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John Betjeman on Trains [Hardcover]

Jonathan Glancey
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Aug 2006
John Betjeman (1906-1984) was not only one of the best-loved Englishmen of the twentieth century, he was also the people’s favourite poet and champion of many causes linked to the preservation of Britain’s heritage. Whether those causes concerned buildings, bridges or railway branch lines, Betjeman was a feared adversary of bureaucratic excesses.

This delightful little book is a celebration of his love of railways and rail travel. Ten letters selected by his daughter, Candida Lycett Green, each describe a journey that he made or that he planned to make or that he planned for a friend or relative.

Jonathan Glancey has added his own words to each letter; words that set the scenes, that bring the letters to life, that describe Betjeman’s moods - humorous, mischievous, brisk for business, and above all remind us of the age of the steam locomotive in Britain and the many stations closed and track miles lost during the sixties and seventies.


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John Betjeman on Trains + John Betjeman on Churches + Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd; annotated edition edition (24 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0413776123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413776129
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 10 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much Glancey, too little Betjeman 17 Nov 2007
I bought this book because I wanted to hear a great poet talking about trains and the era in which they reached their zenith. The synopsis refers to "ten letters selected by his daughter each describe a journey that he made or that he planned to make or that he planned for a friend or relative. Jonathan Glancey has added his own words to each letter; words that set the scene, bring the letters to life, etc." and there's the problem. The letters are all too brief, some only a couple of pages long. Some of them are really just writing to state what train the authour would be on and when he would arrive. Others only touch on a railway journey very briefly in the context of a description of a visit or holiday.
Jonathan Glancey fills the gap with speculation about what Betjeman might have seen, explanation of the frankly dull social relationships he alluded to in the letters, Glancey's own opinions and whatever else comes along.
A more honest title would be Jonathan Glancey On Trains. I gave up on the text halfway through but the pictures are superb, although very small as the book itself is two-thirds the size of a "normal" paperback.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars LEGENDS OF THE WEST 30 Jun 2012
By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Nostalgia is all very well, but this kind of thing is not mainstream these days, even in England `It would, presumably, be beyond the wit of the fast-buck, annual-bonus merchants who run trains in Britain today, to think of serving fresh food'. Or try this, part of the final peroration `...passengers busy eating, text messaging, eating, making vital calls on their mobiles, eating, spreading their legs out as far as possible into the aisles, and eating...' It's all going to the dogs, I tell you, to the dogs, d'you hear? I wonder what the offenders can have been eating to offend the author quite so grievously, but presumably it can't have been fresh food served by the types who run the trains. I'm not sure why not, because the sandwiches they serve me are always fresh on Virgin Trains between Manchester and London, pricey in standard class I admit but free in First, which can actually be a good bargain if you can pick your time of travel and book on-line in advance.

What this little book consists of is letters from Sir John Betjeman on railway-related matters interspersed with little essays by Jonathan Glancey, and the old-fogey-style sentiments that I have just quoted are from Glancey. Betjeman was a railway sentimentalist, and so am I. I bewail the loss of the branch lines, but I am in two minds what I think about all that. On the one hand there was the economic case for their closure, often strong indeed but sometimes rigged by loading the entire cost of junctions with the main trunk lines on to the branches. On the other hand Britain's haphazard 19th century railway development is part of our national culture like canals and even like mouldering manor houses.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars eccentric but charming 31 Mar 2010
This is a great little book. While it may be true that the text is 95% Jonathan Glancey to 5% John Betjeman, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Glancey's pithy commentary on Betjeman's letters is a delight to read. Each chapter begins with a short, train-related letter from Betjeman, followed by Glancey's explanatory notes - Betjeman's relationship with the characters involved, the story behind events referred to, etc. All this would be interesting enough, but what really makes this book is the way Glancey uses these vignettes as a starting point for an entertaining meander around contemporary railway history, usually ending with a justified rant about the ghastly state of our modern, post-privatisation railways. It's a beautiful little book in itself, too: handsomely bound and printed, text and illustrations well laid out. Betejeman would surely approve.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Railman 20 Jun 2013
By cairns
Verified Purchase
This is an interesting format, publishing the great mans letters and then providing an insight to what was communicated. I don't think that this concept could work with anyone else but the wonderful Sir JB. The former Poet Laureate and avid fan of and defender of the Railways. Even the most phillistine of us has heard of him, much because he had a common touch. This is portrayed within the book. This book could appeal to readers in a lot of areas. The text is accompanied by some b&w photo's. I think that the bronze of him at St. Pancras is wonderful and a fitting gesture to a great Briton.
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