John Betjeman gives a guided tour of the Metropolitan Line from Baker Street in London to Verney Junction in Buckinghamshire, and of architecture of the suburbs and villages that grew up ... See full summary »



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John Betjeman ...


John Betjeman gives a guided tour of the Metropolitan Line from Baker Street in London to Verney Junction in Buckinghamshire, and of architecture of the suburbs and villages that grew up along its length since the line was opened in the 1890s. Written by Anonymous

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26 February 1973 (UK)  »

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A Romantic Celebration of Englishness
5 September 2014 | by (London) – See all my reviews

Other reviewers have commented perceptively on the subject-matter of Edward Mirozeff's classic 1973 documentary, so there is no need to rehearse that material here. What makes the experience of watching the film so engaging is Betjeman's celebration of suburban life; the elegantly manicured gardens, the houses with their mock-Tudor gables, the grass verges with their oak-trees, all contributing to the illusion that the countryside had somehow been preserved, even though the landscape had been given over to redevelopment. METRO- LAND shows how everyone, not just the aristocrats, could now participate in the celebration of England's green and pleasant land; after having bought their suburban houses, they could cultivate their gardens and thereby refashion the landscape into something beautiful. The idea than "an Englishman's home is his castle" lay at the heart of the suburban dream, making people feel patriotic as well as happy that they now had sufficient financial wherewithal to buy into the English dream.

In the four decades since METRO-LAND was made, a lot has changed; many of the buildings Betjeman celebrates no longer exist. Nonetheless, if we approach the documentary as a period-piece, it still has important things to say to us today. Mirozeff's focus on village rituals - the annual fete in Pinner, the crowning of the Croxley Green queen - suggests that whereas suburbia promoted separate existences (with each family having their own separate plot of land), the village rituals brought them together, to remind them of their responsibilities to the community. The same principle still applies to any event, such as a rummage or car-boot sale.

More importantly, METRO-LAND reminds us that the obsession with home development - that manifests itself in endless do-it-yourself programs on television - is nothing new. In the early Seventies homeowners were still preoccupied with making their properties different from those of their neighbors' - this not only emphasized their individuality, but gave them a sense of well-being, that they were socially superior to everyone else around them. Class- difference mattered in the suburbs. The same is equally true today - witness the ways in which properties are endlessly remodeled with the addition of extra bedrooms, conservatories, gardens with decks, or water features.

The documentary's ending is slightly paradoxical; having spent forty-five minutes celebrating the growth and development of the English suburb, Betjeman expresses relief that the landscape at the end of the Metropolitan Line remained largely untouched (at that time). Some of England's green and pleasant land had been left to Mother Nature, rather than being colonized by developers. This view suggests that suburban development was somehow destructive, which contradicts what he suggested earlier on. In truth Betjeman had an ambiguous view of the suburbs as areas to be celebrated yet derided, that both endorsed yet destroyed the idea of rural England.

The subject-matter of METRO-LAND might be rather too esoteric for non-British viewers, but the program nonetheless offers a fascinating fragment of social history.

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