John Betjeman

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Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) remains one of Britain's best loved and best-selling poets.[1] He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1972 and served until his death in 1984. He was also passionate about Victorian architecture and campaigned against the demolition of several notable buildings. His poetry largely has an eye to British middle-class life, particularly the recent past. He was a lifelong Anglican and his religion often comes into his poetry in a light-hearted and occasionally jocular manner. He wrote many poems but one about the "Conversion of St. Paul" highlights his attitude:

But most of us turn slow to see

The figure hanging on a tree
And stumble on and blindly grope
Upheld by intermittent hope,
God grant before we die, we all

May see the light as did St. Paul.

His mild and affable manner won him many admirers as television personality, bringing his poetry to an audience of millions. He remains perhaps best remembered for his (only half-joking) exhortations for the levelling of Slough, a soulless English town:

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough

It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow

Swarm over, Death!

He was one of the brains behind the hugely successful Shell Guides To Britain and was a regular contributor to the satirical magazine Private Eye for its architectural column Nooks & Crannies.


  1. His Collected Poems (1958) has sold over 2.5 million copies