The lifelong commitment to poetry on the part of John Betjeman (BEH-chuh-muhn) was matched by an equal dedication to the preservation of the best of English architecture, particularly that of the nineteenth century. Throughout his life, he was intent on opening the eyes of the public to the glories of Victorian architecture, and he and his friends John Piper (the painter) and Osbert Lancaster (the cartoonist) pursued this cause with such dedication and enthusiasm that they have probably done more to influence public taste in this area than anyone since John Ruskin. Such overriding interest in the quality of modern urban life, and, more specifically, its aesthetic excellence or excesses, is to be seen again and again in Betjeman’s prose.
In 1933, soon after publication of his first volume of verse, he published Ghastly Good Taste: Or, A Depressing Story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture. This work was followed in 1944 by John Piper, and then, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, a spate of books on landscape and architecture as well as various Shell Guides: First and Last Loves (1952), The English Town in the Last Hundred Years (1956), Collins’ Guide to English Parish Churches (1958), and English Churches (1964, with B. F. L. Clarke). Betjeman’s Cornwall was published in 1984. He also edited a number of anthologies that illustrate his interests, including English, Scottish, and Welsh Landscape (1944), a collection of poetry edited with Geoffrey Taylor; he also collaborated with Taylor in editing English Love Poems (1957). In 1959, Altar and Pew: Church of England Verses, edited by Betjeman, was published, and in 1963 A Wealth of Poetry, edited with Winifred Hudley, was issued.
Betjeman was also an accomplished and sometimes inspired broadcaster, whether reading his own poems or describing and discussing architecture, and, for the most part, he wrote his own scripts. Unfortunately, none of his broadcasts has been published in book form, although such a book would probably prove to be as popular as his poetry and essays.