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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:-


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