BBC broadcaster, Poet Laureate, architectural enthusiast, Sir John Betjeman was a man of many talents and interests. He was also one of the BBC’s most cherished TV personalities.
Betjeman today is remembered for his wry and honest commentary. He has even been immortalised with a statue in St. Pancras Station in London, as a testament to his influence and the love the country has for him. But why does he deserve to be labelled a national treasure?
John Betjeman: The Writer and Poet
John Betjeman began his career as a journalist during the Second World War. It was here that he wrote poetry for the first time, based on his experiences during the state of emergency that existed in Ireland during WW2.
His poems are great example of what became his trademark wry, self-deprecating and satirical humour – which many found witty and endearing. His easily accessible comic verse covered well-known places and faces rather than abstract concepts. And his writing attracted a large following.
His works spoke to ordinary people, and he managed to voice their thoughts and aspirations through his words.
By 1948, Betjeman had published more than a dozen books. His Collected Poems sold over 100,000 copies, proving so popular that in 1959 Ken Russell chose to make a film about him – John Betjeman: A Poet in London.
Betjeman became Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1972. Combined with his popularity as a TV personality, this appointment allowed his poetry to reach a much greater audience than before.
John Betjeman: The Architectural Enthusiast and BBC Broadcaster
Architecture was one of Betjeman’s greatest loves. He was a vocal and passionate defender of Britain’s classic Victorian architecture. He was also a founding member of the Victorian Society, a charity set up to protect listed buildings.
Initially, Betjeman enjoyed writing guidebooks on architecture. During the 1960s-1970s, he started working in broadcasting and began presenting shows for the BBC on his favourite subject.
His honest, critical, affectionate tone became one of his trademarks, making his shows engrossing to watch. As a result Betjeman became a much-loved TV personality.
One of his breakthroughs as a presenter was the widely acclaimed BBC television documentary Metro-Land, made in 1973. It was a celebration of suburban life in north west London, around the Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line).
Betjeman’s follow up show was the equally successful A Passion for Churches, made in 1974. Filmed entirely in the Diocese of Norwich, the documentary became a passionate celebration of The Church of England, its buildings and the clergy. It also presented some of Britain’s most cherished religious traditions. These documentaries cemented Betjeman’s reputation as a key face of British television.
Betjeman’s love of classic architecture led to him campaigning passionately for the preservation of buildings facing destruction, including our train stations. He is considered instrumental in helping to save the iconic St. Pancras Station. In November 2007, following a multi-million pound redevelopment, the station reopened, and a larger-than-life-sized statue of John Betjeman was created to honour their remarkable saviour.
Now you can own a collection of John Betjeman’s finest BBC documentaries series, with Betjeman: A Collection released on DVD by Simply Media