I read this today and had to share it. John Betjeman was a friend of Joan’s in her youth, and it was he who after staying at the house in Kalamitsi made the statement that we now recognise about the living room being “one of the rooms of the world.” So I have no hesitation in sharing something a little different. It might make you smile, which has to be a good thing!
By Richard Ingrams in The Spectator’s Books of the year – part two. Ingrams writes:
A book that gave me great enjoyment (for all the wrong reasons) was Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems by John Betjeman (Bloomsbury Continuum, £16.99). The compiler, Kevin J. Gardner, professor of English at Baylor University, Texas, claimed that all the poems in the book had been subjected to his ‘rigorous scrutiny’; yet somehow a spoof Betjeman poem, published in Private Eye after the exposure of Anthony Blunt as a Russian agent in 1979 (for which I was partly responsible), had found its way into the professor’s ragbag of a compendium:
Who’d have guessed it? Blunt a traitor
And a homosexualist,
Carrying on with tar and waiter —
There’s a sight I’m glad I missed.
‘Betjeman,’ Gardner writes, ‘replicates the unmasking of Blunt in the exposure of his own subconscious feelings, which lurk behind a typical Betjemanesque facade of moral and aesthetic superficiality.’ It’s hard not to feel delighted when a pretentious academic (particularly an American one) comes a cropper in such a memorable way. And it’s not hard to imagine Betjeman, who would have hated this book, howling with laughter at the poor man’s discomfiture.
In fact we have our own unpublished Betjeman poem, written on the back of an envelope and now available online in Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland.
Lovely! One of the fun facts I learned when preparing a paper about Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983), was that one of his predecessors and rivals in the guide-book department was John Betjeman. Betjeman prepared a number of Shell motoring guides before the war, very different from Pevsner’s staccato style.