Summoned by Bells

Book jacket of Summoned by Bells

Summoned by Bells, the blank verse autobiography by John Betjeman, describes his life from his early memories of a middle-class home in Edwardian Hampstead, London, to his premature departure from Magdalen College, Oxford.

The book was first published in November 1960 by Betjeman's London publishers, John Murray, and was read by the author, chapter by chapter, in a series of radio broadcasts on the Third Programme (later to become Radio Three) of the BBC. A later, illustrated edition with line and water colour illustrations by Hugh Casson was published in 1989 by Murray (ISBN 0-7195-4696-6).[1] A paperback edition appeared in 2001.[2]

There is also a BBC film version directed by Jonathan Stedall for television in 1976.[3] In an autobiography covering the life of Betjeman before he started his first job, narrated in blank verse by him, Betjeman visits places that played an important part in his early life.


  • Chapter I — Before MCMXIV   Memories of the nursery – realisation of class, you could look up:
But what of us in our small villa row
Who gazed into the Burdett-Coutts estate?
I knew we were a lower lesser world …

and, socially and geographically, down

Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak.
  • Chapter II — The Dawn of Guilt   The author prefers poetry to his father's fascinating world of trade.
  • Chapter III — Highgate   His love for Miss Peggy Purey-Cust and trouble with rivals.
  • Chapter IV — Cornwall in Childhood Evocative sounds and smells of childhood holidays in Cornwall.
  • Chapter V — Private School To the Dragon School in Oxford, a new interest in churches.
  • Chapter VI — London John's father is doing well, they have moved to Chelsea, "the slummy end"; but he preferred leafy Hampstead.
  • Chapter VII — Marlborough After a depressing start, the discovery of literature, nature and the Wiltshire Downs.
  • Chapter VIII — Cornwall in Adolescence Adolescent family troubles — an independent exploration of Cornwall.
  • Chapter IX — The Opening World Up to Magdalen College, Oxford, influences, failing at divinity.

Places mentioned in the book

A Ring of Bells

In 1962 Betjeman released an abridged version of the book for children, with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone.

See also


  1. ^ John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells. John Murray, 1989. ISBN 0-7195-4696-6.
  2. ^ John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells. John Murray, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7195-6031-6.
  3. ^ Summoned by Bells with Sir John Betjeman, BBC DVD, 2007.

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