News and Press

Thursday 6 October 2016
The Betjeman Poetry Prize
Today is National Poetry Day. The Betjeman Poetry Prize-giving, for competitors aged 10-13, took place at St. Pancras Station this afternoon. Imogen Lycett-Green, John Betjeman's grand-daughter, introduced the event and Joanna Lumley addressed the assembled dignitaries and children short-listed for the prizes. She recited a very early attempt of her own at dramatic poetry, when aged about three (everybody was suitably impressed) followed by Betjeman's "Business Girls" which everybody suitably appreciated. The six finalists all read their poems and Joanna presented the prizes. For full details, visit The Betjeman Poetry Prize website here. The competition was judged by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Imtiaz Dharker who commented on the high quality of all the entries. The event was followed by a reception at The Betjeman Arms. 

Betjeman Society Annual Lecture welcomes Michael Jeremy Hodges - 15th March

The Betjeman Society is delighted to welcome Heritage of London Members and Michael Jeremy Hodges to the Annual Betjeman Lecture. Michael has recently published a book entitled The Parish Churches of Greater London: A Guide and will be selling signed copies on the evening. We are thrilled that the lecture, Bombs or Bouquets: Betjeman and the Suburbs, delivered by Dr Alan Powers, will be held at St James the Less Church in Pimlico.

Timothy Betjeman at Browse and Darby - 9th December

We are delighted to announce the latest show by our Vice President and John Betjeman's grandson Timothy at the leading Mayfair gallery Browse and Darby, located a few yards from the sometime home of Blades, the Savile Row tailor founded by Rupert Lycett Green.

Our Chair commented: "This is a stunning show with a breadth of work created in Dumfries, Tuscany and Tim's home and working base in South London. Following his recent contribution to a mixed show at The Fleming Collection, it demonstrates his increasingly prominent place amongst a new generation of  London artists from the Prince's Drawing School." 

For more details on the show and to see Betjeman's work, please view here

Annual Lecture- 22nd October

The Hon James Stourton provided a magisterial lecture on the life of Kenneth Clark with a focus on his friendship and collaborations with John Betjeman.

Stourton, whose authorised biography will be published in October 2016, took his audience on a journey from Clark's childhood to Oxford, where he met Betjeman. Both were identified as talented undergraduates by Maurice Bowra, Warden of Wadham. Stourton detailed the many successes and achievements of Clark's career and the sometimes complex nature of his personal life. We were grateful to Sotheby's Institute of Art for kindly hosting the event.

Return to Larkinland.....and Betjemanland 12th October Author and Betjeman biographer A N Wilson 

presented a BBC documentary on Philip Larkin: Return to Larkinland following his popular documentary on Betjeman a year ago. To view the Larkin programme please follow this link.
During 2016 we hope to host a joint meeting with the Philip Larkin Society.

Colin Wright: 1938-2015

It is with great sadness that we record the death of Colin Wright, a longstanding member of the Society and Council member. We send our condolences to his widow Pat. A number of members will attend his funeral. Colin also played a leading role in the Falkland Island Association: their obituary is found here.

Betjeman Poetry Prize - 8th October
  The Society was represented at the tremendous annual presentation of awards to the children who entered one of the country's leading poetry competition, which attracted more than 2000 entries this year. The shortlisted poets attended the ceremony on the forecourt at St Pancras Station, alongside the statue of Betjeman. The winning entries are posted here.

National Churches Trust and Churches Conservation Trust Celebrate Betjeman Saving Churches
Our event on 24th September was attended by our members and representatives of the two organisations with which Betjeman and his daughter Candida Lycett Green had a close connection. Lord Cormack. His recording may be viewed here.

Betjeman Cameo in 1962 Labour Party Broadcast
Sir John Betjeman features in a film - now available to view online - produced by the Labour Party, presented by Tom Driberg. More like a documentary than a modern party political broadcast, Betjeman speaks 13 minutes into it and discusses the challenges of planning and conservation. To view the film please click here.

Birthday Party Event - 26th August
More than 70 members and guests attended our annual event to commemorate the birthday of Sir John Betjeman at Goodenough College, London. In the presence of our President Bevis Hillier and Vice President Tim Betjeman, guests were entertained by a series of Betjeman poetry readings by Greta Bellamacina and Robert Montgomery before Chair Edward Wild interviewed composers Mike Read and Jim Parker. Mike brought his guitar and sang some of his 'Betjeman Songs'. Members enjoyed reception afterwards. 

2015 SPAB Award - 18th July Tullie House, Carlisle 4.15pm
All members are warmly invited to attend the SPAB members' weekend in Cumbria, which will include the presentation of the 2015 John Betjeman Award. For further information, please visit the SPAB website or email Maggie Goodall: maggie@spab.org.uk

2015 Betjeman Poetry Prize
The Betjeman Poetry Prize is now open to entries. 
Further details on how to enter and other details may be found here.
Deadline for entries: 31st July.

Betjeman Society AGM - 13th June 
We were delighted to see around 50 members at our AGM this weekend, which took place in the Assembly Rooms in Lincoln. The day was masterminded by the Lincolnshire branch. Chair Edward Wild address the meeting and summarised the past year. He paid tribute to his predecessor, David Pattison, who was unanimously elected a Vice President, along with Timothy Betjeman, the London based artist and grandson of Sir John Betjeman. The meeting then moved on to the election of the Council members, welcoming David Savage and Jim Sterling. We were delighted to enjoy an exhibition of Betjeman letter and poems, together with photographs of Lincolnshire churches before a presentation by the Lincolnshire branch on Betjeman's relationship with the county.

Oxford University branch launch - 6th February
Betjeman Society Chair Edward Wild and Daniel Hannan MEP launched this new branch of the Society, under the chairmanship of undergraduate William Aslet. Edward and Daniel spoke about Betjeman the conservationist and Poet Laureate. The meeting took place in the Summer Common Room of Magdalen College and was attended by former Chairman David Pattison, Oxford branch Chairman Andrew McCallum and a number of undergraduates. We were grateful to the Bursar, Rory Maw, for hosting this event. For further details of future events, please contact William directly: william.aslet@some.ox.ac.uk

2015 Programme published 
We are delighted to have completed the publication of our 20 page newsletter and our calendar for 2015 events: both will be posted to all members and all events will be detailed on our website. We look forward to hosting a number of events at Goodenough College and other central London venues. Details of our AGM in Lincoln will also be included. Chair Edward Wild said:

"Thanks to the hard work of the former Events Committee, the Council has now produced a broad range of events which will appeal to both members of the public and members of the Society who have interests in any - or all - aspects of Sir John Betjeman's life and work. We have combined both those who knew him to those who have studied his work. We look forward to welcoming longstanding members and new ones to meetings next year".

The Man in the Straw Hat”  - choral reflections on Sir John Betjeman
The Fleet Singers
This is the title of the work for choir, string quintet and piano that will receive its first performance on Sunday 22nd March 2015 7pm at St Anne’s Parish Church, Highgate, West Hill, London N6 6AP (where John Betjeman was baptised in 1906). The music is by Benjamin Till, with whom the Fleet Singers worked two years ago on a commission to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Benjamin is an established choral composer on community and social themes: “My recent musical, Brass, has just won the UK theatre award for Best Musical Production and Our Gay Wedding: The Musical has won a prestigious Grierson Award for Best Entertaining Documentary”.

The Fleet Singers have received a grant from the Arts Council for their “Betjeman Project”: a cantata comprising choral settings of poems by local people, taking inspiration from their community - interspersed with poems by Sir John related to this part of London (with the generous agreement of the Betjeman estate). A poetry workshop was held at St Anne’s Church to encourage the writing of the community material, attended by around 30 people and hosted by John Hegley and Cicely Herbert of “Poems on the Underground”, whose own poems are also included in the work.

The Singers have adopted Benjamin Till’s proposed working title, The Man in the Straw Hat. The work lasts for 45 minutes and alternates between a soloist, who sings/portrays John Betjeman, and the choir, who sing about North London. The composer tells us that the music is “Mostly classical in feel - rather lilting and folky - but the choir can also expect to tackle a bit of mild 60s-style jazz and, surprisingly, at one stage, a sequence with more than a hint of ABBA about it!”

The grant from the Arts Council, together with the subscriptions of choir members, have made the commission and performance possible, but additional donations would much enhance the quality of the occasion. For more information on this aspect in particular, please contact Don Kennedy (details below).

donkennedy@f2s.com / 020 8567 4397 / 63 Disraeli Road, London W5 5HS

With thanks to Tony Rushbrook of the Fleet Singers for supplying details of the background to this new work, on which this report has been based.


New National Poetry Competition for Young People Launched to commemorate the Great War

A new national poetry and art competition for young people will be launched on 17th September by the charity Never Such Innocence. Chaired by Betjeman Society Chair and member Lady Lucy French, the organisation seeks to engage young people in the history and events of the First World War and has created a 56 page booklet to encourage children to write poems. Prizes of up to £500 will be awarded in each category, For further information and details on how to enter, please visit the website.
Betjeman Poetry Competition Awards Ceremony 
The finalists have been announced in the annual John Betjeman Poetry Competition and are detailed here. The awards ceremony will take place on 2nd October at St Pancras Station.

New Betjeman Society Branches Planned - 7th September 
We are delighted to announce plans to establish two new branches - full details will be posted here shortly.

Candida Lycett Green Remembered by Loyd Grossman & Christopher Booker on The Last Word
BBC Radio 4 paid tribute to Candida Lycett Green on its Last Word programme. Click here to listen to it: the section begins after c16 minutes.

Summoned by Betjeman - Country Life - 3rd September
Our recent meeting at St John, Waterloo, featured in this week's edition of Country Life. Its author, Clive Aslet, concluded: "My bet is that Betj's stock will rise." 

Return to Betjemanland on BBC4 - 1st September
Writer and broadcaster A N Wilson presented a newly commissioned documentary on the life and work of Sir John Betjeman, which was shown prior to a broadcast of Betjeman's classic film Metroland. Click here to view the programme on the IPlayer. 

The programme was reviewed in the Telegraph here and by James Delingpole in the Spectator here: who asks "Where are the Betjemans de nos jours?"


Candida Lycett Green (1942-2014)

Candida Lycett Green in the garden of her home in Wiltshire in 2002It is with great regret that we report the death (on 19th August) of our Vice President and the daughter of Sir John Betjeman, Candida Lycett Green. Author, journalist, conservationist and editor of the two published volumes of Sir John Betjeman's letters, Candida "carried the flame forward [in protecting the nation's vanishing architectural heritage] with energy and fervour" (Daily Telegraph). Obituaries will be included here and a full tribute to her life and work will be made in the next edition of the Society's journal, The Betjemanian.

Writer and friend of Candida pays tribute to her in the Spectator.

New documentary on John Betjeman to be broadcast on BBC 4 on 1st September
The programme, presented by A N Wilson, will be broadcast at 9pm and followed by a broadcast of the Betjeman classic Metroland (1973), his journey through North London along the Metropolitan line.

Bevis Hillier's latest book to be published - 1st October
Our President, and John Betjeman's authorised biographer, will publish his latest book shortly. Going for a Song is an anthology of poems about collectors and collecting antiques and antiquities. You may pre-order your copy from Amazon here.

Forthcoming RIBA Event to Feature Betjeman - 28th October
The RIBA autumn programme of events will feature the critical role played by Sir John Betjeman in conserving some of the country's great buildings from the threat of destruction and development. Admission is free and for further information please visit the RIBA website.

John Betjeman Features in BBC4 Documentary on Great Poets - 10th August
Sir John Betjeman featured in the first part of the newly commissioned BBC documentary on the Great Poets, which features Edith Sitwell, W H Auden, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot and R S Thomas. The section on Betjeman includes footage from his appearances on Michael Parkinson's BBC show and interviews about his work with poet Simon Armitage and Dr Matthew Sweet. The Betjeman section is c40 minutes into the programme.

Jarvis Cocker, Jim Parker and Suggs discuss Banana Blush on BBC Radio 4 - 27th July
Forty years after his recordings made with Sir John Betjeman, renowned composer Jim Parker took part in a broadcast on Radio 4 with Jarvis Cocker. Suggs from the band Madness described how he "fell in love with it straight away". The recording may be downloaded here.

New Pevsner Guide to Cornwall - 19th July
Sir John Betjeman's daughter, Candida Lycett Green has reviewed the newly updated Pevsner guide to the county which he father adored and where, in the churchyard of St Enodoc, he is buried. The Reverend Peter Beacham OBE has devoted a decade to painstaking research and travelling around the county. Spectator subscribers may read the review here:

Please click here to find out more about the book and to order a copy.

SPAB AGM: Betjeman Society Chair Edward Wild presents the Betjeman Award - 12th July
Edward Wild attended the AGM of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and was delighted to present the Betjeman Award to the team from St George's Church, Hinton St George, Somerset for the outstanding conservation and repair work which has been completed there. He was joined by Timothy Betjeman, artist and grandson of Sir John Betjeman, who met the those involved in this outstanding project. Edward encouraged SPAB members to join the Betjeman Society and set out his vision to develop links and partnerships between the Society and other organisations with which Betjeman had an association (he was on the SPAB Committe from 1954-1977).

Betjeman Society supports Philip Larkin Society at King’s Cross Plaque Unveiling – 7th June
Betjeman Society Chair Edward Wild and former Chairs David Pattison and John Heald were joined by a number of our members at the unveiling of a new plaque at Kings Cross Station by Hull University Chancellor Lady Bottomley today. The plaque, which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Philip Larkin’s poem The Whitsun Weddings, was commissioned by the Larkin Society and was executed by Martin Jennings (whose sculpture of Sir John Betjeman has become hugely popular at nearby St Pancras). Members of the two societies were joined by a number of distinguished guests, including former Home Secretary and Oondaatje prizewinner The Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP and actor Sir Tom Courtenay, both of whom read verses from Larkin’s poem to the assembled audience.

Edward Wild commented afterwards: “I am sure that Larkin and Betjeman would both be proud to be commemorated by these two excellent works by Martin Jennings at stations they both knew well. They were, of course, great poets with a huge following not only in their lifetimes but also today. Memorials in stations are a great way to remind others of their lives and works and, hopefully, many travellers will visit nearby bookshops to rediscover – or to discover – their poetry.”


To find out more about Philip Larkin's poetry you can visit the Larkin Society website at: www.philiplarkin.com

Kenneth Clark at the Tate – 1st June

The remarkable career of Sir John Betjeman’s Oxford contemporary and former National Gallery Director Kenneth Clark (1903-83) is celebrated in a new exhibition at Tate Britain, which runs until 10th August.

Betjeman met Clark at Oxford through the legendary Warden of Wadham College, Maurice Bowra. Clark later described Bowra as “without question, the strongest influence in my life”.

The exhibition focuses on Clark’s life and art, themes including his time at the National Gallery during the Second World War, the post-war period and also features some of his broadcasts which made him a household name, notably the 13 part tour de force “Civilisation” which was first broadcast in 1969. The BBC Culture Show programme on Clark was broadcast on 31st May and may be viewed until 6th June here:

We look forward to welcoming the Hon James Stourton, Clark’s authorised biographer, to address the Society during the next few months; details to follow.

Betjeman Society Chair Edward Wild comments:

“This is a great exhibition which highlights the great influence of Clark who, like Betjeman, was amongst the first to realise the vast potential of the television to bring art and architecture into the lives of the wider population and to inspire them to visit galleries and museums. Both Clark and Betjeman made art and architecture accessible and shared their passions with great style and infectious enthusiasm. They both left a legacy in print and film which will be enjoyed by future generations seeking to learn more about our history and the world around us.”

Works by Cezanne, Duncan Grant, Eric Ravillious, Betjeman’s great friend and collaborator Sir John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore all feature in the exhibition.

AGM at Highgate Literary and Scientific Society – 24th May
Fifty members attended our AGM in Highgate village. Edward Wild was elected as our new Chair and there were speeches by outgoing Chair David Pattison and our President Bevis Hillier. After lunch, Isabel Raphael, a former President of Highgate Literary and Scientific Society, gave a talk on Literary Highgate.

The speeches by Edward and Isabel may be downloaded here:

Literary Highgate - Isabel Raphael
Remarks by New Chairman - Edward Wild

'Sir John Betjeman's Cornwall', - 19th May 

Estella Shardlow takes a look at some of Betjeman's favourite spots in Cornwall on the 30th anniversary of his death.

23/04/2014 Country Life magazine has an article by Ruth Guilding on John Betjeman in the series 'Great British tastemakers'