TELEVISION / BRIEFING: First steps down Cemetery Road

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The lugubrious face of Philip Larkin seems to have been peering out of every nook and cranny of the media just lately. Now his miserable mien occupies a two-part BOOKMARK (9.40pm BBC2). Accompanied by a soundtrack of the jazz Larkin loved, the first instalment of Alan Lewens' workman-like profile concentrates on the poet's early years. Despite the sentiments expressed in his most famous poem, 'This Be the Verse' (here read in mournful tones by its author), Larkin deeply respected his father - who is credited with inculcating in him a distrust of marriage. At school, he was already manifesting the provocativeness for which he later became notorious; he and some friends set up a pro-Franco Group to rile the 'red beaks'. Entering St John's College, Oxford, he had the opportunity to display his wide reading, which often prompted intellectual arrogance. 'I never thought Shakespeare was any good', he once commented, ' 'til I had to read his contemporaries'. As a student, he groomed himself to be a serious writer by typing out lengthy prefaces to his collections of poetry; these were more often than not for an audience of one - himself.

(Photograph omitted)