Competition no. 215: results

This is the first competition published in New Statesman and Nation to be judged by Sylvia Lynd. She must have been pleased by the move to the NS&N: her husband Robert, aka ‘Y.Y.’, was its star columnist. She chooses a subject still under debate today – pronouncing foreign place names. Why do we say Paris instead of Paree, but Nees instead of Nice? Answers on a postcard from the appropriately mispronounced place. (Even within England it is a problem. Nobody in Newcastle says Newcastle with a long a, and an emphasis on the second syllable; they say Newcastle with a short a, and an even beat on each syllable.)

She asks for a poem from 14-40 lines on the subject ‘The Discoveries of Foreign Travel’. This is characteristic of Lynd, who tends to give everyone a lot of rope, and then gives herself plenty of rope as well. 40 lines! And there is a specific insistence on the last line: ‘And Guadalquivir called ‘Gwad-al-kee-ver’. She doesn’t give a precise ruling on the weight on those syllables, and even her suggested pronunciation is open to doubt. For instance, here’s Fisher’s account of the river in 1797-8:

Fisher on Gquivir

But here’s Paul Gwynne from 1912 (see the footnote):


These are treacherous waters. But here’s the picture from Gwynne’s edition:


Lynd’s style is as ever chatty and distinctive (very few of the judges can be recognised without seeing the name. Lynd is one; Squire another; the dreadful Agate a third). If Barry, now on the NS&N board had any advice, it would have been to clear an additional column (effectively what happens). A couple of entrants, Palermo and Bow-wow, attempt to impress (e.g. Chicago = Shee-cago), but the latter apparently can’t do Valladolid … Guy Innes sees his whole entry printed but Lynd says it’s too clever for her (she can’t ‘do his eighth or nineteenth line’):


Perhaps the problem here is the switch between new and old (has no/ doth oft). Lynd has a great line in suggesting that she has heard gentlemen fall out when lunching in Soho because one has pronounced the second t in risotto… In her scatty way, pausing to accidentally reveal Pibwob’s name but call him Goldsmith instead of Goldsmid, she winnows her list to four, discards Allan M. Laing, and divides first prize (a guinea each) between H.C.M. and E.J., with W. Leslie Nicholls sneaking in for the half-guinea.






This is the first successful competition to be published in New Statesman, in my view.

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.

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.

Competitions nos. 193A and 193B: results

Seacape returns as a judge (he has had a strange year, what with his ‘resignation’, adoption of a second pseudonym and finally a return to form). He asks for an ‘ode to a ring of tobacco smoke’, but sets no line limit, so many entrants write odes of over 40 lines, and T.E. Casson goes over 50.


William Powell blowing a smoke ring in ‘The Thin Man’ (filmed in 1933, released in 1934)

Having noted that there is not as much light verse as expected, Seacape moves on to Eremita’s entry, which is in alcaics, and in Latin. The fifth line is apparently

Bacchantur extra turbine strenuo

– prompting Seacape, tongue wedged quietly in his cheek, to comment, ‘May I be corrected if I’m wrong, but I believe that the penultimate foot has a duty to be dactyl, whereas ‘turbine’ is amphimacered, as it were, by ‘strenuo’.’

The prizes go to Marion Peacock and Hazel Jenner. Hazel Jenner may well be Lady Hazel Lavery, whose maiden name was Martyn, but whose father was called Edward Jenner Martyn. She knew many of the radicals associated with the WR. Her Belfast-born husband had been an official war artist, and had painted over 400 portraits of her – one of which was used on Irish banknotes. Rumours persist that she had an affair with Michael Collins. She died in 1935 at the age of 49.

Lavery 1928



The B competition wants up to 8 lines of rhymed verse suitable to put in the front page of a collection of stamps from the British Empire. Seacape is clearly a philatelist. He responds to a suggestion that stamps are a poor investment by noting that ‘during the past year or so, the 1d Post Office of Mauritius of 1847 and the 1c British Guiana of 1856 fetched £2,400 and £7,000 respectively, and an English stamp of King Edward’s reign, issued at a face value of 10s, realised £825.’

Here is the Guianan stamp – the only example in the world:

1856 Guiana

In 2014, it sold for £5.6 million. That makes it, at least in weight, the most expensive item in the world.

There are plenty of puns, but Seacape rejects them on the grounds that the owner of an album would have to wince each time the album was opened. The prizes go to Issachar and W. Leslie Nicholls.


To finish on a melancholy note, this competition’s results appeared on December 9 1933. Six days earlier, William Hodgson Burnet had died. One of the most enthusiastic entrants, with a competitive pedigree going back to the Edwardian era, his death goes unremarked (compare the poem written in honour of ‘Ciel’). But it may be that his death coincided (as it did) with a period of particular turbulence in the magazine’s history.

Competitions nos. 189A and 189B: results

Having come out against the ballade a few posts ago, it is my melancholy pleasure to tell you that 189A is for yet another ballade, and that, looking ahead, 190A will be for yet another ballade. That’s not very great planning!

We can exculpate the first setter, I think: Sir John Squire. He wants a ballade that ends ‘I liked my partner but she trumped my ace’. (The idea that a man and woman might swap roles is not envisaged.) Extraordinarily – to Squire as well – there is a glut of red-headed shes’ among the entries, most of which (the entries) he admires. He has to cut out the ones who still can’t tell a ballad from a ballade; he cuts out all the ones who don’t seem to know what game is being played; and, very oddly, he cuts out the small minority who picture the ‘he’ as a condemned man awaiting execution. The winners are Arthur Oliver and W.R.Y:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbridge_simplifiedThe B competition asks for a summation by a loser [as in a gambler] after a horse-race. Actually, this turns out to have been a misprint, as Squire wanted the word ‘rumination’ (he says he is hanged if he would use ‘summation’ even if it existsed, as he must have known it did). Squire thinks that no entry is especially good, but, perhaps ruminating on ‘summation’, hands the prizes to W. Leslie Nicholls and E.W. Fordham (the latter very definitely a summation).


Competitions nos 176A and 176B: results

In the first explicit reference to armament, Philip Jordan asks for a ballade to be in the voice of an armament manufacturer, the refrain to be ‘Why should I worry? Death will always pay!’

The ballade (beloved of Chesterton) is a real favourite of the early competitions, and would continue to be revered as a comic form until the fifties, at least (I don’t think one has been set in the last 40 or 50 years, not least because it is quite a long form. The refrain here is perhaps (perhaps? definitely!) something of a sledgehammer. Wryly, Jordan notes that he is surprised some of the envelopes did not combust in the post, because so many contained poems of ‘corroding venom’. Unfortunately, he adds (since he would like to have included some venom), innumerable poems bore little resemblance to the ballade form, so his winners are milder. They are W. Leslie Nicholls, Dermot Spence, and (as another B competition has done poorly), Arthur Oliver.





For the B competition, a short poem on the (just-concluded, albeit inconclusively) economic conference is requested. There are several entries, many of which write about having a drink now it’s all over, but Jordan is only disposed to give out a single prize, to J.N. Wales. I think this must be John Nicholson Wales, who worked at Dartington for Leonard Elmhirst, and who had been given the task of producing a daily ‘news of the day’ in 1928. He may also be the J.N.Wales who, rather later, contributes to books about economics:


Competition no. 175: results

Just one competition this week (prizes: two, one and two half-a-guineas). It’s set by Gerald Bullett. He wants a nursery rhyme (maximum 16 lines) that has the homely air of having been written by accident. This a clever, and I think, rather tough challenge. (Keeping the headful of old nursery rhymes at bay is the problem.)

There’s a large postbag and what Bullett describes as “a riot of  kings and cockleboats and hoppitty hoppitty wee wee men”, to the extent that he half-suspects a conspiracy. The nearest loser is W.A. Rathkey, who has his whole effort printed, as does Marion Peacock, who is just behind him in the queue (exasperating for the entrant when this happens!), but there are two clear winners, neither of whom have featured as also-rans, and neither of whom have remembered to send their addresses. The first is called Helen, the second is called Hazard.

Here is Helen’s:

The Seasons

A maid in a green frock,
A queen in a gold,
A hunter in russet,
A ghost in a shroud.

I stood on a hill
And I watched them come on,
But before O could stop them,
Behold they were gone.

I ran so fast to catch them,
But the green and gold went free,
The fellow in the white shroud,
He caught me.

You may well feel that this is quite twee, but I have to say I think it’s ambitious in avoiding an exact rhyme-scheme, and it’s easy to remember, too – crucial.

Here is Hazard’s:

The Baker

When Jack the Baker made his bread,
He set the dough o’er night,
And on the board above the trough,
He slept till morning light.

He made his bed upon the board
That rested on the dough,
And when the bread began to rise,
The baker did also.


Terrible! Truly terrible! What was Bullett thinking of?! He’s Jack in Part 1 but not in Part 2. The b rhyme in the second verse is really foolish. The only thing it’s got going for it is the double sense of ‘rise’. (I’ve also never seen o’er used for over as in night, but that may be because I have led a sheltered life.) But there we are, it’s given Hazard a guinea.

The two runners-up are W. Leslie Nicholls and Rosellen Bett.





It’s a curious competition. Bullett is a children’s writer and might be presumed to know what he is doing, but I wouldn’t have chosen Hazard or Bett (anything that rhymes with ‘dilly’ would be straight out).

Competitions nos. 163A and 163B: results

A new judge, the already redoubtable literary agent A.D. Peters, sets these competitions. He picks out Aldous Huxley – who had by this stage published eight collections of essays, eight collections of poetry, five collections of short stories, five novels (Brave New World had come out in 1932), and wh0 had just published an edition of D.H. Lawrence’s letters, even though he was still only 38 – and asks for an obituary in 1970 of Huxley as the Grand Old Man of English Literature, in what Peters suggested would be the last remaining newspaper. [In fact Huxley died in 1963 on the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy – and come to that, the death of C.S. Lewis.] Perhaps it’s important to realise that the epithet G.O.M. would in 1933 have been allocated to George Bernard Shaw.


Aldous Huxley

One of the near-misses is by a young Anthony Max Baerlein (b.1912) who was a regular cricketer for the Eton Ramblers, but who was killed in 1941.

Peters notes that most competitors have shrugged aside the implications of ‘the only remaining newspaper’; and others have tried to dismiss him to obscurity. in which case he would hardly be the G.O.M., would he?

The winners are W.A. Rathkey (good last line!) and W. Leslie Nicholls. It’s interesting what an impact Brave New World had made within a year.


We have been having problems with the B competition, have we not? Often an incompetent judge (this is a case in point) will make the instructions so hard that a ragbag of entries will ensue.  The premise is that theatre managers are saying there are no good new plays, and that we need to depend on revivals. So entrants are asked for two lists of eight plays worth reviving, in order of merit, the first from the ‘box office’ point of view, the second – and here’s where the trouble multiplies, ‘from the point of view of a manager who prefers good plays to bad, but also prefers the Ritz to the workhouse’. It’s not cryptic, but it’s not clear. Just to add in some more confusion, he adds that the same plays can appear on both lists, and that musicals aren’t ruled out. Oh yes and no play on the second list (or both lists?) to be less than six years old. Oh, and no more than two plays by the same author on the second list. This is not a competition, this is an exercise in decoding what the judge wants. Predictably, the competition crashes and burns. For the second time, I’m going to print an entire adjudication:


Interesting how many of these plays are now defunct, although Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘The Passing Of The Third Floor Back’ is still a big amateur success.


Competitions nos. 159A and 159B: results

Norman Collins is back, with an A competition based on ads he’s seen in the paper, ads like ‘Wanted, nicely bound Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ in exchange for nearly-new silver-plated cornet with solo music and stand’. It’s very hard for me to wring any sociological significance out of this, but it seems anyway that Collins has something else on his mind. ‘Assuming this decision to have been reached after moments of domestic crisis … [provide] not more than 250 words of the conversation between husband and wife which preceded the insertion of the advertisement’.

There is almost a contest over the last twenty competitions, although no-one is as rude as Agate, to blame the competitors for shortcomings (an especially  bad idea in this case, when the competition is so silly, for a reason I’ll come to). However … ‘Without wishing in any way to appear discourteous or unappreciative’ (so now Collins is going to be just that), ‘I am bound to say that if the prize money were mine, I should keep it.’ (Actually, it would make a good competition to have a judge being as politely rude as he or she could.) He admits he’s only the cashier, so he does present two candidates for prizes: N.B. and Southron.

The problem, says Collins, is that no-one has paused to consider the deeper implications. And it turns out that Collins has – he imagines a young wife married to an ageing scholarly husband, who has striven valiantly (his words) to keep the marriage going by bringing  music into the home. He has then repented. On Planet Collins, there is a strange melodrama going on, and nobody has tapped into it. What an odd story! He must have had genuine problems reading the adverts of the day.

He recommends Southron’s entry being read ‘in the mood in which on a Sunday night one watches a performance of the work of one of the grimmer dramatists from the North’. It is tempting to thank Collins for sitting through such plays (I admit I didn’t know there was really such a wave of them, and can only think of Lawrence’s plays, so I’m obviously ignorant of contemporary drama). I note that this is the earliest time I’ve seen ‘grim’ and ‘north’ in such close proximity.


The B competition is for a sonnet (yes, again) after Keats’ ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, only this time ‘On First Looking Into Dickens’. One of the also-rans is Sir Hector Munro, who had been the Permanent Secretary to the Local Government Board until the end of the First World War. The others are Lester Ralph, Guy Hadley, Lapin and P.R. Laird. (Laird was an occasional entrant – he was mentioned in dispatches in 1931 in the WR, in an unnumbered sequence of competitions in The Spectator in 1926, and in a numbered competition (37) in The Spectator in 1940. Looking at these Spectator competitions he nearly won, one trips over the names of George van Raalte in 1926 and Lt. Col. H.P. Garwood in 1940.)

The sonnets are well-written, and the winners are L.V. Upward and W. Leslie Nicholls. Note the reference to Beaverbrook in the first, and to Jim and Amy Mollison (Amy Johnson) in the latter.



Competitions nos. 148A and 148B: results

Elizabeth Bibesco quotes a play called Passé by Porto-Riche from memory. (Georges Porto-Riche was a French playwright born in 1849, but who had died only three years before this, in 1930.)portoricheIn the play, the heroine says, if EB remembers correctly, ‘Dire que l’année prochaine je regretterai ce visage là’ (Sad to think that next year I will regret that face). She wants (yes, again) a sonnet on this theme, in English.

In her report Bibesco notes that this competition has not attracted the usual number, and she singles out, very curiously, the following four as being missing: Pibwob, Non Omnia, Issachar – and Gordon Daviot. The first three are regulars, but Gordon Daviot – the pen-name of Josephine Tey, the novelist – has not been mentioned since 1930 and then only on one occasion in the tenth competition. Does this mean she has been entering, under a pseudonym for her pseudonym, for all the intervening competitions? It’s a curious remark.

By a really curious coincidence, on the same day that I wrote this blog entry, an article on one of the runners-up, Dorothy Bowers, was published in The Independent. It’s here. Bowers was the author of well-received crime fiction, but her reputation is a casualty of early death. This is her most famous:

Bowers novel

But she isn’t a winner, and Bibesco prefers the serious to the many facetious face-lifting sonnets. The winner is W. Leslie Nicholls (his first win, and the first appearance of a competitor who was to do exceptionally well), and the runner up is William Bliss. Commended – and also printed, unusually, but described as ‘smoothly derivative’ is Black Gnat. As I’ve said, I’m still pretty sure this is Seacape.


For once, the B competition is a hit (and would play well today). An English cricket captain, asked who his successor should be, has remarked that ‘I cannot comment; that would not be cricket.’ Brilliant. Bibesco asks for similarly dunder-headed observations on a prime minister, president-elect, bishop (or archbishop), restaurateur, actor, or novelist . She commends a lot of individuals, including T.D.Tremlett (the heraldic expert who has come close before) on a president-elect (‘a charming man in private life’) and Mariamne on a prime minister (‘We owe him a debt that we can never repay’). The winners are Hutch and B. Gibbs, who I assume is the B.R. Gibbs who won the previous week.