Take a Pew, or Not, as the Case May Be

In “The Times Diary” column of today’s edition of the paper, Patrick Kidd writes this about relations between Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman:

Visitors to Combe Florey, the family home of Evelyn and Auberon Waugh, used to be shown an ornate chair made from the ends of a medieval pew on which a plaque said: “This chair, which inspired lines 11-12 from The Church’s Restoration by John Betjeman, was given by John Betjeman to Evelyn Waugh on his 60th birthday.” Utter rubbish, it turns out. Alexander Waugh admitted in a talk last week that his grandfather bought it from an antiques shop to give to Betjeman. “He declined it because it was too hideous,” Waugh says. “So it stood in the hall making Evelyn very cross and irritable and eventually he stuck the plaque on.” I suppose that’s what Donald Trump calls fake pews.

These remarks were made by Alexander at the talk mentioned in an earlier post which Alexander delivered at the Travellers Club in London under the sponsorship of the Anthony Powell Society.

In other Betjeman-related news, a recent edition of the New Statesman announced an upcoming broadcast of two programs relating to the poet. This is in an article by Jonathan Smith, who wrote the scripts:

For most of my life I have been “on” Betjeman, if mostly undercover. A few years ago in Cornwall, sitting in the St Enodoc churchyard where he is buried (near the lychgate), I started to reread his collected poems, which led me to his letters and finally to the biographies. Out of this long absorption came two plays, but I always knew who I wanted as Betjeman, and that was Benjamin Whitrow.

Smith goes on to explain that Whitrow unfortunately died 3/4 through the production, but this being Radio 4, and not TV, the producers were able to find a replacement in Robert Bathurst and complete the production:

It feels as right as it could be. Ben and Robert were friends. Indeed, they played golf together on the St Enodoc course, where Betjeman, too, occasionally played, and they liked to quote bits of his poems at each other, only a few shots from the churchyard where he lies. Near the lychgate.

Mr Betjeman’s Class” and “Mr Betjeman Regrets” will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day and Boxing Day

Betjeman also appears as a character in the latest series of the Netflix royal soap opera The Crown, now streaming online. The first appearance occurs in episode 4 (entitled “Beryl”) when Princess Margaret meets Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Although not explained in detail in this episode, Betjeman was introduced into the story through Elizabeth Cavendish who was in the same social set as Armstrong-Jones as well as being a retainer on Princess Margaret’s staff and Betjeman’s mistress. Both Cavendish and Betjeman are mentioned and appeared on-screen but don’t have much if anything to say.

UPDATE (14 December 2017): Information about Betjeman’s appearance in the Netflix TV drama was added, and the venue for Alexander Waugh’s speech was confirmed.

UPDATE 2 (18 December 2017): Having now watched all 10 episodes of Series 2, I am unhappy to report that Betjeman does not make any additional appearances. I can report, however, that another character with a Waugh association does appear in the series. This is Cecil Beaton who appears with a small speaking part in at least two episodes. Most prominent is his appearance in the final scene of the series, where he is taking a group photo of what looks like the whole lot of them (the Royal Family, that is) while he (Beaton) recites Shakespeare’s “this sceptr’d isle” passage from Richard II in an attempt to hold the group’s attention. It makes for a humorous end to what was a fairly somber series.

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