Come friendly bombs and fall on BBC, says daughter of Betjeman

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The Independent Online

The daughter of Sir John Betjeman has launched an outspoken attack on the BBC and the Arts Council for failing to honour her father's achievements.

A celebration of the former poet laureate's life and works will take place this summer to mark his centenary. But Candida Lycett Green has criticised the BBC's decision not to reissue Betjeman's most famous films, including Metroland and A Passion for Churches.

Betjeman made a remarkable 735 radio recordings and 503 television appearances on the BBC. "What my dad did for the BBC... was staggering. He was completely married to the BBC," Ms Lycett Green said. "I am so angry... I find it unbelievable."

She has written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, to plead for the films to be released. Although the BBC will release a collection of poems on CD, it has refused to reissue any of Betjeman's films. Pirate copies of Metroland are changing hands on internet sites for more than £40.

Betjeman's first book of poems was published in 1931 and he made his first BBC radio recording six years later. By the 1950s he was a well-known public figure on radio and television and had begun to campaign to save threatened buildings. He was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984. His poems celebrated the English countryside and architecture, and attacked less attractive towns such as Slough, which he entreated "friendly bombs" to destroy.

A celebration of his life, featuring a roll-call of major British arts celebrities, will take place in August, 100 years after his birth. A gala in London will be compèred by Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage's alter ego), who was first introduced to British audiences by Betjeman. Performers will include actors Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Richard E Grant. Other events include a poetry competition for 11- to 14-year-olds, to be judged by the current Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion.

Ms Lycett Green had planned other events. But her hopes were dashed when the Arts Council refused to fund any of the centenary celebrations. A spokesman for the Arts Council, David McNeil, said: "He was a great poet, very influential and still very popular. But if we do it for John Betjeman, are we going to do it for TS Eliot? Samuel Beckett? We have to focus our money on living writers and poets."

A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation had decided not to reissue Betjeman's films, but would consider releasing the new programmes on DVD after they had been broadcast.

www.johnbetjeman.com

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