Monday, July 28, 2003

The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour

Various (England, Later Young Elizabethan Era): New Statesman "Comps"

Description: Over several decades, the English magazine New Statesman ran Weekend Competitions where readers were challenged to produce short literary works in a variety of styles, often on a contemporary political issues. At least four anthologies of winning "comps" entries have been published, in 1946, 1955, 1968 and 1979.

The following selection of winning entries is drawn from the 1979 anthology Never Rub Bottoms with a Porcupine! In his introduction to the anthology, Arthur Marshall notes the sort of problem of which bloggers currently conducting competitions of their own might need to note:

... There have, I regret to say, been occasions when the word limit has, unspotted by the adjudicator, been exceeded by an overexcited competitor and furious rivals have quite rightly written in to complain. Have the word exceeders, covered in shame and confusion, then nobly surrendered their prize money? Your guess is every bit as good as mine.

The 1965 anthology was Salome Dear, Not in the Fridge! I have no idea what the titles of the two previous anthologies were.

Each entry (or set of entries) is preceded by the page title from the book and a short description of the competition that produced it. With one significant exception, the entries on display were selected either because they're "timeless" (without any intent to imply that they are classics) or because I think they have some relevance, however tenuous, to current events. I don't think the exception will be too hard to spot.


Never Rub Bottoms with a Porcupine!
A few proverbs and aphorisms which either state the bleeding obvious or are just fatuous.

If there's no lead in your pencil you don't need a rubber. J. A. Smith

Tomorrow is what today was yesterday. R. Armstrong

A bald man does not fear grey hair. T. Griffiths

A bird in a taxi's worth two in a bus. G. R. MacFarlane

All: 1969

A Just Not So Story
Competitors were asked for inside stories exposing the myth of the Black and Tans or the Slave Trade. Here's one on the latter.

Interviewed today, Mrs Hagar Ffoulkes of Takoradi said: 'The British Hulk Trading Association are doing a grand job. My husband, family of foour and myself have all been placed in holiday homes. No, we don't pay a penny. We live as family. Later, I believe, exchanges are to be arranged so that colonists out here can see out beautiful country. The children are about twenty miles away on another plantation. It is the first holiday from the children that I have had since they were born. Of course I help out in the house. It is the least I can do in return for the hospitality I have received here. Yes, the iron collar is free, too ...
Eileen M. Haggitt, 1969

Hello World
Famous words of the newly-born.

OEDIPUS: I'll be back. Roger Woddis

JESUS: My father was never in these parts. Gerald Hinch

Both: 1969

Beyond Our Faculties
A new university course and its justification.

A Parisian countess, returning from Proust's funeral, encountered a friend who, on learning where she'd been, remarked 'Marcel Proust? Who's he?' Suddenly the countess records she felt 'une immense fatigue'. Your Faculty, having pondered many doctoral hundred doctoral theses with titles like 'The Tensile Heart: Patterns of Moral Equilibrium in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson' confesses to sensations of similar weariness. It has been decided therefore to scrap the existing ENGLIT course and substitute for it an anonymous happening. Anyone who wishes will be lent a selection of books that some people in the past have found meritorious and will be given a quiet, warm room (adequately stocked with alcohol, tobacco, coffee, etc.) in which to read them. There will be no lectures, seminars or tutorials, nor will there be any terminal examinations, gradings or assessments. The 'course' will have no objective, produce no result and will provide no marketable qualification whatsoever. Your Faculty has meanwhile awarded itself a well-earned sabbatical and will be engaged in literary research in Las Vegas.
Molly Fitton, 1969

Grave Matters
This competition asked for elegies to "contemporary bigwigs in the style of any notoriously good-bad poet".

For Mrs Thatcher, after Alfred Austin

Across the wires the message sped,
She is no better, actually she's dead.
Fair Leaderette! with Party cares o'erladen,
Supreme example of a self-made maiden,
A grocer's daughter, born in Grantham Lincs,
She got a Second in what some call 'Stinks',
But First in the affections of the Tories,
Secure in History she evermore is.
Though Number Ten she never dwelt inside,
Be sure the Pearly Gates will open wide
To welcome her in heav'nly twin set clad,
The best Prime Minister we never had.
Stanley J. Sharpless, 1975
[I don't know who Alfred Austin was either. Gummo]

'P' Means Relief Is Permitted
Helpful advice for tourists visiting the UK.

In Scotland, Gentlemen's lavatories are indicated by a picture of a man in a kilt. A. C. C. Brodie

London barbers are delighted to shave patrons' armpits. V. F. Corleone

Bus Conductors like to be paid in L5 and L10 notes as they hate carrying heavy coins up and down the stairs. C. Vita-Finzi

All: 1976


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