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6 December 1984
... When I see yet another work of hagiography concerning Sir JohnBetjeman, it makes me want to vomit! Show me, I want to say, please, the ‘geography’ of the house!1 But Betjeman wasn’t nasty, in fact very far from it. It’s probably the Murrays who are such penny-turners (Byron’s one was a Philistine). John’s an important asset, one of the few real genuine poetic ...

Happy Knack

Ian Sansom: Betjeman

20 February 2003
John BetjemanNew Fame, New Love 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 736 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 7195 5002 5
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... sleep over, drink to excess, write, read or publish literary criticism, and commit crime. It certainly helps explain why Bevis Hillier has written an enormous biography of a dead English minor poet. JohnBetjeman: New Fame, New Love is the second volume of Hillier’s proposed trilogy and covers, roughly, the years 1933-58, the period when Betjeman, as Larkin put it, ‘became Betjeman’. The book ...
18 May 2000
Stylistic Cold Wars: Betjeman​ v. Pevsner 
by Timothy Mowl.
Murray, 182 pp., £14.99, March 2000, 9780719559099
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... JohnBetjeman was the voice of postwar Englishness: at best, humorous, quirky and enthusiastic about some of the oddest things; at worst, parochial and smug shading into bitter. How ironic, in view of later ...
18 December 1980
John Betjeman’s Collected Poems 
compiled by the Earl of Birkenhead.
Murray, 427 pp., £2.50, June 1980, 0 7195 3632 4
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Church Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 7195 3797 5
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... In Anthony Burgess’s latest novel, Earthly Powers, there is a parody of a Betjeman poem. Thus kneeling at the altar rail We ate the word’s white papery wafer. Here, so I thought, desire must fail, My chastity be never safer. But then I saw your tongue protrude To catch the wisp ...

Piperism

William Feaver: John​ and Myfanwy Piper

17 December 2009
John​ Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art 
by Frances Spalding.
Oxford, 598 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 19 956761 4
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... The elongated shards of smog grey, pea green and lemonade that, since 1968, have cast a wan light on pews reserved for the use of MPs in St Margaret’s, Westminster, are untypical of John Piper. Normally, his stained glass seethes, particularly in Coventry Cathedral, where a Piper sunburst behind the boulder that serves as a font irradiates a great wall of clunky fenestration. In ...

The Last Georgian

John​ Bayley

13 June 1991
Edmund Blunden: A Biography 
by Barry Webb.
Yale, 360 pp., £18.50, December 1990, 0 300 04634 0
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... who had persuaded the burly Yorkshireman as they set out for the crease together not to wear batting gloves, which were unsporting. No gesture was involved, but a certain amount of quiet conviction. JohnBetjeman and Joan Hunter-Dunn would have approved: indeed Betjeman was a great admirer of Blunden’s poetry. His English Poems ‘was the first book by a living poet I remember saving up to buy. I ...
2 September 1982
... for JohnBetjeman) Miss Frith was put on processing; that glue And all those labels. Not seven months there, And Mr Mortimer, who always said ‘Miss Frith’ and never ‘Gill’ or ‘Gillian’, Right through the ...
8 December 1994
John BetjemanLetters, Vol. I, 1926-1951 
edited by Candida Lycett Green.
Methuen, 584 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 413 66950 5
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... I was less than fifty pages into this first volume of JohnBetjeman’s Letters when I felt I must be in for an attack of tinnitus. I kept hearing shrieks of laughter. This condition was caused not by the poet himself but by the editor or Candida Lycett Green, his ...
7 July 1988
Young Betjeman 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 457 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 7195 4531 5
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... JohnBetjeman was nicely eccentric, and droll in a way mysteriously suited to English taste. His being so droll allowed him to display an out-of-the-way learning that might otherwise have seemed remote and ...
10 May 1990
The Dictionary of National Biography: 1981-1985 
edited by Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 518 pp., £40, March 1990, 0 19 865210 0
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... On the dust-jacket of the latest supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography there are photographs of David Niven, Diana Dors, Eric Morecambe, JohnBetjeman and William Walton. Dors has a leering ‘Come up and read me sometime’ expression on her face and Niven wears his yacht-club greeter’s smile. Morecambe seems to be laughing at one of his own ...

The Thought of Ruislip

E.S. Turner: The Metropolitan Line

2 December 2004
Metro-Land: British Empire Exhibition Number 
by Oliver Green.
Southbank, 144 pp., £16.99, July 2004, 1 904915 00 0
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... happened, the straw proved to be a bad idea, since its slipperiness in the wet caused a noisy collision. Many years later, in the ‘worn memorial’ of the Baker Street buffet under Chiltern Court, JohnBetjeman sought inspiration for his poem ‘The Metropolitan Railway’, with its opening invocation: ‘Early Electric! With what radiant hope/Men formed this many-branched electrolier’. A stained ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires

31 March 2005
BetjemanThe Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... The dust jacket of the final volume of Bevis Hillier’s epic life of JohnBetjeman shows the poet laureate seized by giggles. In this lengthy coda to Hillier’s authorised biography Betjeman appears in many lights, but he’s rarely carefree. ‘Nothing frightens me more than the thought of dying,’ he told a friend in 1958. He was 52, had a well-tried Christian faith and would live ...

Short Cuts

Matthew Beaumont: The route to Tyburn Tree

20 June 2013
... The Tyburn Tree plaque seems even more modest when compared with the elephantine public sculptures that have been deposited at Cumberland Gate. In a poem written for a BBC documentary in 1968, JohnBetjeman described the site as a place of martyrdom ‘trodden by unheeding feet’. The ‘greatest crime’ of all, he continued, standing on the roof of Marble Arch and speaking in the voice of a genteel ...

Bourgeois Reveries

Julian Bell: Farmer Eliot

3 February 2011
Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John​ Piper 
by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £19.95, October 2010, 978 0 500 25171 3
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... scythes and harrows for H.J. Massingham’s Country Relics. These are threaded together by a historian’s fascination with how the past conceived its own past. How did 1930s sensibilities, from JohnBetjeman to Cecil Beaton, engage with Georgian and Victorian architecture? What of the interwar flirtation with the Baroque, spoken for by Sacheverell Sitwell, or the period’s notions of Neolithic ...
9 July 1992
Devolving English Literature 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 320 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198112983
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The Faber Book of 20th-Century Scottish Poetry 
edited by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 424 pp., £17.50, July 1992, 9780571154319
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... and ridiculous: if I have as much right to wear a chip on my shoulder as any Australian or Aberdonian, then who is left to man the supposedly overbearing metropolis, unless it is Kingsley Amis and JohnBetjeman? The ramparts so frailly manned should have given way long ago to the armies massed against them. What Crawford doesn’t realise is that this indeed has happened; he is sounding the bugle ...

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