchy over some of the opinions of Wells (‘a clerk turned revolutionary’; ‘a friend of international bankers’).

His choice of winners is odd. He tells us (no surprise!) that there is money going begging from the B competition, so there is half-a-guinea to add, and he awards this third prize to an entrant called E. Miller, whom he judges to be young and who deserves to be encouraged. But he suggests not printing Miller’s piece! That seems a text-book way of discouraging a young writer.

The winners are the old lag, Non Omnia, and, wait for it, wait for it, T.E. Casson, who has thus secured his second half-guinea, and is commended for having had fun with the piece. (Oddly enough, both Shanks and Casson had had a poem set to music by Ivor Gurney.)





The B competition asks for a ‘Sicilian octave’ (eight lines, rhyming alternately) on a living actor or actress. Oh dear. Entrants send in two quatrains, and alter the rhyme-scheme. This whittles the field down to one winner, J.H., who has picked the most popular subject, Charlie Chaplin (the second most popular was Edith Evans).


For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s a Sicilian octave, as it ought to rhyme abababab.  So I think even Shanks is in a state of confusion. Still …Chaplin Sunset