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Metro-Land (1973)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Metro-Land (1973)
BBC, tx. 26/2/1973, 50 mins, colour
ProducerEdward Mirzoeff
Production CompanyBBC Television
Written byJohn Betjeman
PhotographyJohn McGlashan

Cast: John Betjeman

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John Betjeman takes us on a trip on the Metropolitan Line through north-west London into Buckinghamshire.

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Metro-Land is widely regarded as John Betjeman's television masterpiece, and it's easy to see why. Although it's based on what by 1973 was a very familiar formula, that of the newly-appointed Poet Laureate taking a train trip and examining points of interest along the way, the north-western branch of London's Metropolitan Line from Baker Street to Amersham and beyond offered an unusually large amount of historical, social, cultural and architectural interest.

Early research turned up a major find in the form of the 1910 film A Trip on the Metropolitan Railway. This charted a similar journey made some 62 years earlier, showing what the surrounding landscape looked like before suburban housing was constructed to take advantage of the commuting potential. Much of this happened between the First and Second World Wars, and the area was popularly known as 'Metro-Land'.

After a delightful title sequence in which a sneak preview of the entire journey is given in speeded-up form, Betjeman's journey takes us through the defunct Marlborough Road station (now an Angus Steak House) through Neasden and Wembley, where we hear about 'Watkin's Folly', a doomed attempt at rivalling the then-new Eiffel Tower that was sponsored by Metropolitan Railway chairman Sir Edward Watkin in 1890.

Then to Harrow, where exotically-named houses rub shoulders with the famous public school. At Moor Park, trompe l'oeil paintings adorn the ceiling of the golf club, and Betjeman's initial failure to hit the ball produced a reaction so delicious that it made the final cut. He also drops in on a meeting of the all-female Byron Luncheon Club, and pays a visit to Grim's Dyke, the house where the great lyricist W.S. Gilbert lived, and in whose grounds he met his death when saving a young woman from drowning.

Betjeman regards Chorley Wood as "essential Metro-Land", a perfect balance of town and country, the site of the architect C.F.A. Voysey's self-designed family home, and of Len Rawle's lock, stock and barrel relocation of the mighty Wurlitzer organ originally installed in a Leicester Square cinema.

The programme ends on a typically wistful note, as Betjeman travels to the end of the original line, its Quainton Road and Verney Junction stations long defunct, their original ambitions to be the hub of central England's train network unrealised. But, Betjeman concludes as he looks over at the verdant Buckinghamshire woods, this may not have been altogether a bad thing.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. High-speed travel (1:10)
2. Watkin's Folly (2:27)
3. Moor Park Golf Club (2:26)
4. Voysey's House (3:58)
5. Len Rawle's Wurlitzer (1:53)
John Betjeman Goes By Train (1962)
Trip on the Metropolitan Railway, A (1910)
Betjeman, Sir John (1906-1984)