The Third Leader: Lest we forget

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The Independent Online

A bit of a fuss, I notice, about whether the BBC is doing enough to mark the centenary of John Betjeman's birth. Well, there do seem to be quite a few programmes, but no remembrance is likely to satisfy both the intellectual sniffiness and relishing admiration that his skilfully sentimental way with life, love and death has always attracted.

My respect to someone who could arrive back at a newspaper office after lunch and announce, "I think I've got one of those scoop thingies". But I think it would also be right, and Betjemanly, if we considered some of his fellow centenarians who, unless I've missed it or it hasn't happened yet, have received even less attention.

They include Anton Karas, who wrote the zither music for The Third Man; Oscar Levant, musician and wit, who "knew Doris Day before she was a virgin"; Leslie Dwyer, who played Mr Partridge, the miserable Punch and Judy man in Hi-De-Hi; Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's great saxophonist, known as Rabbit after his liking for lettuce sandwiches; and not forgetting Clemens Wilmenrod, the first German television chef, who invented Toast Hawaii (yes, involving pineapple).

A J P Taylor was another great television personality whose famous lectures would surely bear repeating. And, as a contrast to Betjeman's often more melancholy message, I would recommend the final suicide note (several drafts were found) of the suave and actorly George Sanders: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."