Coffee House Culture House Daily

Spectator competition: write an elegy for Jeremy Paxman

24 May 2014

9:30 AM

24 May 2014

9:30 AM

The latest challenge to competitors was to submit a poem commenting on Scottish independence in the style of William Topaz McGonagall, the poet hailed by the TLS as ‘the only truly memorable bad poet in our language’.

The deluded handloom weaver from Dundee built his reputation on appalling yet beguiling works of inadvertent comic genius. Unhampered by self-awareness, and buoyed up by uncrushable self-belief, he forged ahead with his art in the face of universal mockery and derision. Here is a particularly awful line from his most famous poem, ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ of 1880:

‘And the cry rang out all o’er the town, Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down.’

McGonagall has had the last laugh, though: while most of his Victorian contemporaries have slid into oblivion, the Tayside Tragedian still has devoted fans more than a century after his death and several volumes of his work remain resolutely in print.

No one completely captured the endearing sincerity of the original voice, but you nailed well the banality, the stumbling metre, the jarring rhyme. Ralph Rochester takes the extra fiver; the rest nab £35.

Ralph Rochester
Bounteous Heavens, let us all rejoice!
For the People of Scotland have been given a
And there is to be a National Referendum
For which we must thank the Scottish
        Nationalists and London.
But how many will vote No and how many will
        vote Yes
Only God knows though other clever People
        may guess
And I think a terrible Excitement will have
Until all the Votes of the People have been
        carefully counted.

And if the People of Scotland should say Yes
There will be much Joy and Happiness.
For Scotland will be independent, which it has
        not been
Since good Queen Anne was Britain’s Queen
Which was a very long Time ago.
But if the people of Scotland should say No
Then I suppose there will just be many Years
Very much the same as they have been before.

Alanna Blake
Oh! historic decision, momentous referendum,
Which in 2015 will set for the people of Scotland
        a tricky conundrum.
Though some for the whole business will not
        give a toss
Others will deliberate where on the ballot paper
        to put a cross.
From Highlands and Lowlands, both high and low
Should indicate whether they want the status quo,
Or our ancient ties with England and the Crown
        they desire to break,
Which I opine would surely be the greatest
And if for independence the winning vote is yes
Then, whatever Salmond says, there likely will
        be an economic mess.
In considering a situation where many are
It is not a poet’s position to appear one-sided,
But I will remain as I have always fervently been
A devoted subject of her most gracious Majesty
        the Queen,
And whatever happens it would be seriously
Not to let her keep the beautiful Royal
        Residence of Balmoral.


Bill Greenwell
It will be on the eighteenth day of September,
That we will decide whether or not to embarrass
        Her Majesty The Queen,
And when we will have our hearts and our
        heads examined
For what we think of Alexander Elliot Anderson

Aye! That is the day when we decide upon the
        fate of the Tweed,
Which is a very, very fine fishing river indeed,
And I entreat ye that you watch me grasp the
For sassenachs, alas, are not often worth the

And also I will neither palter nor parley
With the Germans who rejected our very good
        and bonnie Prince Charlie,
A better man than the Charlie we have as our heir,
Who wears a kilt yet fills all Scotland with

And aye, Cameron, too, a Scot of a clan and
        from the city of Aberdeen,
Which is a very fine place where he has not been

So I will let England become faraway and
For in London, I am sorry to say, they spurn the

Nicholas Hodgson
‘Twill be on Thursday the 18th day of
Which I hope will be a day which all Scots will
Especially the 16 and 17 year olds, I note,
As they will in the referendum be entitled to vote.

This year is of Bannockburn the 700th
As all Scots are aware, though their knowledge
        be cursory;
So on independence I am sure they should all be
As long as they do not do away with Her
        Majesty the Queen.

Thanks to the skills of Alex Salmond and Nicola
The hopes of the Yes campaign are starting to
Although the Electoral Commission, I am sorry
        to see,
Changed the question’s wording to ‘Should’
        from ‘Do you agree’.

I am sure that we are on very strong ground
To keep both EU membership and the pound,
So success to Yes Scotland against Better
And I pray that God blesses the day with
        clement weather.


To mark the sad departure of Jeremy Paxman from Newsnight, you are invited to supply an extract from an interview with a politician or statesman in which the interviewer doggedly but unsuccessfully attempts to get a straight answer to a straight question. Please email entries of up to 150 words, to by midday on 4 June.

PS Here’s an entry from Twitter to start you off, from the Telegraph’s comment editor Robert Colville:-


Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    In fact the stuff written here about William Topaz McGonagall, is shockingly snobbish.

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    In “The Tay Bridge Disaster” itself the author describes his work not as a poem, but a “lay”. How can the TSL judge what a layman might say?

    Perhaps the salutary lesson is the fact that whilst the efforts of other high-fallutin poets may be forgotten, the bald truth of a matter depicted by a layman, will stand the test of time..

  • Robertus Maximus

    An elegy to Paxman? One line would suffice: “Good riddance.”

  • Wessex Man

    So farewell, you mean, magnificent, moody, mouldy old bore you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kitty MLB

      Who are you speaking of ?

      • Wessex Man

        Who on earth do you think I’m of the ranting old bore who Lucy requested an elegy for.

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh I do apologise.I didn’t read the article
          correctly.Missed the heading.

  • mightymark

    “How (un)pleasant to know Mr Sneer”

  • depee davies

    dear jeremy has left the BBC,50p off the licence fee

  • allymax bruce

    my eyes of Man
    by allymax

    i searched my soul for reasons why and couldn’t find anything but me my quest for God a neverending sky i still don’t know and i still can’t see and God i asked to show Himself no miracle no sign no nothing nothing but me He is everywhere He is everything everyday i heard all my time i searched for Him me i gave up in the end i then realised i can never be punished lest i cannot see Him He cannot see me to be unseen to be unbridled to be free oh my soul felt so much better then no God no Queen no nothing only me all the japes were so much fun the jocose was on them i didn’t need God to live my life i’d got my own in return i stole His soul i made Her weep i hid it in my story i kept my part my lot was sealed invested in my glory now i was king above them all my life and times are famous i didn’t need God i never saw the Light i got through my life regardless but somehow someway we lived our lives our life and times together all His life in all my life denied and tied forever

    All Rights Reserved to allymax
    Last Post Productions

  • Kitty MLB

    May I say Lucy that I have utterly enjoyed these poetry threads
    that have being running since Easter.Especially the nonsense
    I am sure that asalord and allymax will enjoy this topic.
    And Allymax, if you read this.I beseech thee, please produce
    some writing that rhymes, its a bugbear of mine. So please.

    • allymax bruce

      Hi Kitty, if ‘rhyming’ is your thing, then you’ll have plenty mediocre poets to choose from. As is the same for those who over-embelish writing with flowery doubled-descriptives. Single-valued versing, that courts dainty denizens, does not appeal to me. My work resides in the Heart; where the Soul meets Self realisation. A Freudian tripartite perspective for the milk-minded. Writing is just as much an Art as any other Art-form; merely rhyming verse only situates the readers Self, in the writers Soul. That’s not what I work with, Kitty. Morever, I never sell my work; God gave us the Word, for us, His fallen Creation, to come back to Him; I couldn’t sell God’s Word for human cost or pride. Quite the reverse, I write to enable readers to ‘hear’ God’s Word in their Heart. God gave everybody His Spirit of God; only, this world has cast a shadow over our Heart-to-Hear. My poetry tries to spark that apocalyptic ‘knowing’, that everybody has, that’s way-down deep in our being. I will post an example of this above/below; it’s a ‘relationship’ that someone I know-of, has had with God. But it’s not an entry for Lucy’s competition.