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John Betjeman of Slough

History of Slough
  • Author

No, the poet Laureate wasn't born in Slough, but having written the most damning poem about the town, it is hardly surprising that Slough has been struggling to fight off its tarnished image for decades.


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 for 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 sports 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.


For the record, here's a brief resume of the Slough batterer!!

John Betjeman was born in 1906 and educated at Marlborough and Oxford. His wife, a daughter of Field-Marshal Lord Chetwode, was herself writer of distinction. His long autobiographical poem, Summoned by Bells, gives the background to his childhood in Highgate, North London. It was the subject of a highly successful BBC television film, one of several for which Sir John wrote the scripts and in which he appeared as narrator. A founder of the British Victorian Society, he was a well-known broadcaster and leading authority on architecture, particularly Victorian church architecture, and topographical subjects. However, it was as a poet that he was best known and loved. He received many of the major British literary prizes: the Royal Society of Literature Award under the Heinemann Bequest; the annual Foyle Poetry Prize (twice); and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. In 1960 he was given the CBE; in 1969 the Queen knighted him; and in 1972 he was appointed Poet Laureate. He died in 1984.

John Guest began publishing in 1938 with a job in Collins as proof-reader. In 1949, after service overseas in the City of London Yeomanry, he joined Longmans as Literary Advisor. In the same year Longmans published his war journal, Broken Images, which won the Royal Society of Literature Award under the Heinemann Bequest.

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