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Judges’ comments

As usual, we had a wide range of articles to choose from, including two sports commentaries , a book review, a theatre piece about Benedict Cumberbatch, a defence of the Chardonnay grape, a discussion of hot cross buns, an item on grammar schools and social mobility, a cricketing obituary, and three Country Travels articles by Ben Fogle. There were no book entries this time.

Although five out of six items in the finals were from the Daily Telegraph, that reflects what members of the QES have sent in and the quality of those items, not prejudice on the part of the judges. We tried hard to focus on the excellence of the English and not on how much we agreed or disagreed with the statements made. When discussing the items amongst ourselves, it was common to find praise for a piece on a topic for which the judge had no interest. We hope to receive many items published in 2016 by the end of June, 2017.

Judges: Bernard Lamb (chairman), Ray Ward and Adrian Williams

 

Dr Bernard Lamb, September 2016

     The Nineteenth Queen’s English Society’s Prize     

     for Excellent English     

Introduction

This prize is awarded annually by the Queen’s English Society (QES) for excellent English prose. The aims are: to encourage the production of excellent English, to publicise its existence, and to provide good examples through reprinting some of the best entries in our journal, Quest, if the authors and publishers give permission. It was founded to honour Arthur and Marjorie Goodchild for their generous benefaction to the QES, and was originally called the Goodchild Prize for Excellent English.

All entries must be of prose, fiction or non-fiction, published in a specified year, with a named author or authors, and must be sent in by members of the QES. The writers need not be British or members of the Society, and may be professional writers or amateurs. Any long works, such as books, must be represented by a short extract only. The nineteenth Prize for Excellent English covered material published in 2015. All entries were read by each of the three judges, who are members of the QES and experienced writers with diverse backgrounds and tastes in writing.

 

The Winner

Harry Mount,for Say No to our pampered student emperors (The Daily Telegraph, 30/12/2015). This piece of superb commonsense was highly rated by all the judges. The metaphors are apt and the arguments are cogent. The little emperors have grown up. The babies of the late Nineties – mollycoddled by their parents, spoon-fed by their teachers, indulged by society – have now reached university. Some of the brighter ones are now at Oxford demanding that the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel should be torn down because of his imperialist, racist views. … If you’ve had a lifetime of people saying “yes” to you, of never being told off, you remain frozen in a permanent state of supersensitivity. …

Near my childhood home in north London, there is a late-Victorian school. According to the noticeboard outside, it didn’t have a headmaster. Instead, Mr M J Chappel was called the “lead learner”. The implication was clear. Mr Chappel wasn’t placed in authority above the children, but was ranked alongside them. Children have as much to teach the teachers as the teachers have to teach them – an idiocy that’s difficult to attack because it sounds so charming; and because people like me sound so evil when we disagree. … Every time the authorities are accused of racism, they bend over backwards to soothe the offended egos of the little, tinpot dictators – rather than telling them that they, the teachers, are there to tell the students what to do; and not the other way round.

 

The Runner-up

Norman Tebbit,for I didn’t like Ted Heath, but these wild claims are a travesty of justice.(The Daily Telegraph, 8/8/2015). This is a fierce polemic about the wrongs of smearing the dead with unsubstantiated accusations. It is well argued in clear, concise English, with an excellent title, and was placed first by one judge. …nothing I knew about the man ever gave me any reason to suspect that he was a sexual pervert engaged in the abuse of young children. He struck me as a man lacking the human warmth that is necessary if you want to forge personal relations with others, especially with women. He lived a lonely life, I thought, in his world of politics, music and sailing. … Now though, 10 years after his death, when he is no longer here to defend himself, there has been a sudden storm of allegations that Heath was a particularly foul pervert who found pleasure in the sexual abuse of young boys. …So where does this put the detective who seems to have sparked off the storm of allegations? It is time we knew who he is and why he sat on this story for 25 years…. An extra-judicial trial of a dead man, unable to speak in his own defence, can hardly be a fair trial.

 

The four other finalists, in random order

Helen Brown, forA sweet voice that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (The Daily Telegraph, Review, 24/10/2015, p 24, POP CD). This is a review of Joanna Newsom’s CD, Divers.

In spite of having no interest in pop music, one judge put this first as the language is so lively. With a voice that’s been variously compared to a dying cat and a hobgoblin on helium, it’s fair to say that the idiosyncratic sound of harp-toting, indie-folk singer Joanna Newsom is not everyone’s cup of tea. … Others can’t handle the cute, polysyllabic quirkiness of her lyrics: all those dirigibles and coracles. The British press splits the debate down gender lines, with smitten male critics claiming they’re wrestling with the scorn of women who think she’s peddling “pixie porn”. … But for the most part Divers is a magic carpet ride that finds Newsom still spinning wild (and generally impenetrable) interwoven yarns with the jaw-dropping dexterity of a modern-day Scheherazade. … Newsom can pluck and plait genres and eras together as though they were the strings of her harp.

 

Allison Pearson, for God help us if multicultural liberals abolish Christmas. (The Daily Telegraph, 9/12/2015, main article). The author, who includes herself among the Christian agnostics, looks forward to attending a carol service in Canterbury Cathedral. She argues brilliantly against the loss of our Christian heritage. …And into all this loveliness and wonder and people doing something warm and communal for a change instead of shopping till they drop comes the Commission on Belief and Religion in Public Life (Corab). Let’s just say the commission doesn’t seem to have got the Tidings of Great Joy memo. … First, if Corab gets its way, British children will never become familiar with the Judeo-Christian religion that underpins 2,000 years of Western civilisation; if you banish it from schools, they will certainly not get it at home. … In this new, secularist Britain, you will still be allowed to buy a Norwegian spruce to decorate, but it will be called a “holiday tree”. That sad and joyless nomenclature is now the norm in the United States, where Christmas, to the great sadness of many Americans I know, is the one religious festival that dare not speak its name.    I’m afraid that our lady of multiculturalism [Baroness Butler-Sloss] is so open-minded that her brains have fallen out. … the spectacle of eminent judges and religious leaders signing the death warrant of Christianity in these isles is just intolerable.

 

Robin Page, for ‘M’ gives me a licence to thrill Lulu. (The Daily Telegraph Weekend, Country Diary(23/5/2015, p W19). This article had ravishing descriptions of nature in well-conserved farmland, such as that of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s Twyford Farm. It also describes its author’s meeting with Judi Dench and how she readily became patron of the Gordon Beningfield Farm Appeal. We have already lost the cuckoo. And three springs ago, we lost all our willow warblers. How I miss their beautiful, tumbling, fluting song. When mixed with the song of the blackcap, it was such a sensational musical start to spring. … We walked along a farm track, the edges fringed with wildflowers, cuckoo flower, lesser celandine, Jack-by-the-hedge and greater stitchwort. In woodland the beautiful yellow archangel flourished and then, over a rise and around a bend, what wonder: we were engulfed by a sudden sea of blue stretching in waves for as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking. The scent of millions of bluebells swirling in the eddies of warm air.

 

Johnny Grimond, for Keep it short. (The Oldie, February 2015, p 61) The author advocates using short words, and does so in this piece, although lapsing once from monosyllables with ‘halfway’. This [February] is a short month, so it is fine time to praise short words. They are plain and clear. They do not test our brain too much. You can spell them with ease, for most are well known, and they do their job with scant fuss. … Long words fall like snow on snow. They numb the mind and freeze the breast. Short words dance and sing. They lift the heart and feed the soul. … Think of love and life, joy and pain, hope and fear, war and peace, birth and death. What they mean to us, what they do to us and what we make of them can all be told in short words. One of the judges pointed out that long words can also do many of these things, and that using only short words impoverishes the language. The article was probably typed ‘tongue in cheek’.