The British town of Slough was used as a dump for war surplus materials in the interwar years, and then abruptly became the home of 850 new factories just before World War II. The sudden appearance of this "Trading Estate", which was quickly widely produced throughout Britain, prompted the poem. Seeing the new appearance of the town, Betjeman was struck by the "menace of things to come". He later regretted the poem's harshness. The poem is not about Slough specifically, but about the desecration caused by industrialization and modernity in general, with the transformation of Slough being the epitome of these evils. Nevertheless, successive mayors of Slough have understandably objected to the poem.
Much later, in a guide to English churches, Betjeman referred to some churches as "beyond the tentacles of Slough" and "dangerously near Slough". However, on the centenary of Betjeman's birth in 2006, his daughter apologised for the poem. Candida Lycett-Green said her father "regretted having ever written it". During her visit, Mrs Lycett-Green presented Mayor of Slough David MacIsaac with a book of her father's poems. In it was written: "We love Slough".
- Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
- It isn't fit for humans now,
- There isn't grass to graze a cow.
- Swarm over, Death!
- Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
- Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
- Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
- Tinned minds, tinned breath.
- Mess up the mess they call a town -
- A house for ninety-seven down
- And once a week a half a crown
- For twenty years,
- And get that man with double chin
- Who'll always cheat and always win,
- Who washes his repulsive skin
- In women's tears,
- And smash his desk of polished oak
- And smash his hands so used to stroke
- And stop his boring dirty joke
- And make him yell.
- But spare the bald young clerks who add
- The profits of the stinking cad;
- It's not their fault that they are mad,
- They've tasted Hell.
- It's not their fault they do not know
- The birdsong from the radio,
- It's not their fault they often go
- To Maidenhead
- And talk of sport and makes of cars
- In various bogus-Tudor bars
- And daren't look up and see the stars
- But belch instead.
- In labour-saving homes, with care
- Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
- And dry it in synthetic air
- And paint their nails.
- Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
- To get it ready for the plough.
- The cabbages are coming now;
- The earth exhales.
Punk band Gallows (who originally formed in Slough, and whose singer Frank Carter has frequently expressed his dislike for the town in interviews) have several references to Betjeman's poem in their music: their album Orchestra Of Wolves featured a song named "Come Friendly Bombs", and an earlier song entitled "Swarm Over Death" (released on the band's 2005 demo) features the lyrics "Come friendly bombs/ And fall here now/ It isn't fit for humans now/ Swarm over death".
In the first series of The Office, which is set in Slough, Ricky Gervais, in the character of David Brent reads extracts of the poem interjected with derisive comments such as "You don't solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place". The poem is reproduced in full on the liner of the video and DVD releases of this series.
- John Betjeman, John Piper Murray's Buckinghamshire architectural guide. p. 125
- Robert M. Cooper. The literary guide and companion to Middle England. p. 76
- William S. Peterson. John Betjeman: A Bibliography. p. 455
- Kevin Gardner. Faith and Doubt of John Betjeman: An Anthology of his Religious Verse. p.162
- Sir John Betjeman's guide to English parish churches. 1993. pp. 92, 93
- Poetic justice at last for Slough
- "Slough Revisited". Volvic. 19 May 2005. Retrieved 31 January 2010.