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Useful Addition to the Betjemaniac's Bookshelf
on 12 January 2010
First off, it's worth explaining what this book is. It's an anthology of scripts that Betjeman produced for various short TV documentaries, chiefly from the 1950s and 1960s. Most haven't been published before, and many of the original programmes are either lost or may only exist on VHS. This is worth noting, as 'Betjeman's England' is a rather vague wishy-washy title.
Amongst the observations in Stephen Games' excellent 30-page introduction are the fact that his early work tended to be delivered in a rather high-pitched dictatorial style, whilst his later work was more meditative in tone. I particularly liked the comment about his tendency to date objects along the lines of "18th century I should think", implying a instinctual approach to architecture, rather than the more precise 'Pevsner method'.
The introduction gives an overview of Betjeman's early TV work, which was fitful to say the least. Attitudes to him (then as now) were rather mixed, with the BBC rather wary of him, despite the fact that he was a frequent contributor to radio programming. As a result, much of his earlier TV work was done for independent television, such as the documentaries made with Jonathan Stedall for TWW in the early 60s, reissued as 'The Lost Betjemans'. I have to say I'm not totally sure whether the scripts work without the visuals - it's hard to read the scripts without being distracted by one's memories of the original documentaries. Stephen Games has added occasional pointers to what the viewers would have seen, but only where necessary. However, all the footnotes added show that this is a thoroughly researched anthology, perhaps only of interest to Betjemaniacs, but still a worthy addition to the growing number of books about Betjeman's multi-faceted work.