Candida Lycett Green: Author who helped 'Private Eye' get off the ground and edited the letters and prose of her father, John Betjeman

 

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The Independent Online

Candida Lycett Green was a writer of limpid, graceful English prose with 16 books to her name; a champion of the English countryside and its buildings, both as a weekly columnist for The Oldie and as Commissioner of English Heritage; a strikingly beautiful television presenter; a loving, generous friend and hostess who relished introducing her chums to each other; a devoted mother who was herself the daughter of celebrated parents; a fine horsewoman; an elegant gardener and decorator; a splendid cook; a richly funny conversationalist who would begin telephone calls with the greeting, "Mrs Green here"; and part of the original group who started Private Eye.

She also composed song lyrics and comic verse, and edited – to critical acclaim – two volumes of the letters of her father, John Betjeman, and an anthology of his prose (Coming Home, 1997).

She was born in Dublin in 1942, where Betjeman was press attaché at the British Embassy. An elder brother, Paul, had been born in 1937. Their mother, the Hon Penelope Chetwode (1910-86), daughter of Field Marshall Sir Philip, later Lord Chetwode, was herself a well-known writer, and (says Candida's website) "Himalayan traveller/explorer". Returning to England, the family went from Uffington to Farnborough and then to Wantage. There, mother and daughter (whom the parents called "Wibz") explored the "green lanes and tracks" of this part of England on horseback or in a horse-drawn cart. In her teens Candida competed – fiercely and successfully – in pony club events.

Following school at St Mary's Wantage, she did a course in sculpture at a technical college in Oxford, where she met the undergraduates John Wells and Richard Ingrams. In 1960 she performed on the Edinburgh Fringe with Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Andrew Osmond, who were on the verge of founding Private Eye. While working as a sub on Queen, she spent her evenings collating and stapling the first issues of the satirical magazine, until the editor of Queen, Jocelyn Stevens, discovered she was moonlighting and sacked her.

On 25 May 1960 Candida married the tall, handsome "romantic maverick" Rupert Lycett Green, who ran a bespoke tailoring business, Blades, at the foot of Savile Row, which combined the traditional craft and skill of its address with the radical fashions of the 1960s. It was also a social statement, said by a Daily Telegraph journalist "to typify the revolt of the upper class young." Blades made clothes for John Aspinall, Terence Stamp, the Beatles (and young men like me, hoping that our Blades suits conferred some of the cachet of Rupert's better-known clients). The dazzling couple (they had five children) was at the heart of Swinging London, and they were seen at the best parties, along with their friends, the Snowdons, the Shands and the Parker Bowleses. From 1975-1990 the pair ran a thoroughbred stud, where they bred the winners of 60 races.

Rupert chose to be a tailor, and Candida had a parallel attitude: "I needed to get a job and earn my living, and as I was quite good at English at school and writing was part of my parents' trade it seemed obvious. I saw it as a craft I could do rather than being inspiration-driven." Despite the glamour of her background and marriage, the family always had to look after themselves financially.

Her first novel was "a children's book, which was commissioned by a publishing company that collapsed before it was finished." Several publishers rejected Hadrian the Hedgehog before one took it: "You don't get published just because you're the daughter of famous writers, and I refused to use my maiden name anyway… I was a feminist in the Sixties, but I had no problem with taking my husband's name. It was about the only thing I wasn't a feminist about."

In 1970 the Evening Standard sent her to Mexico to cover the football World Cup, and she took over the Private Eye column about the built environment, "Nooks and Corners", that Richard Ingrams had established for her father. There she met Christopher Booker, with whom she wrote Goodbye London, which reflected their shock at what developers were planning, and planners allowing. In the 1970s she devised, wrote and presented three much-admired documentaries; for the BBC she did The Front Garden and The Englishwoman and the Horse; and for Channel Four, English Cottages, with a book of the same title that sold more than 100,000 copies. She also wrote the TV tie-in book The Front Garden, as well as The Perfect English Country House and Brilliant Gardens.

At the time of his death in 1984, Sir John Betjeman was Poet Laureate and a bona fide national treasure. Candida spent seven years editing his letters and prose, writing introductions and connecting passages. She wanted to show readers what she saw as the secret of his greatness: "He was, unlike most of us, interested in things other than himself." For his centenary in 2006 she organised events all over the country. A typical occasion was her presentation of a volume of Betjeman poems to the Mayor of Slough.

She worked with Richard Ingrams "on and off for fifty years… He created [the] 'Unwrecked England' column for me when he started The Oldie [in 1992]. The idea of turning it into a book was there right from the start because that's how he got me to agree to write it, saying that when I'd written 100 columns he would turn it into a book."

Following cancer treatment, in 1999 she rode a horse north for 200 miles, raising £125,000 for Oxford's Churchill Cancer Hospital, and in 2002 published a best-seller about the journey, Over the Hills and Far Away. Another autobiographical work (2005) was The Dangerous Edge of Things, a poignant account of a year in the downland village of her childhood.

To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, at their house near Uffington, Rupert and Candida held a full-size replica village fête, complete with Hit-the-Bell, dog show, gymkhana and ice cream van. Her good humour was matched by her candour. In late July she tweeted her 1,500 followers with a pitch to support her daughter and grandson on a sponsored bike ride: "I'm near the end of the road with inoperable pancreatic cancer." It was one of life's privileges to be her friend.

PAUL LEVY

Candida Rose Betjeman, writer: born Dublin 22 September 1942; married 1960 Rupert Lycett Green (two sons, three daughters); died 19 August 2014.

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