Competitions nos. 117A and 117B – results and report of the competitors’ dinner

Anthony Bertram sets this competition, which is to be ‘a fairly-conducted’ dialogue between the spirits of the Library and the Cellar, tempters both (two hundred words). The B competition is a 20 line poem on the competitors’ Dinner (to be imagined, if the entrant was not present).

Bertram notes that M.C.Trench suggests having tea and turning on the wireless, and J.H.G.Gibbs suggests cheap ale and paper editions, neither solution acceptable to Bertram. Also not suitable is William Bliss’s submission of poetry and suggests Bertram give him the prize and say his verse is indistinguishable from prose. Bertram laconically demurs; he could not be so rude (and there may be another dinner – and this competition is very much in the context of that dinner, now past). He thinks the A competition is a bit below par, and gives the prizes to Eremita and Olric:


And now to the B competition, which is about the competitors’ dinner. This time I’m going to print Bertram’s whole report:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd now the prize entries of W.B. and the ineffable and inevitable Seacape:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe previous week, details had been published about the dinner. From my point of view (seeing that there doesn’t seem to have been a dinner since the 1950s, and only one gathering (1978) of several competitors, not long after I started), I am quite jealous. But I’m interested to see what I can deduce from the list given of all 83 people who were there.


Seventeen speeches!!

If we look through the list we’ll see that –

Pibwob is keeping his ID secure, but his wife (Mrs. Goldsmid) is named. There are some names here of people who have never won a competition (or come close) under these names, including Ivy Davison, L.H.Leslie-Smith, John Amberley, E. Nelson Exton, R.P. Cunningham, Rosina Graham, Graeme Hay, Hilda Knight, Hugh Mackintosh, Alison Outhwaite, Mrs. C.K. Philips, Dilston Radcliffe, and Myra Verney. Now it may be that they were working for the WR, or even readers (who weren’t banned, I don’t think), but I suspect that they are some of the names behind the pseudonyms.

L.H. Leslie-Smith may well be the founding member of the Theosophical Society mentioned here.

I’d like to thank Professor Felix Driver of Royal Holloway, University of London, for the information that Ivy Davison (1892-1977) had been an assistant editor at The Saturday Review, and had moved across with Barry’s team to the WR, specifically the back half of the magazine, including the competitions. She was probably the person who contacted and dealt with the judges, and, I would guess, supervised payments to judges and competitors. She went to work as a journalist on The Geographic Magazine with Michael Huxley, becoming the magazine’s assistant and eventually executive editor (during World War II). She maintained friendships with many of the WR writers – including Barry and L.P. Hartley. She retired to North Mundham near Chichester. She bequeathed her books and papers to the Sybil Campbell Library (now in Winchester) – she was distantly related to Campbell. She had served as a nurse in the First World War, and was said to be tall and to have enjoyed the company of dogs.

Everard Nelson Exton was the co-author of Modern Furniture (1936), a surprising inclusion in the list of the 1930s publishing house Boriswood (in 1935 they accepted that James Hanley’s Boy, which they published, was obscene, and withdrew it). But he is, it later transpires, the editor of Week-end Publications Ltd, presumably the spin-off company that dealt with the sale of associated pamphlets. I think this means he is the business manager. When the WR folds, his name is given in the announcement as contactable at the same address as usual, even though the WR has been absorbed into the NS.

Edward John Dilston Radclyffe (sic) was a friend of Conrad Aiken’s, and features in a story about Eliot telling Aiken he had a problem with completing The Waste Land. Aiken mentioned this to Radclyffe, who was being psycho-analysed by a lay psychologist called Homer Lane. Lane let Eliot know through Aiken and via Radclyffe (!) that Eliot had a God complex and just needed to stop being a perfectionist. In 1911 he is a schoolteacher at Highgate Secondary School (his father was head of securities at Coutt’s Bank). Born in 1885, he died in 1952. He never married.

We learn that Non Omnia is really called Clark (not much help!) and that Weaver is S.K. Ruck (so he is Sydney Kenneth Ruck, born in 1889, a civil servant or possibly a historian who wrote about London local government). It’s interesting too that William Bliss is seen as a senior figure, and also, from the self-deprecating irony, and the guest list, that he is also ‘W.B.’. Royde-Smith and Herbert had previous form as literary judges; Seacape and Pibwob and Hodgson Burnet have long form as winners. I must put my thinking cap on.


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 nos 56A and 56B: results

A new judge, Sylvester Gates, responding to a suggestion of an increase in Death Duties in the Philip Snowden’s 1931 Budget, proposes an adaptation of Wordsworth’s sonnet to Milton, starting instead ‘Croesus, thou shouldst be dying at this hour’ (the point being that Death Duties were said to be rescuing the Budget). In the event, Death Duties (known as ‘Estate Duties’ – ‘Inheritance Tax’ is a phrase dating from 1986) were not raised (this competition’s results came out before the Budget), although a ‘Land Value Tax’ was proposed (which never came to fruition after the political upheavals at the end of the year), but income tax was raised, and the pay of civil servants, including teachers, was cut.

Gates moves swiftly through some also-rans (E.Sefi, James Hall, Majolica) and awards first prize to the competition’s eminence grise, Seacape, whose ‘elegance of execution’, he comments, in always in evidence. The second prize goes to Olric.

WR Comp 56

56B asks for some appropriate last words for any person living or dead. 75% of the entries (and a large entry) selected either Beaverbrook, Rothermere, Snowden, MacDonald, Baldwin, Charlie Chaplin and Bernard Shaw.

Two of the best  (and the eventual winner) came from Passepartout, the first being Al Capone: Ut puto, reus fio. Capone had just been arrested on charges of tax evasion (of which he was found guilty later in the year). Sorry to labour explaining the joke. The Emperor Vespasian is reputed to have said Ut puto, deus fio (‘I think I am becoming a god’). By switching one letter, Capone is being made to say ‘I think I am becoming the accused’. Two competitors sent in the BBC Announcer’s ‘Good night, everybody – goodnight!’

But here’s the winner: Marie Stopes – ‘Let joy be unconfined’.

Majolica is second with Mr. Pelman: ‘All I ask of you is remembrance’.

I suspect this second one needs a bit of annotation for some. In 1903, Charles Ennever promoted a system of memory training called ‘Pelmanism’ (a term still in use in the 1950s, as my aunt taught me it). Some suspicions existed that there was never any such person as a Mr. Pelman, although Ennever’s organisation operated from the Pelman Institute. There is a good article on it here, and I’ll leave you to see what you think.


Ut puto, reus fio

1930 honours board and 41A and 41B competition results

Arthur Marshall started this after the war, and I’ll play it by his rules: it’s all about the total amount of cash accumulated during the year. The Week-end Review was sixpence a week, so £1.6s.0d would have helped you break even.

Twenty-two judges have judged 40 competitions, or, more properly, 80 (two a week). In that time, ninety-four people have won prizes, assuming there are no duplicates because of pseudonyms (a big ‘assuming’). Many more have been part-quoted or commended (none more so without winning than the indefatigably luckless T.E.Casson, with whom I am starting to become a little obsessed!). Of the ninety-four, about a fifth (twenty in all) are represented only by initials. A further thirty-one are represented by pseudonyms – so slightly more than half are not identifiable by name (R.G.Brett/R.J.Brett/R.J.B may be confusing these numbers). Only fourteen are definitely female, but the letters make it hard to tell. The age range runs from under 20 to over 70, with a bias towards those aged about 30.

Samuel Courtauld and William Jowitt have lashed out (or so I make it) £157 12s 0d over the year (well,  40 of the 42 weeks).

When you have that many judges – compare the New Statesman or The Spectator today – it seems likely that you’ll get more winners, but actually, the repetition of names is surpisingly impressive – and all this given that we know that some competitions have had up to a hundred entrants. But enough beating about the bush. Who is the victor or victrix ludorum for 1930?

Here are the frontrunners, the leader being all the more noteworthy for having won all his victories in the first fourteen competitions (he isn’t finished yet, by the way).

1.  Seacape        8 victories             £10 16s 3d

2. Pibwob          7 victories             £8 18s 6d

3. H.C.M.               7 victories             £7 17s 6d

4. James Hall    7 victories         £7 7s 0d

5. R.J. Brett            4 victories      £5 15s 6d

6. Lester Ralph    4 victories     £4 14s 6d

7. J.W.Pepper          2 victories     £4 4s 0d

and there is a small group of 8=   all on £3 3s 0d –



       Non Omnia




and James Hughes, although in his case, only because he won Nancy Royde-Smith’s three guineas.

Three of the five competitors who signed the congratulatory letter are here (the fourth, Valimus, is just adrift, and the fifth has won nothing).

When Arthur Marshall first published his (sometimes wrongly-counted!) honours boards, he commented that no-one knew who was really behind these names, and added ‘It is time for another dinner’. I’ve obviously been in this game at the wrong end of the century, because I know of no dinners having taken place, although we did all get invited to the launch of Never Rub Bottoms With A Porcupine in 1979. But as you’ll see as we go through 1931, a dinner was something that the competitors themselves had in mind …

Competitions 41A and 41B

George Morrow's cartoon Eros

George Morrow’s cartoon on how the return of Eros should have been celebrated

In Competition 41A, James Bone asked for a ‘chanty’ (i.e. a shanty) for workmen to sing as they hoist Eros into place – Eros had been removed from Piccadilly Circus while work was being undertaken by the L.C.C. and on the underground. His report sets the tone for the January judges. people can’t do sea-shanties, he complains, and very grudgingly gives Olric (a new name) the first prize and Gertrude Pitt the second.

WR Comp 41

WR Comp 41a

The epitaphs on 1930 for 41B he has requested are considered lamentable. But W. Hodgson Burnet has put in a special extra effort, and this wins him the guinea (the half-guinea being completely withheld).

WR Comp 41b