This film is part of Free

Poet Goes North

A long-lost BBC documentary of John Betjeman reflecting, in his unhurried manner, his sense that something vital was being lost and singling out what should be preserved.

Documentary 1968 26 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for Yorkshire Film Archive


Also known as A Poet Goes North, Betjeman does what he did best, engage us with his passion and discernment. With his inimitable style, Leeds becomes the recipient of his observations on its architecture and built environment. Contrasted to the skyline of St Paul’s House and Marshal Mill are “the battle of the cubes” and that “brutal building over there that only says cash.” Sitting on the steps of back-to-back houses, he ponders the impoverished civic imagination.

This BBC film wasn’t aired at the time of its production in 1968, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It was unearthed twenty years later on top of a cupboard at Leeds Civic Trust. Betjeman was one of the founders of the Victorian Society when it was set up in 1958 for the preservation and appreciation of Victorian architecture. By this time Betjeman had already made thirty two films for Shell between 1955 and 1956 and three British Transport films. Going on to make 26 films for the BBC during the 1960s and 1970s, Betjeman became an important figure in the, still on-going, debates around modernism in architecture. The BBC producer John Mapplebeck relates that Betjeman started the day with a glass of champagne.