British poet and author. He was knighted in 1969 and appointed poet laureate in 1972. Among many other honours he was awarded the Queen's Medal for Poetry (1960).
After a somewhat lonely childhood in London and education at Marlborough, Betjeman went up to Oxford. Here he failed to distinguish himself academically but found his métier as a poet and made many friends. His earliest publications, the poems Mount Zion (1932) and the architectural essays Ghastly Good Taste (1933), reveal his preoccupations with suburban dreariness, ecclesiastical architecture, High-Church Anglicanism, death, and English topography. Other volumes of verse followed: Continual Dew (1937), Old Lights for New Chancels (1940), New Bats in Old Belfries (1945), and Selected Poems (1948). A Few Late Chrysanthemums (1954) won him an appreciative readership, and his Collected Poems (1958) was a best-seller. In 1960 his verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells, was an immediate success.
Betjeman's interest in the English landscape was revealed in the several county guides he wrote alone or in collaboration with John Piper. He also did a great deal to raise public awareness of the merits of Victorian and Edwardian architecture during a period in which this was unfashionable. His poetry continues to be popular among readers who might otherwise read very little twentieth-century poetry but who like his use of traditional verse forms, his gentle satire, his self-deprecation, and his affectionate description of the English scene.