Betjeman Interview on BBC

BBC Four has rebroadcast a TV interview of Waugh’s friend and contemporary, John Betjeman, by Michael Parkinson. The original broadcast was in November 1977, and it was Betjeman’s third and final appearance in a Parkinson interview. According to Parkinson,  Betjeman was the only guest invited to appear that many times. The best of Betjeman’s own TV presentations were behind him by 1977, but he still made a few more as late as 1982, even after he was confined to a wheelchair. At one point in this interview he reads his poetry to the live music of Jim Parker, a combination that had proved popular on recordings such as Banana Blush. According to his daughter Candida, quoted by biographer Bevis Hillier, Betjeman found this interview one of “the most frightening experiences of his life. He was terrified that he was going to be asked difficult questions.” He was already by then suffering from, ironically, Parkinson’s disease. He does look a bit hesitant and worried at the beginning of the interview. But, as Hillier writes:

He need not have worried. ‘Is your poetry relevant, do you think?’ Parkinson asked. ‘No, thank God.’ (Bevis Hillier, John Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter, 2005, pp. 252-53)

The other guest on the program was singer Gracie Fields. The replay followed the broadcast of a biopic about her, so that explains the scheduling of this particular interview. One can only hope that others will follow. The program is available via the internet on BBCiPlayer until 13 July. A UK internet connection is required.

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