He fell in love and proposed to many girls who bore surnames to make any social climber tremble, including Camilla Russell and Pam Mitford.In a 2001 BBC documentary, John Betjeman: the Last Laugh, one of his conquests, Wilhelmine Creswell, now Lady Harrod, painted an unflattering picture of Betjeman the party animal: "He was just a sort of joke we all knew, really. And his teeth were covered in green slime." It didn't, however, stop him from proposing to Ms Creswell, nor she from accepting. "It was just a thing John did," the fiancée recalled later.He asked Bonavia if he might take her to lunch, was given permission (she herself seems not to have been consulted) and, in the taxi to the restaurant, showed her a copy of Horizon magazine and said, "I hope you don't mind but I've written a poem about you." She was, she said, "Overwhelmed - actually, all that about the subaltern and the engagement is sheer fantasy, but my life was very like the poem." Her life was the object of Betjeman's love, quite as much as her burnish'd skin.He came from a comfortable middle-class background; his father was a successful furniture-maker of Dutch ancestry.The Betjeman lecher often sounds like a voyeur or a stalker, peeping and lurking and plotting to seize his chance. In The Olympic Girl he wishes he were "her racket press'd/ With hard excitement to her breast." In a late poem, "Senex", he is overcome with inconvenient desire as he ponders an array of girls' bicycle saddles.In Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden he eulogises: "Pam, you great big mountainous sports girl," and faints with longing for her sturdily masculine allure: "See the strength of her arm, as firm and hairy as Hendren's;/ See the size of her thighs, the pout of her lips as, cross,/ And full of pent-up strength, she swipes at the rhododendrons,/ Lucky the rhododendrons." Lucky indeed.The poem he wrote for her, A Subaltern's Love Song, a paean of rapture over a posh tennis partner, is full of the now-familiar Bertie Wooster-ish hopelessness of the nervous lover, but full too of the quivering social dread of the outsider.
There, floundering a little among the nobs, he compensated by romancing the ladies.But he engineered a meeting with the girl with red hair, in the office of a friend called Michael Bonavia.As Joan came through the door, Betjeman sank to one knee, and she burst out laughing.He liked girls and he liked the idea of being in love.So we got engaged, but it didn't mean anything." Things were more serious with Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode.