Author(s): Jonathan Smith
When did you last hear of a poetry book selling in the millions? Well, since 1958 when John Betjeman's Collected Poems was first published, sales have exceeded 2.5 million and are still going strong. When he died in 1984, still as Poet Laureate, he was by far the UK's favourite poet (as Philip Larkin acknowledged). Thanks to his work as a broadcaster and architectural campaigner he was also a celebrity. However his life was full of insecurities, frustrations and busted relationships, and in terms of his work, his comments that 'he was not taken seriously by the TLS' said it all. Jonathan Smith, author of many successful novels, but also a playwright and educationalist, wrote two radio plays dramatising Betjeman's life which were first broadcast on the BBC in 2017 and which have now been combined into a single narrative, part biography, part fiction but providing an extraordinary - and above all, highly entertaining - journey into the mind and the life of John Betjeman. The book follows the poet from his time at Oxford where he wandered around clutching a teddybear, then having been kicked out, to the well trodden route of Prep School master (he was taken on as a cricket coach, knowing absolutely nothing about the game). Then onto his unfortunate marriage to Penelope Chetwode an English travel writer, and the only daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode, who sadly was more interested in horses than humans. The book then centres on his lengthy affair with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish and his problems with son Paul, who emigrated to the USA and never really forgave Betjeman for his shortcomings as a parent. Beautifully written, we expect this book to be widely noticed in reviews.