New Betjeman Collection

The Sunday Times has previewed a new collection of previously unpublished poems by Waugh’s friend John Betjeman, some of which have fairly explicit homosexual themes. The collection is entitled Harvest Bells and will be published later this month:

A newly discovered Betjeman poem entitled Sweets and Cake includes “the sturdy little arse of Teddy Sale” in a graphic and passionate encounter between a pair of schoolboys.The comic but increasingly explicit account of a heated fumble between Teddy, believed to be Betjeman’s alter ego, and another schoolboy named Neville is thought to have been written during the poet’s undergraduate days at Oxford in the mid-1920s.It was unearthed much later in a college archive and appears in a new collection of previously unpublished Betjeman poems called Harvest Bells. The most startling addition to Betjeman’s literary canon is undoubtedly Sweets and Cake, which takes a lurid turn after a memorable couplet: “I say, you’re awfully decent, Ted / Let’s find a place and go to bed.” […]

It was among Tom Driberg’s papers at Christ Church, Oxford, that researchers found clues that Betjeman may have gone far beyond schoolboy crushes. In addition to Sweets and Cake, they found a scatological poem believed to have been written to entertain his friends. In Summoned by Bells, his blank verse autobiography, Betjeman wrote of a youthful love that proved “too deep for words or touch”. But there is plenty of touching, not to mention messy mutual orgasms, in Sweets and Cake. Kevin Gardner, editor of Harvest Bells, said: “If in Summoned by Bells Betjeman dared not speak this love’s name, the two poems in the Driberg papers . . . fairly shout it out. In place of pastoral myth and innocent fantasy we encounter cheap, practical sex.”

Waugh was a friend of both Betjeman and his wife Penelope (who is thought by many to have been a model for certain traits of St Helena in Waugh’s 1950 novel). Waugh rather bullied Betjeman about his Anglicanism after Penelope converted to Roman Catholicism. Waugh’s friendship with both of them seemed to have rather cooled after that, although it continued at some level. For example, Betjeman gave Waugh a Victorian wash hand stand for his 50th birthday (1953) which provided the basis for one of Gilbert Pinfold’s hallucinations in Waugh’s late novel.

 

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