Winner 2019

Winner 2019

The Twenty-Second Queen’s English Society Prize for Excellent English

The Joint Winners

Rev. Dr Peter Mullen

Trigger warnings and safe spaces make sure young people are never challenged by ideas (The Free Nation, September 2018, The Freedom Association).

This forceful piece is full of lively imagery and excellent, logical arguments, concisely put.

Here is just one bizarre example among thousands. Theology students at Glasgow University studying the course Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1) are being given trigger warnings that the scenes of the crucifixion may be upsetting. … What do these infantalised, otherworldly theology students at Glasgow imagine crucifixion to be like – a nice sunny stroll in Regent’s Park or an afternoon at Lord’s watching the Ashes Test and eating ice cream? … If the university professor is now obliged to speak to young adults, old enough to vote, to marry and to serve in the armed forces, as if they were infants and toddlers, we will have to admit that whatever piece of paper students emerge with when they’ve completed their degree is worthless.

We don’t like to admit the fact – indeed, we have got so acclimatised that we hardly notice it – that a form of censorship is being applied in Britain as corrosive of our freedom as similar systems operating in totalitarian regimes. We are not – or not yet – thrown into the dungeon for our opposition to the canons of political correctness. So we have what I might call “totalitarianism-lite.” If you reject the PC “British Values” of Equality, Diversity, Multiculturalism and Homosexual Marriage, you may get sacked from your job, be fined or even imprisoned.

Boris Johnson

The Irish backstop is a monstrosity that wipes out our sovereignty (The Daily Telegraph, 17/9/2018).

This is written with style and an irresistible logic. It gives a very clear idea of what the backstop is and why the author thinks it is bad. The first two paragraphs have a relevant and graphic extended metaphor sustained for about 150 words.

If the Brexit negotiations continue on this path they will end, I am afraid, in a spectacular political car crash. In the ensuing recriminations the road will be cordoned off. The investigative teams will roam around trying to work out how the British civil service – this purring Rolls Royce – could have come such a cropper. What distracted us? What caused us to swerve? How did Britain end up upside down in the ditch with all four wheels spinning lazily in the air?

To understand the origin of the disaster, you need to go back a few hundred paces to a fatal patch of oil on the road. It is called the Irish backstop. That was where the skid began. If we are to get out of this mess and get the great British motor back on track, then we need to understand the Irish backstop and how it is being used to coerce the UK into becoming a vassal state of Brussels.

… if Chequers were adopted it would mean that, for the first time since 1066, our leaders were deliberately acquiescing in foreign rule. … Both versions of the Backstop are disastrous. One threatens the Union; the other version – and its close cousin, Chequers – keep us effectively in the EU, as humiliated rules-takers.

Four other finalists, in random order

Tibor Fischer

How to Rule the World (Corsair, 2018).

This was placed first by one judge, who described it as a brilliant witty summary of getting to know a strange hotel. It has some good colloquialisms and a matey style, covering visits to many countries.

Travelling a lot narrows the mind. You want your usual hotel in Bangkok (or Beirut or Baghdad), because they have a proper pool, or because it’s close to the airport, or because they stock a good orange juice in the minibar, or because you know how to work the shower. No time is wasted finding out which floor serves breakfast, how exactly you get your coffee (do you hunt down a waiter or will they hunt you?) and which switch actually switches off the bedside lamp.

… The Thais are a cheerful, hospitable bunch, until they aren’t. You can get robbed, cheated and put on an uncomfortable chair. I’ve bribed policemen in four continents, and it’s about the etiquette. You can get it wrong: bribing too little; bribing too much (yes, you can); bribing too openly; bribing not bribingly enough; bribing too slowly; bribing too fast. Why can’t they just hand you a guide? Hula Hoops, cigarettes, a leather jacket (a good one) and, naturally, cash have all worked their magic.

Lucy Mangan

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (Square Peg, Penguin Random House, 2018). This contains a wealth of well-observed details, although some are exaggerated: Dad and his 800 siblings. There are excellent descriptions of her background, parents and upbringing, as well as of books.

I spent most of my early years – aged one to three, say – being trodden on.

‘It was your own fault,’ my mother explains. ‘You were too quiet. You used to stand by my feet, not making a sound while I was washing up or doing the ironing, so I’d forget you were there.’

… At home she [her mother] was an equally efficient plumber, electrician, laundrywoman, gardener (actually more of an operator of a scorched-earth policy across the little patch of lawn and potentially herbaceous border behind our three-bed terrace, but no matter – neatness was the goal, not beauty), cook (burgers, Findus Crispy Pancakes, whaddyawantchipsormash, and gravy) and chauffeur as needed, in ceaseless, indefatigable rotation, singing, talking to herself or shouting orders to others all the while.

Allison Pearson

Act in the national interest, Theresa May, and resign now. (The Daily Telegraph, 16/11/2018). This is a good example of an angry polemic, well-argued, heartfelt, backed by evidence, with many colourful turns of phrase.

Who will rid us of this terrible Prime Minister? … Mrs May is too insipid a figure to inspire hatred. It would be like hating a seagull.

… Fib on fib. On Wednesday, Mrs May told the nation she had “the confidence of the Cabinet”. Except that, at the end of the Cabinet meeting, a furiously deceived Dominic Raab told the Chief Whip that he was resigning. To lose one Brexit secretary may look like misfortune; to lose two looks like that is a job in name only, because the man actually running Brexit is a Remainer civil servant.

… We can’t struggle on with a Prime Minister who has humiliated her country and lied to its people. We can’t nod along when they praise her “resilience” when what they really mean is pig-headed obstinacy. We can’t allow her to defy the single biggest vote in our history. We need a new leader – a chess grandmaster to wrangle with Brussels, not the runner-up in the 1973 Towcester tiddlywinks competition. … you must go. And go now.

Harvey White

Through a glass darkly: reflections on dementia. (Retired Fellows Newsletter, 62, 2018, The Royal Society for Medicine).

This is a piece of brilliant, steady writing about his wife’s 20 years of dementia, poignant, realistic and profound, not asking for sympathy. He describes each visit to her care home as being akin to repetitive bereavement.

The clock had gone back and after my wife had pushed her supper aimlessly around the plate she wandered around and then went to the window. As it was dark outside, the glass was reflective; the light had also faded in her own life. She looked at herself in the window – pointing, wondering and occasionally talking to herself. Who knows what she was thinking or trying to say? Was she pointing a finger of blame at an individual or at the world? … Hopefully she was experiencing moments of joyful recall, rather than despair. We will never know, but thankfully, whatever was going on in the recesses of her mind, superficially she appeared to be in contented oblivion.

… In my wife’s case, the main source of pleasure appears now to be nursing a doll in the belief that it is her child, and taking the filling out of cushions – for which I offer no explanation!

… From John Bunyan’s ‘slough of despond’ that inevitably accompanies dementia, evil gases may arise and threaten sanity and stability. If recognised, they can be harnessed to strengthen our resolve to live out a different but fulfilling life founded on the respect, memories and happiness with a partner of previous years.


The judges aim to base their judgements on the quality of the English of each item submitted, without regard to whether they agree with the sentiments expressed. This is not an easy undertaking; sometimes, beautiful or exhilarating English is employed to express sentiments that may be disagreeable to our judges or our readers.

Entries for items published in 2019 should be sent to Dr Lamb at the address inside the front cover of Quest by the end of May 2020. They should conform with the details in the second paragraph of this report.

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