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Executive -- John Betjeman

My contribution to the work theme...
(Poem #543) Executive
I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm's Cortina.
In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
The maîtres d'hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I'm partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I'm viable from ten o'clock till five.

For vital off-the-record work - that's talking transport-wise -
I've a scarlet Aston-Martin - and does she go? She flies!
Pedestrians and dogs and cats, we mark them down for slaughter.
I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.

She's built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her 'Mandy Jane'
After a bird I used to know - No soda, please, just plain -
And how did I acquire her? Well, to tell you about that
And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.

I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that's rather run to seed
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire -
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.

And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere
A 'dangerous structure' notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way -
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.
-- John Betjeman
Despite the common complaint that having to study poems in school 'ruins'
them, I've always found my textbooks a lovely source of new poets. One such
happy discovery was Betjeman, one of my favourite modern poets, and while
'Executive' is far from his best poem, it was the one that got me hooked on
his work.

The poem's attractions are evident. 'Executive' is not just a good poem; it
is a distinctive one (indeed, much of Betjeman's poetry is - he has a very
distinct and original style, though it is hard to say just what makes it so
individual). The quick-paced, breezy monologue, laden with buzzwords,
captures the image of the yuppie to perfection - note the almost comically
boastful tone, the attention paid to status symbols, and ruthless efficiency
the narrator upholds as an ideal. Note, also, the hilarious parody of
corporate speak in the second verse - indeed, I was surprised to see that
the poem was written back in 1974; a phrase like 'essentially I integrate
the current export drive' seems straight out of Dilbert.


Betjeman, Sir John
b. Aug. 28, 1906, London, Eng.
d. May 19, 1984, Trebetherick, Cornwall

British poet known for his nostalgia for the near past, his exact sense of
place, and his precise rendering of social nuance, which made him widely
read in England at a time when much of what he wrote about was rapidly
vanishing. The poet, in near-Tennysonian rhythms, satirized lightly the
promoters of empty and often destructive "progress" and the foibles of his
own comfortable class. As an authority on English architecture and
topography, he did much to popularize Victorian and Edwardian building and
to protect what remained of it from destruction.

The son of a prosperous businessman, Betjeman grew up in a London suburb,
where T.S. Eliot was one of his teachers. He later studied at Marlborough
College (a public school) and Magdalen College, Oxford. The years from early
childhood until he left Oxford were detailed in Summoned by Bells (1960),
blank verse interspersed with lyrics.

Betjeman's first book of verse, Mount Zion, and his first book on
architecture, Ghastly Good Taste, appeared in 1933. Churches, railway
stations, and other elements of a townscape figure largely in both books.
Four more volumes of poetry appeared before the publication of Collected
Poems (1958). His later collections were High and Low (1966), A Nip in the
Air (1974), Church Poems (1981), and Uncollected Poems (1982). Betjemen's
celebration of the more settled Britain of yesteryear seemed to touch a
responsive chord in a public that was suffering the uprootedness of World
War II and its austere aftermath.

Betjeman's prose works include several guidebooks to English counties; First
and Last Loves (1952), essays on places and buildings; The English Town in
the Last Hundred Years (1956); and English Churches (1964; with Basil
Clarke). He was knighted in 1969, and in 1972 he succeeded C. Day-Lewis as
poet laureate of England. [And was succeeded in 1984 by Ted Hughes - m.]

        -- EB


For another biography, see [broken link]

And while you're at it, take a look at the rest of the official Betjeman


p.s. Thanks to Thomas for manning the fort while I was away

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