Report of General Monthly Meeting - Tuesday 11th June 2019
Susan Howe: Two British Eccentrics – John Betjeman and James Herriot’s partner, Siegfried
Susan Howe entertained us brilliantly with stories and anecdotes from her varied and colourful life.
Susan worked as Personal Assistant to John Betjeman in the late sixties in his house in Cloth Fair in Smithfield London and was able to recount anecdotes about his life including the exotic visitors to the house, including Barry Humphries, Mary Wilson, Lord Snowdon and Peter Sellers, to mention just a few. We learned of John Betjeman’s obsession with his ancient teddy bear Archie, who went everywhere with him under one arm and with whom Betjeman had many conversations, and a toy elephant Jumbo who was a more recent acquisition but was usually under Betjeman’s other arm. Susan thought that Archie had been inherited by Betjeman’s granddaughter Imogen – that his daughter Candida Lycett-Green had rescued Archie after Betjeman’s death and given him to her daughter Imogen. Susan speculated that part of Betjeman’s quirkiness and individuality originated from his upbringing and family background, including the combination of a father who made him feel a failure and a very strict nanny. Although married to Lady Penelope, Betjeman had a number of lady friends including Lady Elizabeth Cavendish who was the sister of the Duke of Devonshire and was described as formidable and ‘scary’.
Susan had also worked for Donald Sinclair, another eccentric who, known as Siegfried in the television series, had been James Herriot’s partner in the vets’ practice in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.