Author(s): Bevis Hillier
This volume deals with Betjeman's zenith years. Now he wins fame not just for his poems but as a tastemaker opening eyes to the Victorian ages, as a battling conservationist and as a television personality, one of the Old Masters of a new medium. The book opens with the Betjemans' stormy married life (their German maid thought John's first name was Shutup). There are chapters on Betjeman as film critic for the Evening Standard ('Do you mind if I say you like English Perpendicular?', he asked Myrna Loy) and as editor of the Shell Guides with John Piper, whose wife Myfanwy - Goldilegs to Betjeman - became one of his enduring muses. When war came he was posted to neutral Ireland as a diplomat - some thought, a spy. An IRA officer was sent to shoot him; luckily Betjeman was on leave at the time. Betjeman's loves and longings are described, as well as the beginning of his close and enduring friendship with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish. The inspirations of favourite poems are discovered. His love of Metroland, or remote churches, dim peers and obscure clergyman poets, his antipathy to business bishops and to Pevsner, the Herr Professor Doktor, together with an enormous range of his friends, including Nancy Mitford, Osbert Lancaster and James Lees-Milne. Here too are his hitherto unpublished diary entries about W.H. Auden, his skirmishes with Evelyn Waugh over religion and his anguish when his wife became a Roman Catholic. The narrative is crowned by the huge success of his Collected Poems in 1958, a really thrilling moment of triumph.