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At the Wallace Collection

Peter Campbell: Osbert Lancaster’s Promontory, 25 September 2008

... characteristics of the English aristocracy’ (it included Lancaster’s illustrations, Betjeman’s poem ‘How to Get on in Society’ and a contribution from Evelyn Waugh) brought home the fact that the identification with the narrator, always a one-way traffic, was in this case disguising the social distance travelled. Lancaster’s contribution ...

This Trying Time

A.N. Wilson: John Sparrow, 1 October 1998

The Warden 
by John Lowe.
HarperCollins, 258 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 215392 0
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... John Hanbury Angus Sparrow (1906-92) was a devotee of the poetry of A.E. Housman. He wrote a vivid introduction to Housman’s verse, whose tight control, both of metre and of homosexual passion, found obvious echoes in his own character. Sparrow was also co-author of A.E. Housman: An Annotated Hand-List, one of the few excursions into modern bibliography made by this great collector, 17th century bibliographer and connoisseur of Renaissance Latin, who counselled aspiring bibliomaniacs: (1) never lend anyone a book; (2) never sell a book; (3) never give anyone a book; (4) never read a book ...

Bypass Variegated

Rosemary Hill: Osbert Lancaster, 21 January 2016

Osbert Lancaster’s Cartoons, Columns and Curlicues: ‘Pillar to Post’, ‘Homes Sweet Homes’, ‘Drayneflete Revealed’ 
by Osbert Lancaster.
Pimpernel, 304 pp., £40, October 2015, 978 1 910258 37 8
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... as Hugh Casson later wrote, was ‘a performance’. Few people felt they knew what lay behind it. John Betjeman knew more than most and was probably Lancaster’s closest friend. They met at Oxford and soon realised that they shared a sense of humour and a passion for architecture which was the basis of an enduring friendship. When ...

You must not ask

Marina Warner, 4 January 1996

Lewis Carroll: A Biography 
by Morton Cohen.
Macmillan, 592 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 333 62926 4
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The Literary Products of the Lewis Carroll-George MacDonald Friendship 
by John Docherty.
Edwin Mellen, 420 pp., £69.95, July 1995, 0 7734 9038 8
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... the social changes that inaugurated his decline. His love objects were not usually girls, though John Betjeman, sighing over thighs, caught the authentic tone of enraptured and impotent yearning. Morton Cohen is, however, at pains to rescue Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) from this galère, and to present him as a well-rounded, sociable ...


E.S. Turner: Kiss me, Eric, 17 April 2003

Dean Farrar and ‘Eric’: A Study of ‘Eric, or Little by Little’, together with the Complete Text of the Book 
by Ian Anstruther.
Haggerston, 237 pp., £19.95, January 2003, 1 869812 19 0
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... more recent Erics – Ambler, Sykes, Shipton, Heffer – oozed shame when signing their names. John Betjeman, in Summoned by Bells, agonises over Farrar’s ‘mawkish’ and ‘oh-so-melodious’ book through which runs a schoolboy sense of impending ‘Doom! Shivering Doom!’ The doom which Betjeman and his ...

Tea or Eucharist?

Anthony Howard, 3 December 1992

The Faber Book of Church and Clergy 
edited by A.N. Wilson.
Faber, 304 pp., £17.50, November 1992, 0 571 16204 5
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High and Mitred: A Study of Prime Ministers as Bishop-Makers 1837-1977 
by Bernard Palmer.
SPCK, 350 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 281 04594 1
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... conception of the modern church leader – until real life played an unfair trick and produced Dr John Spong, the ultra-trendy Bishop of Newark, USA, thereby making satire almost impossible. Only John Betjeman and Barbara Pym stood gallantly with their fingers in the dyke upholding a vision of the dear old ecclesia ...

Pilgrim’s Progress

Michael Davie, 4 December 1980

The Letters of Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Mark Amory.
Weidenfeld, 664 pp., £14.95, September 1980, 0 297 77657 6
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... broke through the social barriers of the day with outstanding and lasting success: Waugh and John Betjeman. Others tried – Cyril Connolly, for instance – but with less success. Both Waugh and Betjeman employed schoolboy language to effect: ‘Gosh, how scrumptious,’ said Waugh to Lady Diana Cooper’s ...


Ian Hamilton: Poets Laureate, 7 January 1999

... job and let it take the blame for your next book? Cecil Day Lewis’s predecessor as Laureate was John Masefield, who held the post for nearly forty years without seeming to know, or greatly care, what was required of him. Masefield was in place for so long that, by the time he died, most people had forgotten that we had a Poet Laureate. Every so often, he ...


Karl Miller: Sponsored by the Arts Council, 24 January 1985

... Both poets, in their own inward and intractable way, are patriots – and hardly less so than John Betjeman. 1984 was rightly reckoned, in its newspaper obituaries, to have lived up to its name. It was another bad year, in which the world went on under its current cloud or curse. It was the year in which the Belgrano was salvaged from the bottom of ...

Strait is the gate

Frank Kermode, 2 June 1988

Gorbals Boy at Oxford 
by Ralph Glasser.
Chatto, 184 pp., £11.95, May 1988, 0 7011 3185 3
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... young man is working for the British Council in Blenheim Palace, and being gently patronised by John Betjeman. The sympathetic wicket wasn’t all that hard to find; indeed it might have been less yielding if the suppliant had been a lower-middle-class boy from Leeds. It must be said that some of the writing manages, by avoiding overemphasis, dimming ...

At Las Pozas

Mike Jay: Edward James’s Sculpture Garden, 21 May 2020

... situations, often having used his wealth to make them happen. In 1931, he was the first to publish John Betjeman, who had been a fellow student at Oxford. In 1933 he financed the final collaboration between Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. When Salvador Dalí was nearly suffocated by the diving suit he wore to the International Surrealist Exhibition in ...

Wild Horses

Claude Rawson, 1 April 1983

‘The Bronze Horseman’ and Other Poems 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by D.M. Thomas.
Penguin, 261 pp., £2.95, September 1982, 0 14 042309 5
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Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study 
by A.D.P. Briggs.
Croom Helm, 257 pp., £14.95, November 1982, 0 7099 0688 9
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‘Choiseul and Talleyrand’: A Historical Novella and Other Poems, with New Verse Translations of Alexander Pushkin 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 88 pp., £5.25, July 1982, 0 370 30924 3
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Mozart and Salieri: The Little Tragedies 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Antony Wood.
Angel, 94 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 02 6
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I have come to greet you 
by Afanasy Fet, translated by James Greene.
Angel, 71 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 03 4
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Uncollected Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 81 pp., £4.95, September 1982, 0 7195 3969 2
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Travelling without a Valid Ticket 
by Howard Sergeant.
Rivelin, 14 pp., £1, May 1982, 0 904524 39 6
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... icily delicate beauty and hard uncompromising loss, ‘Another May Night’. We do not associate Betjeman with macabre fantasy. His ladies don’t usually burn to death, and if his approximations to bawdiness verge on the bizarre, they are hardly in the style of Pushkin’s ‘Gavriliad’ or the ‘Don Giovanni’ of The White Hotel. But the first poem in ...


Wendy Lesser: Surfing the OED on CD-ROM, 3 October 1996

... Kauffmann – a novelist as well as a film critic – originated both gabbiness and vomitous, and John Betjeman was the first and, indeed, the only person ever to use the word plung (which the OED defines as ‘a resonant noise as of a tennis racket striking a ball’ and categorises, with some understatement, as ‘rare’). In general, 1952 was a good ...

Late Worm

Rosemary Hill: James Lees-Milne, 10 September 2009

James Lees-Milne: The Life 
by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 400 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6034 7
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... does not mention Pevsner, he presumably did not much admire him, while his great friend and ally John Betjeman was vocal about the ‘Herr Doktor Professor’ who, Betjeman claimed, dismissed him as a ‘lightweight wax fruit’ because of his passion for Victoriana. Pevsner, despite recent attempts to suggest that he ...

Drab Divans

Miranda Seymour: Julian Maclaren-Ross, 24 July 2003

Fear & Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross 
by Paul Willetts.
Dewi Lewis, 403 pp., £14.99, March 2003, 1 899235 69 8
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... a programme about literary life in Britain during the Second World War; the contributors included John Betjeman and Cyril Connolly. The show was stolen, however, by a figure in a voluminous overcoat and dark glasses, whose recollections were delivered slowly, deadpan, between puffs on a large cigar. A month later, at the age of 52, Julian Maclaren-Ross ...

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