Competition no. 206: results

Norman Collins asks for entries to do with the Codex Sinaiticus, the best-preserved Greek manuscript (about 400AD) of the New Testament, half the Old Testament and one or two non-canonical additions. It was discovered in 1844 in a monastery near Sinai. In 1933, partly as a result of public subscription, it was sold by the Soviet Union to the British Museum, and in 1934, ‘an enterprising publisher’ decided to publish it. (You can see a quarter of it here.) The Book Society immediately made it their ‘choice’.

However the competition is a little weird. Collins wants copy for advertisements for the Codex written by any of the following: Lady Houston, Ramsay MacDonald, Dean Inge, “a Well-Known West End Bookseller”, Dr. Buchman, and the Greek Archimandrite.

Collins has set a similar type of competition that included Inge and Macdonald (146 – see here), and both Inge and MacDonald were regular targets. The phrase “the Greek Archimandrite” foxes me. An Archimandrite is one below a bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church, and usually in charge of a monastery. It may be that he is referring to ‘Father Michael’ – then the leader of the the Greek Orthodox community in London, and much later a leading Greek Orthodox figure.

GreekLady Houston – Lucy, Lady Houston, although always known as ‘Poppy’ – is part of the competition story, however. There is a good blog about her here. After the debacle at ‘The Saturday Review’, Lady Houston bought the paper, and used it to attack the Labour government in particular, but any aspect of society she liked. Considered one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest woman in the world, and given to carrying fivers in her handbag to dispense to ‘tramps’, she had run through a lucrative relationship and three lucrative marriages (although she claimed that Churchill was in love with her). At one point threatened with being taken to an asylum, she left blank cheques on the desks of the Harley Street specialists to prevent it. She donated colossal sums to the save an air race trophy (it has been argued that she thereby ‘saved the Spitfire’). She was regular and entertaining newspaper copy.

Houston Dr. Buchman was Frank Buchman (1878-1961), an evangelist who inspired The Oxford Group in 1932, the movement that later became Moral Rearmament – a group that sought to be a bulwark against the ‘communist threat’. Not surprisingly, it was very much admired by the Express. Buchman had an uneasy relationship with Nazi Germany. Himmler invited him to the Nuremberg Rally, and Buchman was interested in Nazism, but was reasonably quick to recant any interest in Hitler, and he is credited with inspiring some European churches to stand up against Hitler. The German and UK establishment were both suspicious of him.


There are three competitors commended – E.V. Warne, Allan M. Laing and W. Leslie Nicholls, but the prizes go to Southron and Redling (who curiously often win at the same time, making me just slightly suspicious that they may be one and the same):



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.

Honours Board 1933

This year we can run to a top twenty (just). L.V.Upward (who is to feature for many years to come) is the first to claim Seacape’s crown, although not quite equal the number of his victories. The numbers at the end are previous placings. As the race for third, seventh and tenth place show, this was a close and far more even outcome than the previous three years.

1.    L.V.Upward              8 victories        £11.0s.0d     (-,9=,8=)

2.   E.W.Fordham           7 victories        £8.8s.0d       (6,-,-)

3=      William Bliss          9 victories       £7.7s.0d        (5,-,-)

W.Leslie Nicholls      7 victories       £7.7s.0d        (-,-,-)

T.E.Casson                 7 victories        £7.7s.0d       (-,-,-)

Black Gnat            5 victories       £6.6s.0d      (-,-,-)

7= Guy Hadley         4 victories        £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

 Southron              5 victories       £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

Lester Ralph        3 victories       £5.5s.0d      (10=,-,-)

10=  James Hall         5 victories       £4.14s.6d     (3=,-,4)

Alice Herbert      3 victories      £4.14s.6d     (-,-,-)

Marion Peacock  4 victories     £4.14s.6d         (-,-,-)

Redling                 5 victories     £4.14s.6d       (-,-,-)

H.C.M.                   3 victories    £4.14s.6d        (-,-,3)

15=  N.B.                   4 victories    £4.4s.0d         (-,-,-)

W.A.Rathkey       3 victories       £4.4s.0d      (10=,-,-)

Eremita                 5 victories    £4.4s.0d        (10=,-,-)

P.S.C.                     2 victories    £4.4s.0d        (-,-,-)

Seacape                 2 victories   £4.4s.0d         (1,1,1)

20= Rosellen Bett        3 victories   £3.13s.6d       (-,-,-)

Prudence              2 victories   £3.13s.6d        (-,-,-)


A few points:

The major absentees are W.Hodgson Burnet, who won no prizes (but did judge a competition), and who died in the last month after what must have been a severe illness; Pibwob and Little Billee, both of whom managed three wins, and both of whom will return with a vengeance; W.G.; Valimus and Non Omnia.

Black Gnat and Seacape are one and the same, so if they had entered as one, they would have come equal second.

T.E.Casson, in his fourth year, has finally seen rewards for his persistent, weekly entries.

W. Leslie Nicholls is the major new name.

It will be interesting to see who decides to keep going when the WR is taken over by New Statesman and Nation. At least three of the above were still winning prizes in the 1950s.

In 1933, there were 90 winners (down from 114, perhaps a sign of failing circulation) who won £192 (down from just over £201 – not least because of several prizeless B comps). The number appearing behind initials had shrunk from 15 to 8, and the number of pseudonyms was down from 45 to 30. So 50% of the entrants are now providing their names.





Competitions nos. 171A and 171B: results

Another new judge for us: R.Ellis Roberts, who (like Clennell Wilkinson) had been New Statesman‘s Literary Editor – and who was the only writer whom Kingsley Martin could not bear as a writer –  says he has a friend who can remember a punchline to a story, but not the story itself. The punchline is ‘And then he said “Call that good spitting?”‘ The short story is asked for (no word limit given). Most go for an American story. Some turn Roberts’ stomach. Lester Ralph is admonished for ‘sordid realism’. James Hall, William Bliss and James Henderson get close but the winner is ‘Seton C‘. Now there’s already a competitor on the books called Seton, so I am going to take a wild stab and suggest that they are one and the same. The runner-up (doing very well, incidentally) is Southron.



The B competition is for an acrostic sonnet, to spell out PSYCHOANALYSIS.

One of the runners up (mis-spelled as Blarraid) is the Irish poet and playwright Blanaid Salkeld, who had just brought out her first collection of poetry, Hello Eternity. Born in what would become Pakistan in 1880 (where her father was a friend of Tagore), she grew up in Ireland, married, returned to India with her husband, who died in 1908, and came back to Ireland in 1909. She worked as an actor. She wrote five collections of poetry, and verse plays. She encouraged Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh, and her grand-daughter married Brendan Behan. She died in 1959. There is a brief synopsis of her life here.

Roberts prefers poems with models (and he believes they have missed a trick by not using Donne, but doesn’t explain why). He therefore goes for Eremita and Black Gnat (Seacape).



Competitions nos. 170A and 170B: results

Antony Bertram offers, for the first time in a while, a translation task – you have to translate this Heine poem, in three abab quatrains, although the metre can be different.


The poem is untitled, but Schubert set it to music as ‘Der Doppelgänger’. There’s a translation by Louis Malinofsky here, and one by A.S. Kline here. With more than a touch of potential hubris, I’ve had a shot at translating it myself, so I can see what the winners do:

A stilled night, and the cobbles mute:
This house was once my lover’s space –
But she’s long left town, left no substitute,
Though the home remains, it’s the same place.

There’s a man here too, staring up into sky,
Wringing his hands as if nothing heals –
It frightens me when I catch his eye –
It’s my alter ego, the moon reveals.

Yes, dopplegänger, you washed-out double –
Why that look of my love’s long pain,
In this very same place, giving me trouble,
So many nights, lived over again.

I couldn’t see how I could lose dopplegänger in line 9. Mainly I’ve tried to get some echo (that ‘Doch steht noch’ is impossible to capture). However …

Bertram rules out everyone who rhymes ‘woe’ and ‘long ago’, and anyone who mixes up liebeslied (‘heartsong’) with liebesleid (‘life-pain’). That takes him to four – R.G.G., N.B., Valimus and the new set of initials and winner, E.S.B. (Valimus is picked as the runner-up). The winning entry is very, very clever, because it shifts the whole poem into Scots dialect, giving the writer a whole new lexicon to use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second one – to be fair, Bertram thinks they’re none of them very good, is very self-conscious. I like the fourth line, I hate the ninth, and ‘unfold/Grief’ is just terrible. But then I am reacting to these having just used up an hour of my life on trying to do the same thing. It certainly sounds better in the German!

For the B competition, Bertram lifts a description of ‘a mere great man’, i.e. a snob, from the Microcosmography of the bishop John Earle (1601-1665), a sort of compendium of ‘types’ (you can read it here):


(There is a picture of John Earle here.)

Bertram wants a modern version to describe an intellectual snob. His instructions are a bit vague, and the entry small – but Southron wins with a modernised version, and Guy Innes (far more work involved, surely?) wins with a pastiche of Earle. I would have reversed the prizes, but perhaps I am being an intellectual snob.



Competitions nos. 168A and 168B: results

A new judge, Richard Church, just embarking on a successful literary career after 28 years at the Ministry of Labour, asks for a sonnet in the manner of Milton’s ‘On His Blindness’, only supposing him to have been deaf. For those of you who didn’t know JM was a redhead, here he is:


The competitors are apparently prone to staying too close to the original, the exception being Alice Herbert, who is followed into the winners’ enclosure by William Bliss (ticked off for splitting the sonnet in a non-Miltonic way).


I am afraid the B competition is just as serious, asking for the text of a broadcast, had he been able to make it, by St. Paul, the night after Damascus. Church refers to ‘glaring faults’ having spoiled many entries (but does not say what they are), and refers only to the winners, Southron, and the curiously named Sawdust as Gold. (His or her previous appearance was as Sawdust Asgold, so there may be a printing error involved.)


Competitions nos. 161A and 161B: results

Clennell Wilkinson firstly asks what a 1933 Alice would be thinking about when she fell down the “very deep well”. He issues a warning against “mere Freudian facetiousness” – which in my view is a pity, as there could have been some amusing Freudian material. Now, when I turned to the results, I note immediately, that Wilkinson runs straight into the exact problem I suspected. The entries have been so afraid to be facetious or Freudian that it’s cramped their style.

Willkinson also notes that Carroll has a deceptively simple and quiet and abbreviated style. He mentions no near-misses, and give the prize to Southron as the only entrant who has done what he’d hoped – give a modern twist on a Victorian girl. The runner up, H.C.M., is allowed to win because Wilkinson says it does sound like a girl (!). Note that Amy Johnson is the heroine for the first entry – or, as we’ve seen, Amy Mollison, as she was then known. Interesting that ‘ripping’ is still considered an in-word. I vaguely doubt this.


The B competition is based on an overheard (by Wilkinson) on a bus.

First Lady: ‘My dear, I have just come across such a good book, you really must get it from the library’

Second Lady: ‘What’s it called?’

First Lady: ‘The Card by Matthew Arnold’

Now, there’s a potentially great competition here – which is to write an extract of The Card by Matthew Arnold (instead of Arnold Bennett, if you haven’t got it). But Wilkinson simply asks for some overheards. As he says, these kinds of verbal blunder are somehow better if you know them to be true, but the truth, as it were, is that the examples provided, often appended with a note saying ‘this actually happened’, are not in themselves very funny. Thus:

The Last Days of Pompeii by Lytton Strachey (should be Edward Bulwer Lytton)

South Wind by Montagu Norman (should be Norman Douglas; MN was the governor of the Bank of England)

The Golden Arrow by Conrad Veidt (Wilkinson admits this takes a bit of thought. Mary Webb wrote The Golden Arrow; Joseph Conrad wrote The Arrow of Gold; Conrad Veidt was a German actor who appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari and later also in Casablanca)

Babbitt by Upton Sinclair (should be Sinclair Lewis)

The Jungle Book by Upton Sinclair (Sinclair’s most famous work was The Jungle)

… are not brilliant, although I laughed at the last one.

There are really predictable D.H.Lawrence/T.E.Lawrence mix-ups mentioned, but in fact the guinea winning entry by W.A. Rathkey strikes me as completely feeble. However, Myra Verney‘s is genuinely clever. She’s mixing up Botticelli’s painting Primavera with the Italian boxing champion Primo Carnera who was about to become the world heavyweight champ (he was known as ‘The Ambling Alp).