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Remembering Sir John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green at Christmas...

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Jerry Dowlen on... John Betjeman & Candida Lycett Green


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Sir John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green


The church at Christmas: Remembering our poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) and his daughter Candida Lycett Green (1942 – 2014).


At Christmas we think of church and the time-honoured favourite yuletide traditions: decorating the nave with holly and ivy; the annual Xmas Fayre; the children’s nativity service; singing carols; ringing the bells. The Church, and Christianity, was a large factor in the life and works of Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984): broadcaster, conservationist, poet and writer.


This year is the thirtieth anniversary of Sir John’s death. He was enormously popular with a book-reading, radio-listening and television-watching generation of admirers who are now mostly in the “third age”. But even if Britain’s youthful population does not know and never will come to know Betjeman’s famous work, there will undoubtedly be many older people, especially church-goers, who will always give Sir John a passing thought as the Christmas season unfolds. 


The broadcaster and critic A.N. Wilson presented a fond tribute to Sir John Betjeman on television (BBC4) on the evening of 1 September. The timing of the one-hour programme was especially poignant, for only a few days earlier on 19 August the literary world had received the sad news that Sir John's daughter Candida Lycett Green had died at the age of 71. Born in 1942, Candida was a young socialite who married into wealth and raised a family of five children. She forged a literary career of her own, working for magazines, and writing books and scripts.


Favourite Churches

A. N. Wilson revisited several churches that had been favourite places in 'Betjemanland'. Betjeman wrote that the old Norman church in the Cornish village of Blisland gave him “an unforgettable sense of joy." Meanwhile he was churchwarden at St Mary’s Uffington in Oxfordshire and gave it the nickname "The Cathedral of the Vale." Betjeman learned about bell-ringing at St Mary's. Famous first lines of his best-loved poems include:

Hark, I hear the bells of Westgate ...


The dear old village! Lin-lan-lone 
the bells
(Which should be six) ring over hills and dells ...


Shortly before being appointed poet laureate in 1972, Betjeman moved from Wantage to live at Cloth Fair in the City of London. He was churchwarden at St Vedast, a serene and charming little church that you can find tucked away off Cheapside in the shadows of the much bigger and better known St Paul’s Cathedral and St Mary-Le-Bow.

Betjeman loved church architecture. His guidebook ‘The Parish Churches of England’ is an enduring masterpiece. A tireless campaigner against brutal modern building, he saved the London church of
Holy Trinity Sloane Square from demolition in 1971.  

Candida Lycett Green

After her father's death, Candida was unstinting in her endeavours to keep his memory alive. In 2006 she instigated many of the centenary events that marked Sir John’s birth date of 1906. On the book front she helped to edit and publish her late father's letters. She assisted too with the collecting and publishing of batches of Sir John’s written works.  

Sir John would have been proud that Candida became praised for her own literary accomplishments. Given his love of nature, expressed in his many memorable poems about Cornwall, the Cotswolds,
Ireland and other places he would have beamed with delight if he had known that Candida would be
hailed as a fine chronicler of English countryside life.  


Why Should We Remember Sir John Betjeman?


A.N. Wilson concluded: "Betjeman helped us to see beauty in railways, in buildings and in landscapes that the money-men and the politicians don't see the point of."

He furthermore thanked Betjeman (a devout Christian) for "communicating through his verse with the needs, griefs and pleasures of millions of his readers, and helping us come to terms with our own muddled lives and loves."


Jerry Dowlen

November 2014


Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:


Daniel Abse

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution

Wilfred Owen

Wolf Mankowitz

Bob Hoskins

Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam

The Story of Edith Nesbit

Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert

Rebels With A Cause

Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective

The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas

The Bergerac Police Adventure Series

It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene

Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers

The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym

D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...



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