Sunday, 15 May 2011

Competitions and a raincoat

It is many years since I subscribed to New Statesman—in fact, I don't think I ever did, I used to read it in the library—but for some reason they often send me a free copy. This is nice, for although I would no longer want to buy it every fortnight, I enjoy seeing an occasional copy for nostalgia's sake.
I am happy to know that their competition is still going strong: it has reached No 4174, which called for poems on the subject of any well-known proverb and attracted many entries. There were several clever and elegant ones, but my favourite among the prizewinners was short and simple:
Don't keep a dog...

I kept a dog and barked myself
And now my throat is sore.
The burglars only laughed at me
And busted in my door.
They stole my money and my jewels.
They stole my private log.
I only wish they'd thought to steal
That stupid, silent dog.

In 1949 the competition was for parodies of Graham Greene's writing style; famously, the author himself submitted an entry under the pen name "N. Wilkinson" and won second prize. In 1965 Greene again entered a similar New Statesman competition under a pseudonym, and won an honourable mention.

I too entered a few times but never got even an honourable mention. However, as with all literary competitions the prizes were miserably small book tokens (they are still only £25 and some Tesco vouchers) so I soon gave up trying and later my pride was salvaged when I did win £50, a lot of money in those days, in a newspaper competition.

This was in the Observer and was for a parody of one of their regular feature writers; I chose Pierre d'Harcourt who wrote on travel (merely a slim column—lavishly illustrated colour supplements were way in the future), aimed squarely at discriminating travellers, not the holiday-making masses. Fifty years later I recycled my entry as one of the first posts in Other Men's Flowers.
I spent my winnings on a Gannex raincoat; Harold Wilson quickly followed my example and wore one on a world tour in 1956. They became fashion icons, and were worn by Lyndon Johnson, Mao Zedong and Nikita Khrushchev, as well as the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the royal corgis. In addition they were worn by Arctic and Antarctic explorers, Himalayan climbers, the armed services, and police forces in Britain and Canada, and the success of the new fabric made Joseph Kagan a multi-millionaire, while Wilson made him a life peer.

He was later charged with tax evasion, though the formal charges were styled as "theft" and "false accounting", to comply with extradition treaties which did not cover tax offences. After a stay in Israel, he was arrested in Paris. On December 12, 1980, he was convicted of four counts of theft, fined £375,000 and served a ten-month sentence. He lost his knighthood, but his peerage could not be forfeited and on release from custody he returned to the House of Lords and spoke on prison reform.

1 comment:

Doris said...

Cool! So you were a style leader in the Gannex coats ;-) I entered one of the newspaper competitions once - maybe the early 80s but didn't win a jot. It was to write a novel in 50 words. Challenging, fun and rather novel.