Date: 28/10/2020
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Billet doo

As a fan of John Betjeman, I look forward to John Derbyshire’s article about him. I hope that Mr Derbyshire will not make the embarrassing mistake A N Wilson made in his new biography of the poet. From the Sunday Times:


HIS one regret, Sir John Betjeman once said, was that he had not had enough sex. So the late poet laureate’s biographer could be forgiven the thrill of discovery he felt when someone sent him a passionate love letter supposedly written by Betjeman to a mistress.

Now, however, it turns out that the poet, born 100 years ago tomorrow, never wrote the letter. Instead, A N Wilson, the biographer, admitted this weekend he had fallen victim to an elaborate hoax.

The trick was so successful that the letter has been published in Wilson’s new book Betjeman as evidence of the poet’s previously unknown “fling”.

The giveaway — and a clue that a bitter rival of Wilson’s may be behind the trick — is that the capital letters at the beginning of the sentences in the letter spell out a vivid personal insult to the biographer.

After a Sunday Times reporter pointed this out to him this weekend, Wilson reread the letter and said: “I should have smelt a rat . . . Obviously the letter is a joke, a hoax.”

The identity of the trickster is not known, but one acknowledged rival of Wilson has denied involvement. Bevis Hillier, author of a three-volume biography of Betjeman, said that, although he found Wilson “despicable”, he was “not guilty” of the hoax.

The “love letter” appeared to have been written by Betjeman in May 1944, 11 years after he had married Penelope Chetwode.

It was addressed to Honor Tracy, an Anglo-Irish writer with whom Betjeman worked at the Admiralty during the war.

So, what was this “vivid personal insult” that Wilson’s enemy had gone to so much trouble to bury in the hoax letter? Some witty piece of Swiftian invective? Well, let’s take a look at the capital letters and see what Wilson missed:

            Darling Honor

I loved yesterday. All day, I’ve thought of nothing else. No other love I’ve had means so much. Was it just an aberration on your part, or will you meet me at Mrs Holmes’s again – say on Saturday? I won’t be able to sleep until I have your answer.

Love has given me a miss for so long, and now this miracle has happened. Sex is a part of it, of course, but I have a Romaunt of the Rose feeling about it too. On Saturday we could have lunch at Fortt’s, then go back to Mrs H’s. Never mind if you can’t make it then. I am free on Sunday too or Sunday week. Signal me tomorrow as to whether and when you can come.

Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the army are v funny. He’s somebody I’d like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters even funnier than his books. Tinkerty-tonk, my darling. I pray I’ll hear from you tomorrow.

If I don’t, I’ll visit your office in a fake beard.

All love, JB

Yes, that’s right: “A N Wilson is a shit.” Perhaps in due course we will find a forged letter in Bevis Hillier’s biography with the coded message: “Bevis is a butthead.”