Sir John Betjeman was Poet Laureate from 1972 till his death in 1984. When his Collected Poems (John Murray) came out in 1958 they made publishing history and have since sold over two and a quarter million copies. Apart from his poetry he wrote and edited The Shell County Guides for over thirty years, wrote the Collins Guide to English Parish Churches and also wrote a further forty topographical and architectural books. Betjeman’s architectural interests were far ranging – from the early stone dwellings on St Kilda to the brick galleries of Jim Stirling. Among the buildings he fought to save from destruction were St Pancras and Liverpool Street stations. He encouraged people to look at unregarded buildings, to notice their ‘indeterminate beauty’. Betjeman made over 500 television programmes of which 26 were films for Shell in the ‘Discovering Britain’ series. Betjeman’s celebration of ‘place’ has inspired the theme of the Betjeman Poetry Prize.
John Betjeman achieved huge success during his lifetime and continues to retain his ‘National Treasure’ status more than thirty years after his death. His gift for comic writing, his dazzling technical abilities and his combination of eccentricity and Englishness are all key ingredients in his enduring popularity.