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Spectator competition winners: Gradgrind’s fan letter to Michael Gove

15 June 2019

8:27 AM

15 June 2019

8:27 AM

The idea for the latest challenge — to compose a fan letter from one well-known person from the field of fact or fiction to another — came from a letter written by Kirk Douglas to Gary Cooper, received just days before Cooper died of cancer, in which Douglas reflects on the impossibility of complying with a director’s request to ‘play this the way Gary Cooper would’: ‘It sounded easy to me — because I say to myself Coop is a simple man — natural. So I’ll just be natural. Then I learned the big — big lesson. It ain’t easy. My temptation is to ask how the hell have you done it?’

In an enjoyable entry, Frank McDonald’s Lady Macbeth fist-bumps Nicola Sturgeon: ‘My dearest Nicola there is no need/ For me to pour my spirits in thine ear;/ Already you excel me in your lust/ To seize the Scottish crown…’; Ben Hale imagines Emperor Palpatine high-fiving Jean Claude-Juncker: ‘I wanted to express my admiration from afar (very afar) of your skill at knitting together a number of different systems under one central body politic…’; and Sylvia Fairley’s Mrs Malaprop writes admiringly to Dr Roget: ‘I would like to repress my delight at your new fabrication, the stegosaurus…’

David Silverman (René Descartes to the Spice Girls), Rob Stuart (Peppa Pig to Big Brother) and Frank Upton (Ivy Compton-Burnett to Edgar Rice Burroughs) were also strong performers, but the five printed below emerged as the winners, and are rewarded with £30 each.

Chris O’Carroll
My dear Mr Milne (may I call you A.A.?)
Three cheers! You’re a champ in this game we
      both play.
Let your joy in your work be as great as the good
You’ve accomplished in 100 acres of wood.

My oddly named critters (not found in real
      zoos)’ll
Forever be proud that they’re kin to your Woozle
And Heffalump. You gave a stuffed bear a voice;
My Cat in the Hat and my Lorax rejoice.

Crustimoney proseedcake, that malaprop treat,
Is a brilliantly funny made-up thing to eat.
My green eggs and ham do OK on that score,
But I got there after you got there before.


You know childhood’s joy and you know its
      anxiety.
You can wax sentimental without gooey piety,
So I’m writing today to express my profuse
Admiration. Your servant, T. Geisel (D. Seuss).

D.A. Prince (Leopold Bloom to Clarissa Dalloway)
If I may make so boldsome, you being a Flower of the London streets and me a follower of the flow of the Liffey, and us both be-lifers that the longest way round is the shortest way home: commendments. Though the snotgreen Irish sea divides us with that ineluctable modality of the visible yet we could converse on untrammelled tramlines of thought, swimming in roses. Proximate roses, with all the thorns of the universe to blooden the day’s diaphane. I delayed, oh Mistress Dalloway, downing these words, wondering if you’d high-kick the traces, us being of the same kidney, shamewounded and word-sotten. The world is too much moleculed and mangled, and would you be ever taking the stretched wire of aery trading of actualities? Would you let the winefizzling, ginsizzling, boozeguzzling nonentities be no more? Would you let me fan you? Would you yes?

Bill Greenwell (Thomas Gradgrind to Michael Gove)
Mr. Gove, sir: a man of ratiocination, a man who has latterly wielded the assassin’s knife, but one, sir, as I understand you, as proceeds from Facts alone. You have the bite, both molar and mandibular, that a true Fact requires. Do we allow, sir, the manifestations of the terpsichore in our schoolrooms? We do not! Why not? Because such representations of motion interfere with our ability to set one foot in front of another. You, sir, are a Fact. If examination is made, a grade must be awarded. What is an A? A letter. What does a letter denote? A word. Can a grade be literary? No, sir, as you have shown. It must be arithmetical, and the higher the better. I award you sir, a 9, in its muscular arithmetical glory. Let us have more of your natural capital, which is as capital, sir, as it is natural.

Adrian Fry
Dear Artful Dodger,

It must be great not having a Ma or Da, dossing at Fagin’s and messing with them other lads and not going to school. Oliver Twist is a wet, though; they should have called the book after you, then people would have read it instead of it becoming a Classic. Pickpocket’s a skilled job, my Da says, like dribbling a football or that thing Ma does with mashed potato when they’re getting on. I’d so love to be like you. Ma says I’m already a street urchin towards it, but she says so in her laughy voice, like when I said I’d be George Best someday. I tried picking my little brother Sinbad’s pocket because he wouldn’t notice and couldn’t get me for it even if he did. Dirty hankies was all I found: people in Dickens must be better off than us Barrytown boys.

Paddy Clarke

Basil Ransome-Davies (Henry James to Hank Janson)
Dear Mr Janson,

You will, I trust, accept my assurance that it is with all too present a sense of unwonted familiarity that I venture to address you via the mundane traffic of the post office, a procedure both ad hoc (for I write at the dictate of an urgent passion) and routinely formal, in paying homage to your spirited defiance (which I, alas, could never summon) of the restrictive canons of polite literature. Your writing has delivered a coup de foudre to my timid soul, your eloquent titles alone raising images which, undismissable from my memory, ‘get me going’. Skirts Bring Me Sorrow Kill Her With Passion? Nylon Avenger? Put on the rack, I could not choose a single favourite among a magisterial oeuvre that dramatises the eternal themes of love and death with fearlessly candid disdain for the social or legal consequences.

Your humble admirer

Henry James

You are invited to submit a fragment of commentary on the Women’s World Cup delivered by a figure from the world of fact or fiction, dead or alive. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 26 June.


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