16 JUNE 1950, Page 16

SPECTATOR COMPETITION No. 22 Report by Strix A prize of

IS was offered for a letter (of not more than 200 words) offering guidance in his choice of a new career to your erstwhile Regional Petroleum Officer.

The British, I was brought up to believe, are a tolerant race, quick to let bygones be bygones, loath to hit a man when he is down. But I have long thought that the amenities of a Welfare State would. sooner or later bring about some modification in the national character, and the entries for this competition suggest that the process of evolution is already far advanced. There was no mistaking the vindictiveness of the feelings by which the numerous contestants were, almost without exception, animated. Even those whom charity compelled to admit that the Regional Petroleum Officers were only doing their duty did not seem to think that they had done it in an efficient, let alone an enlightened, manner. " Unswayea " (wrote Mr. John Palmer) " by common equity or common pity, you applied with incorruptible loyalty the exact provisions of a law inconsistent, obscure and bad " ; and this, I am afraid, was about the highest praise that the R.P.O. got from anyone.

The prevailing rancour was not, unfortunately, matched by any great ingenuity in selecting as it were—a punishment to fit the crime ; and it is because he came nearest to doing this that I have awarded a second prize of £.2 to Sqn. Ldr. J. F. Powell. The first prize (£3) goes to G. E. Assinder, whose command of the patois of Whitehall is assured and whose implied assumption that the R.P.O. would find another niche within the Civil Service has prob- ability on its side. Most people started off bursting with but found, when it came to the point, that they could think of no appropriately humiliating job to offer to their late oppressor. Guy Kendall indicated the nature of this impasse when he wrote:

" Employment ? Why, your claims to be employed Are just what most employers would avoid ; Officiousness and irresponsibility In trade don't earn the hall-mark of utility ; With your keen insight, for one place alone 'Twould seem you're fitted—God Almighty's own ; Or, since our genuineness you're apt to try, I've little doubt you might well qualify As advocatus (yes !) diaboli."

R. Kennard-Davis solved the problem by discerning in the R.P.O. a passion for pedestrianism and the open road and ending 1 hope to hear of you as a rural postman tramping the remoter parts of Wales . . . your rugged features tanned and glowing, as you gaze with pity on the pallid degenerates who glide past you in their Rolls Royces." R. B. Browning—not the only competitor to suggest that the R.P.O. should become a garage hand and work a petrol pump—started well but tailed off ; Eric Overell's offer of a post on the staff of an experimental school called " Ewsharnt " (" I have special classes in which children are prevented from doing normal and natural things ") had more logic than most ; and R. S. Stanier felt that the wretched man had better become an umpire, since " you consistently put into practice the fundamental principle of good umpiring—when in doubt, say No.' " But on the whole the standard was not very high.




I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 25th instant. It has already occurred to me that suitable personnel stemming from the de-control of petrol would assist the general viability of other departments. Several alternative avenues of employment within the Service may be explored and you may care to consider a post with my own department in the Ministry of National Insurance or in the Iron and Steel Board (in process of formation) or the Timber Control (in process of disintegration). Long-term appointments are antici- pated in all three.

Confidentially, I am recommending to the Permanent Under- Secretary the formation of a department to handle applications for powered invalid chairs (teak) for incapacitated insurees residing not less than ten miles from a scheduled transport point (see sub.sect. 18B 1(3)). I should need further staff if this eventuates.

It is anticipated that the overall departmental structure will be on a vertical basis and therefore there should be ample room for the re- absorption of redundant personnel in this connection in due course.

If the suggestion is attractive no doubt you will apply through the usual channels.

1 trust that I have made myself clear.

1 am, Your obedient Servant,




On the occasion of your merciful release I feel that the least I can do is to make some constructive suggestions on your future employ- ment.

There are many possible careers open to a man of your talents. In diplomacy your categorical negative might be matched with Russian intransigence. Your critical attitude to the written word opens for you the field of book-reviewing. In the police your cynical insight might well be of use as a human lie-detector, though for this perhaps you might be over-sensitive. Your readiness to give decisions fits you for the highest posts in the legal profession.

But, from our particular association, I think the post you are_

re best fitted to fill, if your standards are set by your own ability in performance, is that of a Himalayan porter. For some years you have maintained that it is reasonable for my wife to walk three miles from a bus-stop with the family's groceries for a week. You therefore should clearly be capable of the porter's task, or even perhaps of replacing two mules in

an R.A.S.C. animal transport company. J. F. P.