Sir John Betjeman, one of the bestloved English poets, who refers to cars in some of his works, such as his father’s elderly Rover landaulette, and even a Bugatti in Oxford, is the subject of two volumes of his Letters, edited and introduced by his daughter, Candida Lycett Green. In the first volume, covering the period 1926 to 1951, she records how her father remembered the happy days at Oxford when in the company of Hamish St Clair-Erskine, son of the Earl and Countess of Rosslyn, they went out in fast cars, driving all night in the flat country near Coolham, and how Betjeman had a Morris Cowley when at Magdalen, in which he and Alan Pryce-Jones used to drive about looking at architecture, hampered at one time because it would only turn left, so that they were confined to a circular route! The Morris was new in late 1927 and so was presumably a flat-radiator model, like the one on which I was taught to drive, and JB described it as very fast and occupying his thoughts very considerably. It was called “Pierce” and perhaps replaced an older Morris Cowley?
By 1934 Betjeman had a Ford Prefect, in which he drove to Challow Station most mornings to catch the London train; it was difficult to start and Ron Liddiard remembered how bad-tempered JB would get, winding the starting handle. By 1947 Betjeman had a grey Vauxhall saloon, which he always drove as fast as it would go. One of these shed a wheel in St Giles’s, Oxford, but JB refused to retrieve it, walking to the Randolph Hotel, where he rang Coxeters Garage about it. The book has some interesting references to the writing and production of the Shell Guides with which Betjeman was associated, and to trying to invent a new name for a Shell motor oil. WB