Report on Competition No.
By PETER FLEMING
AUSTIN MOTORS are givin; Mr. Leonard Lord £100,000 on con- dition that he never works for anyone else—on condition (in other words) that he continues to do in the future what he is doing today. To whom would you, if you could, give a similar sum on condition that he or she stopped doing what he or she is doing today and never did it again ? A prize is offered for the best letter explaining to the recipient of this award (who need not necessarily be a public figure) your reasons for bestowing it. Letters should be not more than 250 words long."
I think it reflects much credit on the competitors' sense of pro- portion that only two of the numerous entries gave the £100,000 to Mr. A. Bevan and only one to Mr. Strachey (" conditional on your retirement from the nut trade "). Five wanted Marshal Stalin to have it, and two Mr. Churchill, on condition that he gave up party politics and devoted himself to world-leadership. The only other public figures to be chosen twice as beneficiaries were the Devil and the Postmaster-General. Another agreeably surprising feature was the number of people whose- bestowal of the award expressed a like rather than a dislike. They were headed by Miss Margaret Isaacs (aged 17), of Hendon, who gave it to her mother on condition that she ceased from household drudgery, and a reader in Derby who offered it on similar terms to her friend: while some- body from Maidenhead wanted Richard Murdoch to have it on condition that he stopped not broadcasting.
In a more sub-acid vein, I liked the Yorkshire doctor's exasperated reaction to the garrulity of the average female patient : " Madam, you can have your.£100,000 if, when you ask my advice, you will keep your tongue still long enough to hear it." A vicar in Devon was as anxious to get rid of an unctuous churchwarden as a parishioner in Birmingham was to get rid of an obsolescent vicar ; and a lady in Oxford would give £100,000 to her servant if she would banish for ever from her face " that smile that has never come off during all the twenty years that you have so faithfully worked for me.. .. I admit it sounds harsh but you will have done your share of smiling even if you never smile again, and I have come to the conclusion that it is the only way to save my reason." Mr. H. de B. Saunders wrote quite a good letter (" as one of your oldest surviving petitioners ") to his—and my—Regional Petroleum Officer ; the Birmingham Crescent Theatre Rebuilders addressed the Minister of Works in broadly similar terms ; and Miss Marianne Brown let fly at Sir William Haley an attack on the B.B.C. (" its destiny is decided by millions of turbanned squaws and erk-types, who cannot masticate open-mouthed unless supported by the marshmallow Schmalzing of Kostelanetz ") which was not, as you can see, lacking in vigour. Miss Sheila Knowles bribed M. Karas to stop playing the zither in a communication worded rather over-preciously, and from Mr. Henry L. Needham's letter to Homo Sapiens it was not clear what the great fool was required to stop doing.
Old Moore was offered the money (by "Duodenal ") if he would stop prophesying 'woe: Janus if he would stop writing " A Spec- tator's Notebook ": Mr. Rank if he would stop producing films and the Home Secretary if he would stop letting children under sixteen see them Picasso and Matisse (" it is true that I have not viewed any specimens of your work ") drew fire, and so did football pools, satellite towns, planners (a good entry from Miss K. N. D. Curtis) and a man with a pneumatic drill (another good entry from Mr. T. S. Symonds). But though the choice of target was admirably diverse, the standard of marksmanship was ragged, a lack of urbanity being the most general failing.
A first prize of three pounds goes—mainly for the sake of .her postscript and on condition that she stops using the expressions
forsooth " and " to boot " and never uses them again—to Miss N. Wishart for her letter to Miss Agatha Christie, and a second prize of two pounds to Mr. R. P. Boxwell for his to Sir Donald Bradman.
Of various unofficial solutions which reached me the pithiest was: " Dear Peter, I should giire it to —; all I should ask him to stop would be breathing": while a distinguished non-competitor sent in an admirable one which ended : " There is one slight condition attaching to the grant. It is this: that never again, my dear Monty, will you use in official or private utterances the word ' bellyaching.' "
FIRST PRIZE To Miss Agatha Christie, Dear Madam,-1 offer you the sum of £100,000 if you will, from now onwards, write no more detective fiction. I am a philanthropist, and. it is in the interests of my fellow men that I make this offer.
Are you aware, Madam, that for over twenty years you have consistently defrauded a large section of the public of their necessary quota of sleep ? Doctors tell us daily of our vital need of sleep. Poets speak highly of it—balm of hurt minds, it has been called, chief nourisher in life's feast. Yet with each new novel you con- demn perhaps a million people to lose up to five hours of precious sleep (and for what, forsooth ? That they may find themselves fooled again on the last page).
This is a serious matter, and the Ministry of Health may well feel disturbed when one woman can cause the nation to lose at any moment five million hours of sleep. Moreover, have you ever con- sidered the colossal waste of electricity, gas, paraffin, even candles for which you are responsible ? Vast numbers, to boot, are com- pelled to- retire to their own rooms to read you in peace, thus doubly wasting the midnight oil' What has the Ministry of Fuel and Power to say to this ?
In the name of humanity, Madam, I ask you to stop.—Yours. Stc.,
PRO' BONO PUBLICO."
P.S.—On second thoughts I shall be satisfied' if you merely stop publishing, provided the MSS. are sent to me.
SECOND PRIZE To Sir Donald Bradman, Sir,—For many years you were the cause of our bowlers exerting themselves on cricket pitches both in Australia and in England. You have now retired from first-class cricket but I gather you have a son in whom you, not unnaturally, take great interest. I am creditably* informed that the boy is a cricketer. Under your guidance it is more than probable that he will become every bit as difficult to send back to the pavilion as was his illustrious father. With all due respect to you, Sir, and to the game of cricket, I submit that English cricketers and crowds cannot be expected to compete against another Bradman while the memory of your complete lack of respect for all our bowlers still lingers on.
As a result of a substantial legacy I am in a position to offer you £100,000 on the sole condition that you refrain further from teaching your son how to bat.
I make no stipulation about any coaching he may receive at school and I readily appreciate that hereditary influence is bound to play a part. The only influence I feel it my duty to check is your own.
I hope to hear from you further regarding this matter but for the sake of bowlers all over the Empire may I ask you to accept my offer. In all respects, other than batting, I sincerely trust the boy grows up as you would wish.
(signed) R. P. B.
[*Sic, I am afraid.—P. F.]