“People’s backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens”, the master of observation once wrote. Keats Library hosts and Michael Palin and Lee Montague celebrate the life and work of this humble genius. The evening promises to be as humourous as it is enlightening, just like Betjeman himself.
Michael Palin will be reading extracts from Summoned By Bells, which beautifully describes Betjeman’s early life in Gospel Oak and Highgate. “He was a local boy, born in Gospel Oak, my own corner of the borough, one hundred years ago this summer. Much of his time was spent around Hampstead and the Heath,” says Michael. He will be joined on stage by Lee Montague who will contribute some surprising biographical details. Musical interludes chosen by Sir John Betjeman for his 1954 Desert Island Discs appearance will accompany the evening.
In fact, Michael Palin took very little persuading to be involved: “A love of John Betjeman’s wonderfully recitable poetry was one of the few literary pleasures I shared with my father. Summoned By Bells was one of his favourite books and later it became one of mine. I think we both responded to the rich seam of humour that runs through so much of his work.
“Betjeman really should be a verb,” he continues. “To betjeman, meaning to appreciate the odd, the eccentric, the individual and be prepared to be odd, eccentric and individualistic in their defence. Thanks to Betjeman’s energetic ‘betjemaning’ we still have Saint Pancras station and the Midland Hotel, the Huguenot houses of Spitalfields and much more besides. For Betjeman nothing was ordinary. He could wax lyrical about a suburban railway station or a park bench or being reincarnated as a bicycle saddle.” It’s easy to see the appeal for the ex-Python. As Michael so eloquently comments: “Just one of the many reasons to celebrate a man of great learning and great wit, a poet who could elevate the simple joys of life into unforgettable pleasures.”
The evening takes place at Peter Samuel Hall, Royal Free Hospital on Friday 3rd June at 7.30pm
Tickets are £15 from the Library in Keats Grove NW3 2RR
Tel 0207 431 1266 or online at wegottickets.com and funds are in aid of the Keats Community Library.