Season of radio shows to celebrate Betjeman's birth

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The Independent Online

A single sampling one of his poems has already made it on to the Radio 1 playlist. Now John Betjeman is to be remembered in a series of BBC programmes marking the centenary of his birth.

It is a mark of the affection in which he is held that "Sheila", a track by young artist Jamie T, dubbed the new Mike Skinner, which begins with a recording of Betjeman's The Cockney Amorist, has entered the pop charts at number 22.

Betjeman, who died in 1984, remains one of the nation's best-loved poets. Since his Collected Poems were published in 1958, they have sold more than two and a quarter million copies.

In August, BBC2, Radio 2 and Radio 4 will celebrate the life of a man who was not only a poet, but through his broadcasting and journalism, became a champion of Britain's heritage.

In the first of three BBC2 films, Betjeman and Me, Griff Rhys Jones will say that far from being twee and trivial, Betjeman's work has unexpected edge and depth and is still relevant. Contributors include Joanna Lumley, Barry Humphries' alter ego Dame Edna Everage and John Mortimer.

In the second film in the series, historian Dan Cruickshank explores the poet's contribution to architecture and the buildings he campaigned for, from St Pancras Station in London to Magdelen College, Oxford. Cruickshank worked with Betjeman at the Architectural Review and campaigned with him to save the Georgian houses in Spitalfields; the historian lives in one of the houses.

In Betjeman and Me: The Rick Stein Story, the chef travels round Cornwall, a county for which the poet had a deep affection and cooks a fish pie for the poet's daughter, Candida Lycett Green.

"I can't believe how many programmes they're doing. It's a fantastic tribute," said Ms Lycett Green. "Rick Stein has made a special Betjeman dish. I didn't like to tell him that my dad didn't like fish pie, because he was scared of bones."

Ms Lycett Green is a particular fan of Jamie T, who had to get permission from Betjeman's estate to sample his work. "I thought 'Sheila' was an incredibly good song," she said. "I'm delighted, because that does the full circle, Radio 1 as well."

The poet's daughter has also persuaded the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, to release a DVD of one of her father's films, Metroland. For more information on Betjeman centenary celebrations go to