26 FEBRUARY 1954, Page 20

Schools Competition

BOYS and girls in schools in the United Kingdom were invited to write a Spectator Leading Article, or a Middle Article, or a Review Article on any book which had appeared in the past three, years. Prizes, each of books to the value of eight guineas are awarded to : Priscilla Jenkins, of Colston Girls' School, Bristol, for a review of Stephen Spender's book, ' The Creative Element.'

Rosemary Wood, of Dalkeith High- School, Midlothian, for a Middle Article ' Symphonies in Shirt Sleeves.'

D. J. Hurst, of Blackpool Grammar School, for a leading article on the Commercial Television argument.

The entry was large. The average level of quality was, high. Competitors were not asked to state their age, but most articles had what may be called a `sixth form touch.' That may be taken by those entrants who were not sixth-formers as a commendation of their efforts; and by sixth-formers as a compliment or a reproach, according to taste. The majority of the entries were Middles, with Reviews second in number but first in quality, and Leaders third in every respect.

Report by the Editor on Leading Articles That there were relatively few entries in this section was in itself a compliment to the good judgement of the entrants. It was also a mercy to the judges, for the majority of the ' Leaders' submitted were not really leaders at all, but school essays on a ` public affairs ' theme with an excessive element of solemnity and heaviness of touch. It was perhaps a little unfair to invite entrants to write a leader, since leader- writing, above all forms of journalism requires a degree of maturity and judgement which beginners are unlikely to possess. The Spectator does its best all the time to find new talent among the younger writers, but experience (and, for that matter, commonsense) shows that talent is more readily developed ,tby giving these writers books to review or encouraging them to write middles than it is by asking them to write leaders.

Yet for one special reason I do not regret the attempt. That reason is D. J. Hurst of Blackpool Grammar School. He executed a tour de force in the best Grub Street tradition. He submitted six entries, three leaders and three middles. Not one was superlatively good, but each one was a sound, workmanlike job. His leaders were placed first, second and third in their section, by common consent of the judges. He is awarded a prize for this remarkable display of at least one of the professional leader writer's tricks—the ability to keep it up. Report by the Assistant Editor on Middle Articles " Why do you want to get into journalism ? " " Because I want to write."

" What do you want to write ? "

And in nine cases out of ten the duologue comes to an uneasy stop at this point. Very many want to write. Very few know what they want to write. This is only too clear to me in the normal course as I plough through the pile of articles deposited by each post.

Confronted with the middles ' entry in our Schools com- petition, I must confess I expected a hard slog through the familiar school essay—the shade of Addison borne aloft on a high moral tone. There was in fact very little of this, and in general quality the pile compared favourably with my normal daily ration.

The four which I sifted eventually as the best are not, on the whole, the four which would be the most likely to win essay prizes. But they are certainly the best articles. They communicate. They take the reader. into account. And they are all about something. Rosemary Wood (who wins a prize) wrote about an orchestra, a witty excursion behind the scenes. David G. Witham sent an Italian travel-piece which opened with a fine flourish: " Like a, slowly revolving wheel with the faded light at its centre, the darkening plain passed before my gaze which was obstructed from time to time by the leaping silhouette of tree and hedge, thatch and poplar row." He kept it up remarkably well. James Currey-described to some effect the results of myxomatosis among the rabbits of France, a vivid and factual article. Lastly there is D. H. V. Brogan, who supplied the only article supporting youth against crabbed age. (I expected many more.) Report by the LiteralyEditor on Review Articles..

In judging the reviews submitted, while I kept my eyes open for possible surprises, I looked mainly for two things. In the first place, I looked for actual originality—for the kind of writing or of approach which, awkward or difficult or appar- ently illiterate as it may be, reveals someone struggling with his own difficulties in his own way. Secondly, I looked for potential originality, which, at the age of sixteen or eighteen, often perhaps characteristically takes the form of brilliant pastiche. Of the first class I found only signs or touches here and there, and these were possibly misleading. In the second class, I found quite a number of reviews which were creditably near to professional workmanship and lacked only some finally adult quality of ease, weight and certainty.

It is an interesting fact that of the runners-up two dealt with individual poets (Stephen Pik on Robert Graves and R. W. J. Hubank on Dylan Thomas). The odd man out was April Carter on Maurice Herzog's Annapurna. All had sweated out the heavy sententious flatness of the school (and undergraduate) essay. All wrote like professional journalists who know that the public doesn't owe them a reading, but that attention is something that must be won by force and style and the cut and thrust of critical opinion. I finally decided upon Miss Jenkins's review of Mr. Spender. The best review articles are those which state and establish a principle of general interest arising out of the book under review, and in her consideration of " the importance of criticism of poetry by poets " Miss Jenkins has made an admirable attempt at this classic approach.