Clive remembers the talent of John Betjeman and asks whether there is an equivalent now
Sir John Betjeman died 30 years ago. For many years, his flame was kept alive by his daughter Candida Lycett-Green, who has, alas, also died. And by the Betjeman Society, one of whose meetings I attended last week. Appropriately, it took place in a church—Francis Bedford’s Greek Revival St John the Evangelist, Waterloo. Bevis Hillier, who has written Betjeman’s biography in three volumes, was quizzed about his own life of letters, in a Desert Island Discs format, the music played on a cassette player that might have belonged to the Poet Laureate himself.
My son William read a poem. At Oxford, he is forming a university Betjeman Society, inspired, no doubt, by the fact that a figure who was once as famous in this country as the Beatles has dropped from public view. Who is his modern equivalent? There isn’t one. Betjeman was a television figure from a vanished age, when ordinary viewers accepted that culture was worth watching.
Today, no TV executive would commission a black-and-white tour of Bath, accompanied solely by the narrator’s voice. Goodness, how architecture needs its Betjeman now! As for the poetry, don’t dismiss it as light verse. My bet is that Betj’s stock will rise.
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* This article was first published in Country Life Magazine on September 3 2014