(1906 - 1984)
“Too many people in the modern world view poetry as a luxury, not a necessity like petrol. But to me it's the oil of life.”

Born in London on 28th August 1906, John Betjeman was an English poet, broadcaster, preserver of Victorian architecture and all round national treasure. He went up to Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925 where his tutor, C. S. Lewis, referred to him as “an idle prig” who would “have only got a third”. Betjeman’s academic indifference resulted in him leaving Oxford without a degree, but whilst there he affected a style of eccentricity which was to leave an impression on his contemporary, Evelyn Waugh.  Betjeman took his teddy bear, Archibald Ormsby-Gore, about with him, frequently talking to him and apparently listening to his opinions, a mannerism reflected in Sebastian Flight’s teddy, Aloysius in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Betjeman’s first book of verse, Mount Zion, published in 1931 by his friend Edward James, contained, amongst others, the poem The Varsity Student Rag, which quietly satirized the loutish behavior of his fellow Oxonians.  It took another 6 years before his next book of verse, Continual Dew, was published and this time he included an attack on the type of modernist architecture he abhorred in his poem Slough.  Over the next 15 years he brought out a number of books of verse, but it was not until the late 1950s that he achieved the success that he is remembered for today.  His “diamond-stylus ear for a particular English music” which he uses effortlessly, but never cruelly, to laugh at the aspiring middle classes and their suburban living habits maintains his position as one of Britain's best loved poets.

He was knighted for his services to literature in 1969 and became Poet Laureate in 1974 which he remained until his death, in Trebetherick, Cornwall, in May 1984.

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Books by this author

Summoned by Bells



Old Lights for New Chancels



New Bats in Old Belfries



Continual Dew