John Betjemann was born on August 28th, 1906, near Highgate in London, the son of a cabinet maker, a trade which the family had followed for several generations.
John dropped the second 'n' of his surname during the First World War, to make the name less German, something that was common in Britain at the time.
John had no siblings and was a lonely child, and his closest 'friend' was his teddy-bear, Archibald, who John later made the hero of a children's story Archie and the Strict Baptists.
At the age of eleven John became a boarder at Dragon School, Oxford, and at fourteen he went to Marlborough College, one of Britain's most prestigious public schools (for those who aren't aware of the fact, “public schools” are, ironically, private).
The happiest times of John's childhood were spent on holiday with his family Trebetherick, Cornwall. His father owned several properties there, and the place is fondly remembered in many of his poems.
In 1925 Betjeman began his university studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, but, after failing a Divinity examination, he left, without completing his degree.
His first job was as a teacher at Thorpe House School, Gerrard's Cross, which he left to become a private secretary, before returning to teaching at another prep school.
Betjeman became an assistant editor of The Architectural Review in 1930, and his first book of poetry Mount Zion was published a year later, and shortly after this he met and married Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode, who clearly didn't approve of his writer son-in-law.
Betjeman's second book was a commentary on architecture, Ghastly Good Taste, which was published in 1934.
John and Penelope moved to Uffington in Berkshire, and while continuing to write poetry, John worked as film critic for the London Evening Standard. His second volume of poems was Continual Dew (1937). Around this time, he also started work on a series of Shell Guides to the counties of England.
Throughout the 30s and 40s he was prolific and published both books and magazine articles regularly. In 1941, he went to Dublin, as Press Officer to the British Representative there. Apparently the IRA considered assassinating him while he was there, thinking him a spy, but reading his poetry convinced them otherwise.
In 1942 Penelope gave birth to a daughter, Candida and in 1943 Betjeman returned to England to work in the Ministry of Information, though he continued to write for several publications.
In 1951 the family moved to Wantage in Dorset. A Few Late
Chrysanthemums was a year after this, and John became a household name in the UK by the mid 1950's, appearing on radio and television discussing architecture and campaigning to save threatened buildings.
Both his verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells and his Collected Poems were best sellers, and he continued his career in broadcasting throughout the sixties and seventies.
Betjeman received a knighthood in 1969 and on the death of Cecil Day Lewis in 1972, he became Poet Laureate. A Nip in The Air, his last book of new poetry, was published in 1974.
He contracted Parkinson's disease shortly after this, and a series of strokes left his mobility impaired. The family eventually moved to Trebetherick where John Betjeman died on May 19th 1984.