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4.5 out of 5 stars
Trains and Buttered Toast: Selected Radio Talks
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59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 26 May 2006
This is a terrific selection of Betjeman's radio broadcasts. And it seems to be get to heart of the man's passions, prejudices and, of course, humour. The talk on Tennyson made me laugh out loud. But it's Betj's love of English architecture and way of life that come through so strongly in this collection. Reading the pieces you can almost hear that familiar voice one minute quietly serious and passionate, the next gently poking fun. What a remarkable man he was.
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94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2006
This is the most enjoyable Betjeman book I've ever read - a book that's so good, it ought to be part of the English Literature curriculum. More than that: it ought to be read by everyone applying for British citizenship! In the course of 360 pages, Betjeman plunges you into what he regarded as the major issues of English identity - issues of aesthetics, civic duty, relations with authority, and individuality.

I suppose that all these ideas are contained in Betjeman's poetry, but there one tends to get distracted into noticing rhythm and metre and scansion. And Betjeman's poetic ideas are smaller. Here, although the writing is often lyrical, he addresses topics in a much more direct way. He cares that unvalued townscapes are being destroyed, that there might be collusion between commercial interests and public officials, that the recent past and the middle brow are ignored by modern taste-makers. Especially in his earlier essays, he writes about these issues with passion and yet with a lightness of touch that engages the reader completely. Read this, and you cannot fail to agree that Betjeman stands as one of the foremost spokesmen of the twentieth century.

"Trains and Buttered Toast" (with its beautful cover design by Duff Tollemache) also shows that Betjeman was fascinated by individuals and individuality. He is correspondingly cruel about English stereotypes - the lumpen proletariat who, in the late 1940s, listened to popular music on car radios or went on holiday in luxury coaches. His point, however, is to criticise people's failure to open their eyes, ask original questions and discover fresh beauties - something he sees as the public's sheep instinct. The antidote, he suggests, is to look for inspiration at people who didn't go where everyone else went and who weren't damaged by commercial pressures and mass production. He finds his role models in Victoriana, an age that he regards as rich in the culture of individuality. Many of his talks explore this in its most extreme manifestation - in eccentricity and in provincialism. In fact, among the most entertaining talks in the entire book are those that look at individuals who dedicated themselves to the church. Never before Betjeman was there a literary category devoted to "West of England Victorian hymn-writing vicars". Now there is!

Spread a little happiness. Buy this book - and buy it for your friends. They'll love you for it: it's a total joy.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2006
This is a most enjoyable read for anyone interested in John Betjman or indeed anyone longing to go back to the times when trains had windows that would open! Stephen Games has skilfully edited talks given out on the BBC during a period of 40+ years. The range of topics, clearly indicating the diversity of the broadcaster, poet and architectual buff (self-taught) range from the wit of Tennyson to the lament of modernism encroaching on metropolitan and rural life, with many interesting talks covered in between. Anyone interest in "how we lived then" should buy this book now.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2007
This is the most enjoyable Betjeman book I've ever read - a book that's so good, it ought to be part of the English Literature curriculum. More than that: it ought to be read by everyone applying for British citizenship! In the course of 360 pages, Betjeman plunges you into what he regarded as the major issues of English identity - issues of aesthetics, civic duty, relations with authority, and individuality.

I suppose that all these ideas are contained in Betjeman's poetry, but there one tends to get distracted into noticing rhythm and metre and scansion. And Betjeman's poetic ideas are smaller. Here, although the writing is often lyrical, he addresses topics in a much more direct way. He cares that unvalued townscapes are being destroyed, that there might be collusion between commercial interests and public officials, that the recent past and the middle brow are ignored by modern taste-makers. Especially in his earlier essays, he writes about these issues with passion and yet with a lightness of touch that engages the reader completely. Read this, and you cannot fail to agree that Betjeman stands as one of the foremost spokesmen of the twentieth century.

"Trains and Buttered Toast" (with its beautful cover design by Duff Tollemache) also shows that Betjeman was fascinated by individuals and individuality. He is correspondingly cruel about English stereotypes - the lumpen proletariat who, in the late 1940s, listened to popular music on car radios or went on holiday in luxury coaches. His point, however, is to criticise people's failure to open their eyes, ask original questions and discover fresh beauties - something he sees as the public's sheep instinct. The antidote, he suggests, is to look for inspiration at people who didn't go where everyone else went and who weren't damaged by commercial pressures and mass production. He finds his role models in Victoriana, an age that he regards as rich in the culture of individuality. Many of his talks explore this in its most extreme manifestation - in eccentricity and in provincialism. In fact, among the most entertaining talks in the entire book are those that look at individuals who dedicated themselves to the church. Never before Betjeman was there a literary category devoted to "West of England Victorian hymn-writing vicars". Now there is!

Spread a little happiness. Buy this book - and buy it for your friends. They'll love you for it: it's a total joy.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2006
This is a really warm and fond look at British life, taken from Betjeman's radio broadcasts. My favourite was the Eccentrics section, which made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of Bill Bryson's travel guides: Warm, funny and you always learn something new!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2010
It's a great book. Eccentric and opinionated. Quite amazing that someone 70+ yrs ago thought about England exactly what many people think of it today - over-crowded, poor infrastructure, incongruous architecture, bad planning.
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on 14 February 2015
A very pleasantly written book but afraid I quickly became bored as I come from the North of England and this book concentrates on the South.
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on 21 March 2014
It is beautifully written and easy to pick up and put down - you can read as much or as little as you like but you are never disappointed.
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Indeed I do love John Betjeman prose and poetry. Donald Swann set some of his poems to music - and sang them. He loved trains and so do I.
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on 31 August 2014
Knowing Betjeman very well indeed I was, of course, not disappointed by this book. It's a treasure, an delivery waas smooth and fast.
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