In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

john-betjeman-statueFound- in a copy of Nip in the Air (John Murray 1974)  a book of poems by John Betjeman this affectionate parody by the esteemed travel writer Patrick (‘Paddy’) Leigh Fermor. It is probably from a magazine (pp 379-380), possibly The London Magazine but is not archived anywhere online. It is probably from the 1970s. It deserves a place in a completist Betjeman collection and in any future collection of Fermor’s complete oeuvre.

In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Eagle-borne spread of the Authorised Version,

Beadles and bell ropes, pulpits and pews,

Sandwiches spread for a new excursion

And patum peperium under the yews!


Erastian peal of Established Church-bells!

(Cuckoo-chimes in Cistercian towers)

Bugloss and briny border our search. Bells

Toll the quarters and toll the hours.


Unscrew the thermos. Some village Hampden

Swells the sward. Fill the plastic cup

For toast to Brandon, to Scott and to Camden,

To dripstone and dogtooth, with bottoms up!


Herringbone-tweed (one more? Shall we risk it?)

Mimics the moulding from neck to knee.

(Ginger beer, and a Peek Frean Biscuit?)

Then here’s to Pugin with three times three!


Basketed bikes on the lych-gate leaning

(Headlamp and rear lamp, pump and mac)

Bask in the sunshine, the privet screening

Raleigh and Rudge till we both get back;


Back from the church where the rood-screen false is

Bogus both squint and architrave –

Lord! Let an Old Marlburian’s Dolcis

Quicken the echoes of the nave.


Let an Old Marlburian’s Veldtschoen waken

Ghostly incumbents along the gloom,

And the rattle of anthracite long since shaken

Out with the slag in the boiler-room.


Raven-black sway the phantom cassocks,

Ruby the silk of an M.A. hood;

Sweet is the incense of fragrant hassocks

And tiger-lilies and Ronuk’d wood,


Sarum-chants of celestial cities,

Rustic anthems in harmony,

Quavering rune of the Nunc Dimittis,

Gaslit groan of Abide with me.


Back to the lamplight, back to the crumpets,

Under the cliff by the seaside path

An Old Marlburian treads through the limpets

Home through the sunset’s aftermath.


The 7.10 whistle and helter-skelter

Wild foam flies by the wayward sea;

Bladderwrack Pops under Lotus and Delta –

Holy Saint Pancras, pray for me!

3 thoughts on “In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

  1. Pierre Oightride

    Good parody and as you say affectionate. Probably written before 1969 as that was the year when he became Sir John.

  2. MikeS

    It’s also in Adam Sisman’s recent anthology of PLF’s letters “Dashing for the Post”, reproduced after a letter written from the Betjemans’. Sisman says it first appeared in “the Cornhill magazine in the summer of 1954”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *