John Betjeman — Mr Steve Jackson — 18th November 2013.

Sir John Betjeman was born on 28 August 1906 to a upper middle class family in Highgate London.  He died in 1984 from Parkinson’s Disease at his cot­tage in Trebetherwick in Cornwall.  His father Ernest had a family firm that man­u­fac­tured expens­ive Victorian style house­hold fur­niture, espe­cially decanter hold­ers.  John strongly res­isted his family’s demands that he should go into this busi­ness.

He boarded at Marlborough College which he hated before enter­ing Magdalen College, Oxford.  He entered the School of English Language and Literature under CS Lewis who thought him to be an idle prig.  He grew to detest CS Lewis and to love Oxford and its social life.  He man­aged to fail to even get a third class degree but was in later life awar­ded an hon­or­ary doc­tor­ate of let­ters.

John Betjeman’s main legacy is pos­sibly not his poetry but his chan­ging the nation’s per­cep­tion of the value of our build­ing her­it­age and the need to con­serve the best.  He formed the Victorian Society was a patron of over 100 other con­ser­va­tion organ­isa­tions.  In 1948 after drift­ing apart, his wife Penelope (daugh­ter of Field Marshall Lord Chetsworth) became a Roman Catholic.  He loved the Church of England and they sep­ar­ated. In 1951 he fell in love with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish.  This developed into a lifelong friend­ship and through it he joined aris­to­cratic and royal circles.

He usu­ally described him­self as a journ­al­ist and through his con­tacts at Oxford he secured a job as film critic on the Evening Standard and as assist­ant editor of the Architectural Review.  It was with the latter that his prose style developed.  Collaborating with John Piper, he wrote some of the Shell Guides in the late 1930s.

He was a very good self-publicist and under­stood the poten­tial of tele­vi­sion to get his mes­sages across to the public.  He appre­ci­ated how people love an eccent­ric and he is famous for taking his teddy bear with him where ever he went.  The statue of him in St Pancras Station reminds us of his work to save the build­ing and his love of trains.  Perhaps his most remembered poem was about his dis­dain for pre-war Slough.