John Betjeman was born on August 28th, 1906, near Highgate, London. His father was Ernest Betjemann, a cabinet maker, a trade which had been in the family for several generations. The family name was Betjemann, with two 'n's, but John dropped the second 'n' during the First World War, to make the name less German.
John was an only child, and by all accounts had a lonely childhood, taking comfort from his teddy bear, Archibald, later to feature in his children's story, Archie and the Strict Baptists.
Having attended his first schools in Highgate, John became a boarder at Dragon School, Oxford, aged eleven. Three years later, he went to Marlborough College, again as a boarder.
Throughout John's childhood, his family went for holidays to Trebetherick in Cornwall, where his father owned a number of properties. These seemed to have been the happiest times for JB, and are remembered in many of his poems.
In 1925, JB went to Magdalen College, Oxford. However, the many distractions of college life meant that he did not complete his degree, having failed a Divinity exam. He became a teacher at Thorpe House School, Gerrard's Cross, before working as a private secretary, and then at another prep school.
In 1930, JB became an assistant editor of The Architectural Review. In 1931, his first book of poems, Mount Zion, was published by an old Oxford friend, Edward James. Soon afterwards, JB met and married Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode, a former Commander-in-Chief in India. It was clear that he did not approve of JB.
His second book was Ghastly Good Taste, a commentary on architecture, published in 1934.
JB and Penelope moved to Uffington in Berkshire, and John was given the job of film critic for the Evening Standard, but he continued to write poetry, and his next book, Continual Dew, appeared in 1937. He also began work on the series of Shell Guides to the counties of England.
His prolific writing output continued throughout the 30s and 40s, with books and magazine articles appearing regularly. In 1941, JB went to Dublin, as the Press Officer to the British Representative. Many years later, it was revealed that the IRA thought he was a spy, and considered assassinating him. However, on reading his poetry, they decided otherwise. His daughter Candida was born in 1942.
Returning to England in 1943, JB worked in the Ministry of Information, and continued to write for a number of publications. The family eventually settled in Wantage in 1951. A Few Late Chrysanthemums was published in 1952, and by the mid 1950's, JB was a well-known figure, making both radio and television appearances, commenting on architecture and campaigning for many threatened buildings. Collected Poems and his verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells, were both best sellers. His broadcasting career continued during the 1960's and 70's, with documentaries such as Metroland and A Passion for Churches.
In 1969, he was knighted, and when Cecil Day Lewis died in 1972, JB was made Poet Laureate.
His last book of new poems, A Nip in The Air, was published in 1974. After that, he began to suffer from Parkinson's Disease, and a series of strokes reduced his mobility.
John Betjeman died on May 19th 1984, at his home in Trebetherick. He was buried in the nearby church of St.Enodoc.
Biography from: JohnBetjeman.com