John Betjeman was discounted by the government as a ‘lightweight’ as they searched for a new Poet Laureate in 1967 – five years before he was awarded the title.
Favorite poet John Betjeman missed out on the Cecil Day-Lewis Poet Laureate Five years later, when Ted Heath was at number ten, Betjeman was finally shortlisted.
John Betjeman was discounted as a ‘lightweight’ by Harold Wilson’s government as they wanted a new Poet Laureate in 1967, newly released files reveal.
Favorite poet was dropped to Cecil Day-Lewis – but the post came up again five years later, when Ted Heath was number 10 and Betjeman was chosen.
Official documents released today by the National Archives shed fascinating light on the cut-throat process by which Number 10 aides drew up a secret list of candidates.
Whitehall officials seek the opinions of literary experts on rivals – often scathing – before recommending a poet to the king for the prime minister’s appointment.
After the post became available when John Masefield died in 1967, Recruitment Secretary Sir John Hewitt advised Wilson that Betjeman was ‘a lightweight’.
John Betjeman was ‘lightly’ discounted by Harold Wilson’s government as they wanted a new Poet Laureate in 1967, newly released files reveal.
Misses beloved poet Cecil Day-Lewis (Photo: Cecil Day-Lewis at his home in Greenwich, London)
He warned that his appointment would be seen as ‘backward-looking’ and that his work was not on the same level as Day-Lewis – a sharp blow to a man now regarded as one of the country’s favorite poets.
But he got off lightly compared to the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who was dismissed as ‘heavy in a bottle’.
And Betjeman’s age — he was then in his 60s — at least counted in his favor. One critic said: ‘It’s important to hire a sound, traditional figure and not one of the young lunatics.’
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