Candida Lycett Green

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Candida Lycett Green (left) unveiling a plaque commemorating her father, John Betjeman. Marylebone Station, 2006.

Candida Lycett Green (born 1942) is the author of sixteen books including English Cottages, Goodbye London, The Perfect English House, Over the Hills and Far Away and The Dangerous Edge of Things. Her television documentaries include “The Englishwoman and the Horse” and “The Front Garden”. Unwrecked England, based on a regular column of the same name she has written for The Oldie since 1992, was published in 2009. She has been described as "the finest writer of our time on the English countryside".[1] She has also edited and introduced her father John Betjeman’s letters and prose in three volumes to critical acclaim. She was a commissioner of English Heritage for nine years and her proudest achievement is the role she played in the regeneration of Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Stoke-On-Trent. She is a member of the Performing Rights Society through her song-writing lyrics and has been a Contributing Editor to Vogue since 1987. She was part of the original team who started Private Eye. Nicky Haslam nominated Lycett Green as the living person he most admired ("beautiful, brave, strong, clever, loving and loved")[2]

Early years[edit]

Candida Rose Betjeman was born in September 1942 in Dublin, Ireland, where her father, John Betjeman, was wartime press attaché at the British Embassy.[3]The famous Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, a friend of her father, celebrated her birth with a poem "Candida".

Her mother, the Hon. Penelope Valentine Hester Betjeman, née Chetwode (1910–86), was the daughter of Field-Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode, afterwards Lord Chetwode (1869–1950). Her paternal grandparents, Ernest and Mabel ("Bess") Betjemann (her father dispensed with the second "n"), died in 1934 and 1951 respectively. In 2007 Lycett Green attributed to Ernest Betjemann, said by her father to be a hater of verse, a poem found in the log book of a yacht he had sailed on the Norfolk Broads in the 1920s.[4] She regretted not asking her father more about his parents: "but it's not vital when you're young".[5]

An elder brother, Paul, was born in 1937. The Betjemans returned to England in 1943, moving from Uffington, which was then in Berkshire, to Farnborough, Berkshire in 1945 and thence to Wantage, now in Oxfordshire, in 1951 (these all being situated close to the present-day border between the two counties).


Known to her parents as "Wibz", Candida Betjeman was educated at St Mary’s, Wantage.

In her teens, Candida Betjeman rode ponies competitively; on one occasion, her distinguished father, having spelt out his surname for the purpose of sending a telegram, was asked by a local telephonist if he were "any relation of the little girl who wins all the prizes at the horse shows".[6]

Candida Betjeman took a course in sculpture at a technical college in Oxford. There she met John Wells and Richard Ingrams, then undergraduates at Oxford University, who, shortly afterwards, founded the satirical magazine Private Eye, to which she became a regular contributor. Ingrams, who had gone up to Oxford after National Service, was disappointed to find that it was (as he put it) "just a lot of men in duffel coats wandering up and down the High Street",[7] while another Eye journalist Paul Foot, not known for hyperbole, described Candida as "the most beautiful woman in Oxford".[8]


On 25 May 1963, Candida Betjeman married Rupert Lycett Green (unhyphenated), a rising figure in the tailoring business, whose shop Blades opened first in Dover Street, London and later in Savile Row. His particular kind of entrepreneurialism was said at the time to "typify the revolt of the upper class young".[9] The couple had five children.

During the "swinging" sixties the Lycett Greens were associated with members of London’s "in" crowd, Blades being frequented by many stars of the period, including the Beatles, actor Terence Stamp and John Aspinall, founder of the Clermont Club. In 1967 Candida wrote a poem called the Knightsbridge Ballade that was evocative of the period. In this, the subject (aged 18 as opposed to the poet’s 25) declared that she was "frightfully keen" on Terence Stamp and wished she had a bigger bust: "Though Mummy says it's frightfully smart/And any more would beckon lust".[10]

Journalism and writing[edit]

Lycett Green edited two volumes of her father’s letters (1994–5) and an anthology of his prose, Coming Home (1997). In the second volume of letters she described herself as a hoarder of correspondence (unlike her brother) and referred to her late father (with her husband) as her best friend. Lycett Green contributed to a number of magazines, including Queen (from which she was dismissed because of her association with Private Eye),[11] Vogue, Country Life and The Oldie.

Lycett Green has shared some of her father's campaigning zeal, as regards, in particular, the perceived erosion of England's fabric. They both found an outlet in the "Nooks and Corners" column in Private Eye (to which Betjeman was the first contributor in 1971) and she later contributed to "Unwrecked England" in The Oldie (also founded by Richard Ingrams). In an article in Country Life in 2003 Lycett Green identified several aspects of English life which had become "universal fixtures in our mind's eye": cricket on the village green, Trooping the Colour, bands playing in a town park, the Women's Institute singing Jerusalem, pearly kings and queens at the Lord Mayor's show and discussions about the weather over a pint of beer in the local pub.[12]

Betjeman centenary (2006)[edit]

Statue (2007) of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras Station.

In 2006, Lycett Green organised various events to mark the centenary of her father’s birth. These included a gala at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London and a jamboree in Cornwall for eight thousand people. There were also excursions by train from London to Bristol and, through “Metro-land”, to Quainton Road; Lycett Green unveiled a commemorative plaque at Marylebone station to mark Betjeman's fond association with the railways. Presenting the Mayor of Slough, Berkshire, with a book of her father’s poems,[13] she made clear that he had regretted his mildly notorious poem of 1937:

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now.

She herself wrote about the organisation of these various events, noting the intricacies of the rail schedules ("How long will the train stop at Ruislip so that [the poem] Middlesex can be read over the tannoy?")[14] and being followed around Cornwall by a television crew ("I have had a microphone down my bra for almost two days now").[15]

In 2007 Lycett Green was a member of "an alarmingly grown up" panel of judges to select a sculptor for a bronze statue of her father that was erected on the concourse of the redeveloped St. Pancras station in London.[16] She herself unveiled the completed work by Martin Jennings on 12 November 2007.

Candida Lycett Green is the chair of the John Betjeman Poetry Competition for Young People. To honour the memory of her father's life work, the spirit of the poetry competition (2006 –) is to encourage young people to develop an appreciation of their local environment by depicting a sense of place.


  1. ^ Country Life
  2. ^ The Guardian; 26 October 2002
  3. ^ See, for example, Girvin, Brian (2006) The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939–45
  4. ^ The Strenuous Lfe: "On the cabin roof lie I/Gazing into vacancy ..." (The Times, 6 January 2007)
  5. ^ The Times, 6 January 2007
  6. ^ Country Life, 1 February 2007
  7. ^ See Humphrey Carpenter in Oxford Today, Hilary 2001
  8. ^ Thompson, Harry (1994) Richard Ingrams: Lord of the Gnomes
  9. ^ John Crosby, Weekend Telegraph, 16 April 1965
  10. ^ See Lines on the Underground (compiled by Dorothy Meade & Tatiana Meade, 1994), p203
  11. ^ Thompson, Richard Ingrams: Lord of the Gnomes
  12. ^ Country Life, 9 October 2003
  13. ^ Berkshire: Poetic justice at last for Slough, BBC News.
  14. ^ Country Life, 8 June 2006
  15. ^ Country Life, 7 September 2006
  16. ^ Country Life, 26 April 2007

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