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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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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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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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on 10 February 2016
These are a selection of John Betjeman’s BBC radio broadcast, from the 1930s to the 1970s. For anyone who loves the work and world of Betjeman, they are a delightful trip into his whimsical, nostalgic, quintessential English eccentric world. His style and delivery come through strongly in the text, and one can hear that familiar clipped voice as one reads the text. The subjects covered in the broadcasts are very varied – including the customary topographical tours, mostly in the western part of England, combined with his trenchant criticism of modern architecture and the ugliness of the new, as it wants to sweep away the timeless beauty of the past in the name of a bright new modernism. There are some excellent portraits of various eccentrics and odd ecclesiastics. It is interesting to see how Betjeman did mellow – with his harsh disapproval of new building being ameliorated into a wider and gentler appreciation of his environment. But he always maintained his hostility to short-sighted local planning authorities and the damage done by "speculative” builders who were (and still are) interested solely in profit; he was also prepared to highlight the corruption in local authorities that allowed such builders to get way with their despoliation. The editor provides a good background introduction which describes and analyses Betjeman’s rollercoaster relationship with the BBC for his radio broadcasts, as well as showing his growing popularity int the 1940-50s amongst his listeners.
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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 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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on 18 May 2015
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 13 May 2013
Ideal journeying down memory lane for the over 60s and some useful insights for the young. Memory jogging and thought provoking.
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