Competition no. 231: results

Gerald Barry makes his second appearance as a judge. He has a conundrum for the competitors. You’re confronted by a ‘wanted’ gangster in your own house who has already shot a member of your household, but who now agrees to leave and to stop threatening you if you promise him that you won’t set the police on your track. So, a) would you give your word? And b) Would you keep it?

Confusingly, Barry says he has been inspired here by the case of Colonel Fey. Fey, however, is not a simple or attractive case. He is Emil Fey, the nationalist Austrian colonel who acted as deputy to Chancellor Dolfuss. While Fey and Dolfuss concentrated in July 1934 on repressing the social democrats and communists, the Nazis pt pressure on Dolfuss, and staged a putsch against him. Dolfuss was killed, and Fey saw off the Nazis by promising them safe passage and then reneging on the deal. However, there is some debate about Fey having been put up to this. Fey survived in government but ‘committed suicide’ in 1938 after ‘killing’ his family. One too many Nazi double bluff.


Almost everyone takes this competition intensely seriously, and there are appeals to Kant, to Shakespeare, to Aristotle. The winners are Sennacherib, and, at last welcomed back into the winners’ enclosure, T.E. Casson. Barry solemnly leaves the fray by saying that the winners don’t necessarily represent his own views.


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. 192A and 192B: results

Philip Jordan comes up with a complex idea. Entrants have to imagine it is 1940, and the fifth anniversary of the establishment of a totalitarian state in the UK. An official history has been commissioned, and the “approved” journalist is to write an account of the burning down of Parliament five years earlier by Ramsay MacDonald and Stafford Cripps, and their trial. This is a complex reference to the fire that destroyed the Reichstag in early 1933 – even then, there was some suspicion that the lone confessor, who was Dutch, was not the real culprit, and that it may have been the work of the Nazis.

Nevertheless, this is a difficult competition. Cripps was at the time a surviving member of the Labour party in Parliament, and had broken away from the Independent Labour Party to form the Socialist League, a left-wing grouping that included G.D.H. Cole as well as two youngsters, Michael Foot and Barbara Castle (Cripps was later Chancellor in the post-war Attlee government).


Stafford Cripps

Jordan reckons that only one entrant has really pulled off the trick of being a polemical journalist. His name is Nalgar, and although this is a ‘new name’, it’s also Raglan backwards, so it is Fitzroy Somerset, the $th Baron Raglan (the 1st had been Wellington’s right-hand man, and was later known for sending the order that led to the demise of the Light Brigade in the Crimea). The fourth baron, however, was known as a beekeeper, an anthropologist (the first to compile a dictionary from English to the language of South Sudan when stationed there in World War One), and also as the writer in 1936, of a book that identified the archetypes of a hero – somewhat in advance of Joseph Campbell’s less penetrable study.???????????????????????????????

Lady Houston was the owner by now of The Saturday Review, the magazine abandoned by Barry and his staff to found the WR. The runner-up is T.E. Casson (on his best streak since the competitions began).

???????????????????????????????The B competition takes a Morning Post headline, ‘A Thousand Years of Tradition Can’t Be Wrong’ and asks for nine further fatuities of the English Language. One of the runners-up is Ellen Sophia Bosanquet, the daughter of the historian Thomas Hodgkin, and the wife of Robert Carr Bosanquet, an eminent Aegean archaelogist (1871-1935). His wife, who also wrote about Greece, lived on until 1970, and one of their daughters helped published a highly regarded collection of her mother’s letters, poems, and autobiography, Late Harvest. Ellen herself published a collection, in 1938, of her husband’s letters and light verse, so the attraction of the competition to both is clear.


Ellen Sophia Bosanquet

Guy Innes wins the guinea after a lot of discussion, but the runner-up, having first made an appearance as an also-ran a few competitions earlier, is the victor-ludorum-to-be, Allan M. Laing. There are to be several years of competitions in which no-one can touch him. The expert on Allan M. Laing is George Simmers, who has blogged about him on several occasions, as here.

Laing incidentally does it the hard way, selecting nine phrases from contemporary newspapers. His is the second below (his name was accidentally omitted).



Competitions nos. 187A and 187B: results

Richard Church asks for a three verse attack on a tyrant of the entrant’s choice in the style of Shelley’s attack on Castlereagh, that is, the one that opens

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

(the rest is here).

But the WR entrants are softies (a bit confusing though for Church to begin by writing My heart aches and a drowsy numbness etc.) – one chooses Stalin, one chooses a tax-inspector, one chooses a litter-leaver, one chooses his foreman, one chooses the Conservative Party, one chooses the family doctor, one even chooses Montagu Norman. Only four pick Hitler, who is a little bit more than the obvious choice. Perhaps, he muses, they were worried by a remark in his instructions about the dangers of libel.

Come the hour. T.E. Casson is handed the two guineas by trying to write like Shelley, about Hitler. The runner-up is Pibwob, who chooses ‘the road-hog’.


The B competition asks for a reply to a producer who wants a scenario for ‘The Life of D.H. Lawrence’. Half the entrants independently think up the not-hilarious idea that D.H. and T.E. will be mixed up (T.E. Lawrence was still alive – he died in May 1935). The two winners, A.H.Ellerington and N.B. take interestingly opposing views of whether a beard is a good idea (the actor ‘Gilbert Faversham’ is an invention, by the way).


DHL beardless

Lawrence before the beard


… and after.


Competitions nos. 186A and 186B: results

Frank Sidgwick sets a competition which was actually set again earlier this year (2014) in New Statesman. The idea is to take a proverb, and add a rider to it. An American agricultural journal had actually remarked that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness, but as far as cows are concerned, cleanliness should come first’. The recent NS competition gave its entrants free rein, more stimulating that Sidgwick’s stipulating (but okay, not insisting on) three well-known adages by the same writer: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Nearly fifty entrants, but many cheerily missed out that dull insistence ‘by the same writer’. In other words, folks, farming jokes called for. Only fourteen were left at this stage. Several were eliminated for writing bad American. Having kyboshed his own competition, Sidgwick is left only with the option of divvying up the two and a half guineas so that James Hall gets one, and three others (Phiz, M.C.Trench and T.E. Casson) carry off half a guinea.


More than fifty entrants have a bash at the B competition – to make a single heroic couplet out of Walter Savage Landor’s quatrain:


This is a well-known whole poem from the first half of the nineteenth century, but one suspects that Dirce is not so well-known – she was killed by her niece’s sons, by being tied to a bull’s horns. My question is, why turn it into a couplet? Oh well. Several competitors said it couldn’t be done.

Sidgwick, who is nothing if not a rigmaroler, discusses whether is right to use a word from the poem as a rhyme word, and eventually stops fretting giving out just one guinea to a very fortunate Charles G. Box (since it is a poor effort!), although it’s first win, and he’s come close:



Competitions nos. 173A and 173B: results

Clennell Wilkinson sets, rather wordily, a competition for a Speech Day speech by the father of a son at the school. The father has lurid memories of his own sufferings [editor’s note: then why the hell has he sent his son there?!]. The speaker was ‘not a brilliant schoolboy’ and ‘is not interested in education’, and has resolved, in a maximum of 300 words, to cheer the beggars up. Competitions like this, with so many qualifying instructions, tend to bomb.

Wilkinson analyses the entries at length. Some have put in too much stuttering; some have introduced controversial subjects (school sporting types who were cowardly in World War One, where swots were brave, and killed); some have written serious speeches (and here Wilkinson is surely right in discounting them, as the speeches really wouldn’t be listened to, and pretty well infringe the admittedly complicated rubric).

Perseverance pays dividends. Having entered, as far as I can see all 173 A competitions and the slightly fewer number of B competitions, and having what few prizes he’s garnered split, or halved, or whatever, T.E. Casson finally gets his two guineas. (It’s not very good, alas!) Marion Peacock manages to slip a poem under Wilkinson’s nose. He has to admit he hasn’t outlawed them.


Here are some of the likely recipients – this comes from a web-site dedicated to Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School:


The B competition is triggered by someone having seen Lenin’s tomb and saying it’s the architectural equivalent of saying ‘Boo! I frightened you that time’.


In 1933, he would have been in uniform.

So what would a) The Sphinx, b) The Taj Mahal, c) The Statue of Liberty, d) The Albert Memorial say?

The winners are G.C.B. Cotterell, who had been in the Naval Air Service in the latter part of World War One, and who contributed articles in support of the Scout movement and Officer Training Corps and other subjects to The Spectator at about this time, as here, and Alice Herbert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is worth noting of Alice Herbert’s entry that there is an etymological discussion about whether or not ‘Brown Windsor’ was used before 1943, in reference to soup. I am grateful to Michael Quinion, the etymologist, for his suggestion that ‘Brown Windsor’ refers to soap, not soup. I still don’t get the joke, though! (Is it the ‘royal appointment’ as in the image below?)

BW soap


Competition no. 162: results

Akron headlineMartin Armstrong sets just one competition, inspired by the crash of the R101 in 1930 (a disastrous flirtation by Britain with airships, which killed the Air Minister, amongst others), and the very recent disaster that had befallen the USS Akron, an American airship that had crashed on April 4th 1933 because of weather conditions not far from Lakehurst, New Jersey – exactly where the Hindenburg was to come to grief in May 1937. In fact the Akron was a greater calamity in human terms – there were only three survivors, including Executive Officer Herbert V. Wiley, who (incredibly) went on to survive the crash of another airship, the Macon, that he was captaining, in 1935. All the passengers drowned at sea when the Akron crashed. You can see a newsreel (silent) about the Akron here and also an interview that features Wiley and the only other two survivors (both sailors) here (scroll down).

R101R101 wreckage


AkronThe theme of the competition is whether man has gone too far in the struggle to overcome the elements. (Man certainly had with airships.) The poem is allowed to have any form, but – and here’s an early mention – prosepooems are forbidden (because ‘they have no form’). The prizes are three guineas, one guinea and half a guinea. The winners are Prudence, T.E. Casson and Damon – with Noel Archer, Mariamne and Hilary all commended.

It has to be said that they do not read like poems from 1933: too grandiloquent. And I’d have thought Damon’s poem shaded it, even by the antiquated standard being adhered to.



Competitions nos. 154A and 154B: results

There is something about the grand dame in Naomi Royde-Smith that means, when she sets a competition, she feels she must alter the disposition of the guineas on offer. In this case, in the A competition, she offers three individual guineas for the three best conundrums that end in the line ‘What should A do?’ Her report mentions no names other than the winners, but does make pronouncements on what not to do (one entrant had 26 characters from A to Z in the 250 words allowed). Two failed entries are quoted in full, but not credited.

Still, for the first time, T.E. Casson comes out first, although it’s his bad luck that, on this auspicious occasion, and on his 154th attempt, he earns a single guinea rather than two. The other two winners are Hutch and Guy Innes.


Casson’s entry, in case you missed it, is a sort of amalgam of the E.W.Hornung novels featuring the cracksman Raffles with the bodyline crisis. (Raffles had been created in 1898, and appeared in twenty-six stories and a novel between then and 1909 – but a British film The Return of Raffles had come out in 1932.)Hutch’s entry seems fairly conventional to me. But Innes’s entry is a witty send-up of the whole competition.

Alas for the B competition! Entrants had been asked to complete

Upon my plate his guinea-fowl;
I asked for guinea-fare.

But ‘a sad thing has happened’. The entry contains a misprint. It should have read

Upon my plate lies guinea-fowl;
I asked for guinea-fare.

The idea was to have a go at a waiter. Royde-Smith is certainly not giving any prizes out, but she allows one entry to be printed without any other reward:


Worth at least half-a-guinea, I’d have thought!


Competitions nos. 145A and 145B: results

The WR starts 1933 with a makeover, a new type-face, which it asks readers to try to get used to before commenting. The front looks like this:


and here are the contents:


I’ll jump ahead a few weeks, when comment was invited. Two competitors vied on the letter page, one pro, one anti – George van Raalte and W. Hodgson Burnet (of the latter, notice his extraordinary address!)


Gerald Bullett sets what he fondly imagines will require ‘devilish ingenuity’ – a ‘not unseasonal sonnet’ in which the first letter of the first line is W, the second of the second is E. the third of the third is E, the fourth etc is K, the fifth is a hyphen and so on until ‘WEEK-END REVIEW’ is spelled out diagonally. In fact this proves pretty easy, and it looks a bit odd because the emboldened words don’t go very far across the verse. The winner is Cottontail, who is lucky, because Bullett prefers – yes he does – T.E. Casson, until he spots that Casson (and a newbie, Brer Rabbit, who gets a consolation prize, as Competition B has run into problems again) have each made a technical mistake. Can you spot it? I’ll explain at the end.


As a matter of record, the B competition was to offer some words from Dr. Pangloss on the international situation (Hitler was on the verge of taking over in Germany). There were very few entries, and nothing worth printing (the shortest competition report to date!)

Okay, have you spotted where Casson and Brer Rabbit went wrong? It’s to do with the hyphen. By using (as instructed) a hyphen in line 5, they have set up a rule whereby a hyphen has to be a character. So ‘deep-delved’ and ‘two-thirds’ become technical faults.


Competitions nos. 131A and 131B: results

Our latest judge is the son of a marquis (or marquess, I’ve never really sorted that out), which is why he is Lord David Cecil, or, to give him his full list of names, Edward Christian David Gascoyne-Cecil, had just turned 30 (he died on New Year’s Day 1986), and at this stage, the author of a single book, a life of Cowper, but one that had won the James Tait Black award AND the Hawthornden Prize. He wants a four line stanza poem (20 lines max) on ‘London in the Autumn’. Is it me or was I set this kind of thing at school?

The runners up include the trying-very-hard Sylvia Groves and also a Una Monk, who I think is probably the Una Monk who published two books about women and migration, and about the commonwealth, in the 1960s. But the winners are Seacape, and (splitting the half-guinea) Issachar and, yes, T.E. Casson (‘more fancy and finish’).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe B competition is very odd, and not very popular at all. It asks us to imagine D.H.Lawrence (only dead two years) meeting Dr. Johnson in Heaven and giving a description of him. These must be one of the earliest parodies of Lawrence, and, actuallyt, they’re pretty good. The winners are R.C.A. (was his name Victor?) and W.A. Rathkey.