Candida Lycett Green

Candida Lycett Green

Candida Lycett Green (born 1942) is a writer and journalist who has done much to keep alive the memory of her father, Sir John Betjeman.

Early years

Candida Rose Betjeman was born Paula Rose Betjeman in September 1942 in Dublin, Ireland, where her father was wartime press attaché at the British Embassy [See, for example, Brian Girvin (2006) "The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939-45"] . She later adopted the name Candida.

Her mother, the Hon Penelope Valentine Hester Betjeman, "née" Chetwode (1910-86), was the daughter of Field-Marshall Sir Philip, 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 ["The Strenuous Lfe": "On the cabin roof lie I/Gazing into vacancy ..." ("The Times", 6 January 2007)] . She regretted not asking her father more about his parents: "but it's not vital when you're young" ["The Times", 6 January 2007] .

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, Oxfordshire in 1951 (these all being situated close to the border between the two counties).


Known to her parents as "Wibz", Candida was educated at St Mary’s, Wantage (founded 1873), from which she was expelled at the age of 15 [A N Wilson (2006) "Betjeman". Wilson gave the age of Lycett Green's leaving school, but did not refer to her expulsion.] after taking a late evening drive in a motor car with a boy who had just passed his driving test [Candida Lycett Green in "Country Life", 26 April 2007. Lycett Green observed that she had spurned the boy's "fumbling advances, believing heavy petting to be a mortal sin" "(ibid.)"] . In 2007 she revisited the school after its merger with Heathfield, near Ascot and shortly before its demolition. She recalled, among other things, trying to learn tap dancing in the gymnasium behind which she smoked her first cigarettes and how, when playing the part of Cecily Cardew in Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest", tissue paper that had been used to give her the appearance of a bust had fallen out during a performance ["Country Life", 26 April 2007] .

In her teens Candida 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" ["Country Life", 1 February 2007] .

Candida took a course in sculpture at a technical college in Oxford. There she met John Wells and Richard Ingrams, then undergraduates at the 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" [See Humphrey Carpenter in "Oxford Today", Hilary 2001] , while another "Eye" journalist Paul Foot, not known for hyperbole, described Candida as "the most beautiful woman in Oxford" [Harry Thompson (1994) "Richard Ingrams: Lord of the Gnomes"] .


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" [John Crosby, "Weekend Telegraph", 16 April 1965] . 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.

Journalism and writing

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" [Thompson, "Richard Ingrams: Lord of the Gnomes"] )," Vogue", "Country Life" and "The Oldie".

Lycett Green has shared some of her father's campagning 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 ["Country Life", 9 October 2003] .

Betjeman centenary (2006)

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 [ [ BBC NEWS | England | Berkshire | Poetic justice at last for Slough ] ] , 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?" ["Country Life", 8 June 2006] ) and being followed around Cornwall by a television crew ("I have had a microphone down my bra for almost two days now" ["Country Life", 7 September 2006] ).

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 ["Country Life", 26 April 2007] . She herself unveiled the completed work by Martin Jennings on 12 November 2007.


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