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 nos. 88A and 88B: results

James Agate returns to the judge’s seat. After his highly grumpy adjudications in 53A and 53B, we might fear the worst. We would be right. It’s a really difficult, but verging on pointless competition, in which a piece of prose has to contain all of the following (as phrases): Chinese metaphysics; ‘pig’s whisper’; the Atlantic Ocean; Charlie Chaplin; Bolshevism; pyjamas – in any order, with 350 words as the limit (350! modern competitors have never been given more than 200, and their usual maximum is 150, or even 120). The audience intended has to be given.

Agate’s report excoriates the entrants who fail to know the meaning of a pig’s whisper. One of the unlucky and more inventive entrants is Henrietta Heilgers, a writer who as Louise Heilgers had had several novels published, and a colourful private life, which involved living with a bigamist whom she subsequently married (and had by this time divorced). There is a good description of her here and here.Louise Heilgers

A pig’s whisper, anyway, is a ‘very short space of time’. The many inventive ways round it included inventing cocktails called pig’s whispers. The winner uses the device of a school speech, and he (or maybe she, but at any rate a Northerner) is A.H. Ellerington:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The finest example of such a speech he’s ever seen, says Agate, tongue locked in cheek, I hope. The runner-up satirises Gerald Barry, and, Agate says, gets him right, prompting an editorial note (‘Does it?’). The parodist is W.B.:



Compeition 88B is a fiend, and Agate is very dogmatic about it. Starting with the assertion that the opening of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with its reference to the general’s dotage, is the best example of cutting to the chase after Genesis (Genesis?!) – he actually says ‘cutting the cackle and coming to the ‘osses’ – he asks for six similar examples from Shakespeare of avoiding having to show scenes (as here in avoiding having to show Antony and Cleopatra meet). Agate – a little pompously – says that there are two blindingly obvious ones, that is, the death of Falstaff, and also (really weird choice) the avoidance of seeing when Macbeth broaches killing Duncan to Lady Macbeth. But doesn’t he do this in a letter?

The winner is Doris N(ellie) Dalglish, a London born writer (born in 1894), who published some academic work on Stevenson and Clough, amongst others, but who whose best known work was on Quakers. She was also a poet, turning up in The Spectator in May 1941 with a curiously flat poem ‘Holbein in 1940′:

I took the pilgrims’ way to Hayles this morning,
And what shone out to me, as memory groped
Among the allusions and the lecture-notes,
But Fisher’s face, John Fisher as Holbein drew him?
Magnificence wore many Tudor habits,
Choosing at random to endow a college,
To write sweet sonnets, man adventurous ships …

Never mind, she scoops the only prize. She has had, unsurprisingly, to fend off only six other entrants, who will surely have better ways to waste their weekends –


Competitions 82A and 82B: results

Humbert Wolfe wants a poem dealing with the Austrians having transported some stranded swallows across the Alps to Venice. One of the entrants, Rex Boundy, took a Wolfe poem as the basis for his entry, and ‘improved on it’ – Boundy appears to have been Australian, and perhaps in England for a decade, as he has had poems published in Pearson’s Magazine in 1922, and turns up in the compendious diary of Mrs. Mollie Walker, a doctor’s wife who travelled the world and who was in England in 1931 and 1932. D.C.R.Francombe sent in a Latin entry, which Wolfe thinks Barry should publish. But the winners are W.B., whose third verse Wolfe says he’d cut; and Marion Peacock, whose third verse Wolfe considers weak.

WR 81




The B competition six titles of novels, with blurbs, and marks for pretentious silliness. Over a hundred people entered this competition, turning up all the following titles:

Maiden Into Flea, From Protoplasm to Puberty, The Missing Finger-Joint, Scalene Triangle, Bathsheba’s Boyfriend, Ye are to declare it, A Plumber In The Midst, Strong Silent Mannequin, Daisy on the Dole, Holly Pillows (‘the sex life of a laundress’), and others.

The winner is R. Barton, and the runner-up is the successful playwright John van Druten (1901-1957), who had a hit play, London Wall, running in the West End at the time (‘romantic entanglements in a firm of solicitors’!). He was best known for his adapted play ‘I Am A Camera’ in 1951, his version of Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye To Berlin’ which was in turn used as the basis for Cabaret.



John Van Druten