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At the Wallace Collection

Peter Campbell: Osbert Lancaster’s Promontory

25 September 2008
... We didn’t much mind, even when Noblesse Oblige, Nancy Mitford’s ‘inquiry into the identifiable characteristics of the English aristocracy’ (it included Lancaster’s illustrations, Betjeman’s poem ‘How to Get on in Society’ and a contribution from Evelyn Waugh) brought home the fact that the identification with the narrator, always a one-way traffic, was in this case disguising ...

Bypass Variegated

Rosemary Hill: Osbert Lancaster

21 January 2016
Osbert Lancaster’s Cartoons, Columns and Curlicues: ‘Pillar to Post’, ‘Homes Sweet Homes’, ‘Drayneflete Revealed’ 
by Osbert Lancaster.
Pimpernel, 304 pp., £40, October 2015, 978 1 910258 37 8
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... now on he was recognisable at a considerable distance, but at the same time invisible. ‘Osbert’, as Hugh Casson later wrote, was ‘a performance’. Few people felt they knew what lay behind it. JohnBetjeman knew more than most and was probably Lancaster’s closest friend. They met at Oxford and soon realised that they shared a sense of humour and a passion for architecture which was the basis ...


E.S. Turner: Kiss me, Eric

17 April 2003
Dean Farrar and ‘Eric’: A Study of ‘Eric, or Little by Little’, together with the Complete Text of the Book 
by Ian Anstruther.
Haggerston, 237 pp., £19.95, January 2003, 1 869812 19 0
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...  little by little – a homing Gotha bomber and contributed to its destruction. It is unlikely that more recent Erics – Ambler, Sykes, Shipton, Heffer – oozed shame when signing their names. JohnBetjeman, in Summoned by Bells, agonises over Farrar’s ‘mawkish’ and ‘oh-so-melodious’ book through which runs a schoolboy sense of impending ‘Doom! Shivering Doom!’ The doom which ...

You must not ask

Marina Warner

4 January 1996
Lewis Carroll: A Biography 
by Morton Cohen.
Macmillan, 592 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 333 62926 4
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The Literary Products of the Lewis Carroll-George MacDonald Friendship 
by John​ Docherty.
Edwin Mellen, 420 pp., £69.95, July 1995, 0 7734 9038 8
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... houses of North Oxford built to accommodate the new families of married fellows stand as monuments to the social changes that inaugurated his decline. His love objects were not usually girls, though JohnBetjeman, sighing over thighs, caught the authentic tone of enraptured and impotent yearning. Morton Cohen is, however, at pains to rescue Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) from this gal ...

Tea or Eucharist?

Anthony Howard

3 December 1992
The Faber Book of Church and Clergy 
edited by A.N. Wilson.
Faber, 304 pp., £17.50, November 1992, 0 571 16204 5
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High and Mitred: A Study of Prime Ministers as Bishop-Makers 1837-1977 
by Bernard Palmer.
SPCK, 350 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 281 04594 1
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... immortal creation, Dr Spacely-Trellis, the ‘go-ahead’ Bishop of Bevindon, personified the popular conception of the modern church leader – until real life played an unfair trick and produced Dr John Spong, the ultra-trendy Bishop of Newark, USA, thereby making satire almost impossible. Only JohnBetjeman and Barbara Pym stood gallantly with their fingers in the dyke upholding a vision of the ...
4 December 1980
The Letters of Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Mark Amory.
Weidenfeld, 664 pp., £14.95, September 1980, 0 297 77657 6
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... the upper classes – at that time not an easy achievement. Two literary members of Waugh’s generation broke through the social barriers of the day with outstanding and lasting success: Waugh and JohnBetjeman. Others tried – Cyril Connolly, for instance – but with less success. Both Waugh and Betjeman employed schoolboy language to effect: ‘Gosh, how scrumptious,’ said Waugh to Lady Diana ...

This Trying Time

A.N. Wilson: John​ Sparrow

1 October 1998
The Warden 
by John​ Lowe.
HarperCollins, 258 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 215392 0
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... John Hanbury Angus Sparrow (1906-92) was a devotee of the poetry of A.E. Housman. He wrote a vivid introduction to Housman’s verse, whose tight control, both of metre and of homosexual passion, found ...


Ian Hamilton: Poets Laureate

7 January 1999
... of whatever gifts they started out with. Since nobody expects a PL to be any good, why not accept the job and let it take the blame for your next book? Cecil Day Lewis’s predecessor as Laureate was John Masefield, who held the post for nearly forty years without seeming to know, or greatly care, what was required of him. Masefield was in place for so long that, by the time he died, most people had ...
2 June 1988
Gorbals Boy at Oxford 
by Ralph Glasser.
Chatto, 184 pp., £11.95, May 1988, 0 7011 3185 3
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... penetrate the blind strongholds, for on the opening page we have had a glimpse into the future: the young man is working for the British Council in Blenheim Palace, and being gently patronised by JohnBetjeman. The sympathetic wicket wasn’t all that hard to find; indeed it might have been less yielding if the suppliant had been a lower-middle-class boy from Leeds. It must be said that some of ...


Karl Miller: Sponsored by the Arts Council

24 January 1985
... do fine, too, in this dodgy capacity, which need not, perhaps, be thought altogether obsolete, and comic. Both poets, in their own inward and intractable way, are patriots – and hardly less so than JohnBetjeman. 1984 was rightly reckoned, in its newspaper obituaries, to have lived up to its name. It was another bad year, in which the world went on under its current cloud or curse. It was the year ...


Wendy Lesser: Surfing the OED on CD-ROM

3 October 1996
... rubberiness, Mary McCarthy provided apolitical, Norman Mailer came up with porno (natch), Stanley Kauffmann – a novelist as well as a film critic – originated both gabbiness and vomitous, and JohnBetjeman was the first and, indeed, the only person ever to use the word plung (which the OED defines as ‘a resonant noise as of a tennis racket striking a ball’ and categorises, with some ...

The analyst is always right

Mark Ford: Tessimond and Spencer

17 November 2011
Collected Poems with Translations from Jacques Prévert 
by A.S.J. Tessimond.
Bloodaxe, 188 pp., £10.95, November 2010, 978 1 85224 857 4
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Complete Poetry, Translations and Selected Prose 
by Bernard Spencer.
Bloodaxe, 351 pp., £15, February 2011, 978 1 85224 891 8
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... When he was 23, A.S.J. Tessimond (Arthur Seymour John, Jack to his family, but known as John in later life) wrote to Ezra Pound, who had recently settled in Rapallo, enclosing some poems and an article on George Bernard Shaw. Tessimond’s letter does not survive, but Pound’s reply does ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2010

16 December 2010
... went to a different school and thereafter became the shy, furtive, prurient creature I was for the rest of my childhood. 10 February. Finish with some regret Frances Spalding’s book on the Pipers, John and Myfanwy, the latter figuring in The Habit of Art where she is to some extent disparaged. I’ve always been in two minds about Piper, liking him when I was young with his paintings ‘modern ...


Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington

16 April 1998
... of 1988, the sequel to Take a Girl like You). One also has to come to the Huntington to read the letters (or many of them) that Amis received: several hundred from Robert Conquest, Anthony Powell, JohnBetjeman, Philip Larkin and others. These letters help supply the answers to niggling editorial puzzles: for example, the identity of ‘Bluebell’ (Conquest’s dog), or ‘engine driver Hunt ...

Sir Jim

Reyner Banham

22 May 1980
Memoirs of an Unjust Fella: An Autobiography 
by J.M. Richards.
Weidenfeld, 279 pp., £10, March 1980, 9780297777670
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... old-timers around the Review had an endless supply of wild stories about his oddities and misadventures, because he had been a real original, not a standard-issue stereotype British eccentric like JohnBetjeman, who had been Richards’s immediate predecessor. But the Shand stories were nothing like as marvellous as the legends about ‘de Cronin’, ‘H.deC.’, ‘Ivor de Wolfe’ (as he nommed ...

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