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John Betjeman: The Biography Paperback – 26 Jul 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (26 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564444
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'[Hillier] has unearthed a wealth of detail and anecdote.' (Glasgow Herald)

'This user-friendly trade paperback... will be welcomed as a crucial reference work by students and aficionados alike' (Oxford Times)

Hillier's enthralling, many-voiced biography is an awesome achievement. But it is no more than Betjeman's due (John Carey, Sunday Times)

Fascinating (Humphrey Carpenter, Sunday Times)

Sharply perceptive ... compelling ... A biography this good abolishes time in its own way, and triumphantly ensures Betjeman's survival (Peter Conrad, Observer)

A mosaic in which the true face of the man and his times is revealed (Mail on Sunday)

The chubbiest, juiciest book of the year (Barry Humphries, Daily Telegraph)

Strikes just the right note. (Telegraph)

An awe-inspiring piece of scholarship ... Betjeman has had the best and most sympathetic biographer he could have wished for (Artemis Cooper, Evening Standard)

A triumph (Spectator)

Hilarious and very poignant (Duncan Fallowell, Express)

A mosaic in which the true face of the man and his time is revealed (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday)

A pleasure to read and use. (Evening Standard)

Immensely detailed, intelligent, generous, sympathetic, and often entertaining (Allan Massie, Literary Review)

'[Hillier] has unearthed a wealth of detail and anecdote' (Glasgow Herald)

'A fine portrait of a vulnerable, acerbic man with a teddy.' (BBC History)

'John Betjeman remains extremely popular' (BBC History)

'A stupendous work in many ways' (Daily Telegraph)

'Bevis Hillier's fine biography joins the jubilations' (The Times/Books)

'Where anyone interested in Betjeman will dig happily away' (Sunday Telegraph/Seven)

'Hillier's [biography] has a wealth of often-hilarious detail that Wilson never touches on' (Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

John Betjeman was the best-loved English poet since Tennyson and became an institution - a 'teddy bear to the nation'.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bevis Hillier's second volume of his Betjeman biography is a massive, extremely detailed work which will appeal to the same audience that enjoyed the first volume, Young Betjeman. The book follows JB's life and career from the early days of his marriage to Penelope Chetwode in the early thirties to the massive success of his "Collected Poems" in the late fifties.
Don't expect any opinions on Betjeman's poetry, except for excerpts from contemporary reviews. This is a book about his life, not his work. And what a life! At the start of his career, working as a film critic on the Evening Standard, his colleagues included Robert Bruce Lockhart (the celebrated/notorious "British Agent"), Malcolm Muggeridge and Osbert Lancaster, who became his lifelong friend. He was an unabashed social climber starting from his days at Oxford, and managed to charm his way into the very top echelons of British and Irish society.
Bevis Hillier has a clear, neutral and unobtrusive writing style that makes for easy reading. Having said that, this is a non-fiction book and not a "page-turner". It took several weeks of bed time reading and the wealth of detail would be too much to take in over a short period. It would also spoil the enjoyment of the book not to take time to mull over some of the episodes.
There are several hundred notes at the end of the book, almost all of them attributions, but with the occasional anecdote. After using a second bookmark for a little while, I decided to just read the book. Having finished it, I then read through the more interesting notes. Among these was the information that Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (Betjeman's long-time companion), along with Arthur Calder-Marshall (who?), was the only person who refused to provide any help whatsoever with the book.
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Format: Paperback
John Betjeman: national treasure, cuddly figure of fun, telly star, champion of suburbia and Victorian architecture, best selling poet.

Yes, he was all these things and, as Bevis Hillier's superb biography demonstrates, more.

Whilst all these positive aspects of Betjeman's personality are illuminated, he is not afraid to explore the man's darker side - his fondness for scatological humour, his practical joking, his belittling of his son, tantamount to bullying. Betjeman did not have a happy relationship with his father, so this may be some kind of revenge for what he himself had to suffer.

Betjeman was a performer in life as well as on the screen. He was always putting on an act, larking around, camping it up. One of his contemporaries remarked that this play acting could be seen as a manifestation of a lack of self-confidence - Betjeman was always sensitive to adverse criticism about his poetry. It is interesting that the television producer Jonathan Stedall opines that the films he made with Betjeman towards the end of the poet's life revealed the true essence of the man as he was no longer putting on an act.

Betjeman's work for television is of a high quality, but unfortunately, of a small quantity, which is a pity as he was a natural performer adept at delivering impromptu commentary.

Betjeman drifted through a number of jobs in the early part of his life, most of which he came to despise and he never stuck at any of them for more than a few years.

His warmth and generousity were demonstrated by the success of his Australian and USA tours where his personality and charm won many friends and admirers.

Hillier organises his material well and makes cross references to other chapters as the need arises. I finished the book feeling that I knew Sir John Betjeman really well.

This edition is a distillation of Bevis Hillier's three volume biography.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bevis Hillier,this a fantastic book without a single boring sentence.On every page,every paragraph a joke,an anecdote,an amusing story,an insight,a literary gem,a witticism,a wistful moment,a juicy bit of gossip.I have read and reread it and I love it,I really love it.Tinkerty-tonk,old thing.
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