With a meticulous eye for the traditional and the absurd, Sir John Betjeman sketched in verse the people and places of the British Isles with warmth, and candour; effervescent fun and an uncompromising rhyme.
Despite self-doubt, he unashamedly embraced the bawdy humour of the music hall and the evolving BBC - while campaigning hard to protect the country’s great architectural treasures.
There is no actor more suited to assuming the mantle of such a self-deprecating quintessentially English genius than Edward Fox, and with his customary good manners gently explores this Poet Laureate and self-styled media ‘hack’ through reminiscence blended seamlessly with a generous smattering of the poems.
This is not merely a literary snapshot. From 79-year-old Fox it’s a masterclass in how to deliver a one-man recital of prose, poetry and sublime understatement and to mesmerise an audience.
The Minerva gives the required intimacy. For this has all the casual spontaneity of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats. But the laughter that Fox rekindles does not short-change on the often brutal pathos. A final conversation between Betjeman and his life-long Teddy Bear reveals the uncertainties and the abiding sense of hope.
Without Betjeman today there would be no St Pancras. The heart would have been ripped from Georgian Bath. The verses devoted to gleaming church spires and robust young ladies would be blank. And Fox would be denied the reason and purpose for an impeccably crafted performance.