Metro-Land (1973 film)

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Title card of Metro-land
Written by John Betjeman
Produced by Edward Mirzoeff
Narrated byJohn Betjeman
CinematographyJohn McGlashan
Distributed by BBC One
Release date
26 February 1973 (1973-02-26)
Running time
50 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Metro-land is a BBC documentary film written and narrated by the then Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Sir John Betjeman. It was directed by Edward Mirzoeff, and first broadcast on 26 February 1973. The film celebrates suburban life in the area to the northwest of London that grew up in the early 20th century around the Metropolitan Railway (MR)—later the Metropolitan line of the London Underground.


"Live in Metro-land" was a slogan coined by the MR for promotional purposes in about 1915, and used for about twenty years until shortly after the incorporation of the MR into the railways division of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933. As Betjeman himself puts it at the beginning of Metro-land, it was a "Child of the First War, forgotten by the Second". Betjeman carries with him, as he travels, the pamphlet guide to Metro-land from the 1920s.

The film was critically acclaimed and is fondly remembered today. A DVD was released in 2006 to coincide with the centenary of Betjeman's birth.

The concept

According to its creator Edward Mirzoeff, the programme was conceived in 1971 over a lunch with John Betjeman at Wheeler's Restaurant in Soho. [1] The two had recently collaborated on a BBC series called Bird's-Eye View, which offered an aerial vision of Britain. Metro-land was directly commissioned by Robin Scott, Controller of BBC2, with the initial working title of "The Joys of Urban Living", following a flowery personal letter from Betjeman. As completed, it is a series of vignettes of life in the suburbs of Metro-land, drawn together by Betjeman's commentary—partly in verse—whose text was published in 1978, [2] and interwoven with black-and-white film shot from a Metropolitan Railway (MR) train in 1910. It is 49 minutes in length.

Locations in Metro-land

Betjeman's first appearance in Metro-land is over the remains of a pint of beer in a station buffet, reminiscent of a scene in the film Brief Encounter (1945). This sequence was filmed at Horsted Keynes, on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex. Other locations include:

The house in Langford Place, St John's Wood St johns wood 1.jpg
The house in Langford Place, St John's Wood
End of the line: Quainton Road in the direction of Verney Junction, 2006 Quaintain Road - End of the line.JPG
End of the line: Quainton Road in the direction of Verney Junction, 2006

Critical reception

In general, Metro-land was favourably and warmly received. Miles Kington wrote to Mirzoeff that it was "just about the most satisfying TV programme, on all levels, that I've ever seen". [1] Clive James, writing in The Observer , dubbed it an "instant classic" and predicted accurately that "they’ll be repeating it until the millennium".

It was shown on BBC Four in 2006, in the same week that the DVD was released, and more recently was shown on BBC Four again in January and June 2013, and in September 2014. Its most recent screening was on BBC Four on 26 February 2023 to mark exactly the fiftieth anniversary of its first transmission. [11] Christopher Booker rated it as the best of Betjeman's television programmes ("Like others, I have been endlessly grateful … over the years for the more public activities of the 'outer' Betjeman"), [12] while Betjeman's biographer A. N. Wilson recalled that it was "too good to be described simply as a 'programme'". [13]

In a contemporaneous review for the London Evening Standard , Simon Jenkins launched into imitative verse: "For an hour he held enraptured/Pinner, Moor Park, Chorley Wood./'Well I’m blowed' they said, 'He likes us./Knew one day that someone should."

Music soundtrack

"Tiger Rag" by the Temperance Seven is heard over the opening title sequence – a 33 rpm vinyl disc played at 45 rpm to provide "a suitably manic sound" [14] – and is followed by "Build a Little Home" by Roy Fox. As Betjeman sits at a table in the Chiltern Court restaurant, "When the Daisy Opens her Eyes" by Albert Sandler plays. When Betjeman looks at 12 Langford Place, 'Agapemone', 'the abode of love', country house of the Reverend John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, "The Witch of Endor" from "Le Roi David" by Arthur Honegger is heard.

The sequence at Neasden is accompanied by the song of the same name by William Rushton. The Wembley sequence features three tunes: Elgar's "Civic Fanfare", towards the beginning, Walford Davies' "Solemn Melody" (as Betjeman stands in the Palace of Arts), while the pleasure park footage uses the beginning and the end of the 1926 recording of "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" by the Savoy Havana Band (HMV B-5027). The section that features people working in Harrow is accompanied by "Family Favourites" by Rod McNeil and "Down by the Lazy River" by The Osmonds.

During the sequence at Harrow School, the "Harrow School Song" is heard. When the sequence of stained-glass windows at Harrow are shown, "Sunny Side of the Street" by Jack Hylton plays. Part of the segment on Grim's Dyke in Harrow Weald is accompanied by "Tit Willow" by Gilbert and Sullivan.

"Golfing Love" by Melville Gideon accompanies the footage featuring golfers at Moor Park, and while the paintings in the Moor Park clubhouse are shown, Handel's Double Concerti plays. During the Pinner Carnival, “Metal Guru” by T Rex can be heard in the background. "Build a Little Home" is played again during part of the sequence at Chorleywood. The sequence featuring Len Rawle and his Wurlitzer is accompanied by the works: "Crimond", "Varsity Rag", and "Chattanooga Choo Choo". Finally, during part of the sequence showing High and Over, "Everything I Own" by Bread is heard. [15]

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  1. 1 2 Edward Mirzoeff, DVD viewing notes, 2006.
  2. The Best of Betjeman, ed. John Guest. See also Betjeman's England (ed. Stephen Games, 2009).
  3. Anthony J. Lambert (1999), Marylebone Station Centenary.
  4. "The Agapemonites - a set on Flickr". Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2008.
  5. Betjeman's England (2009).
  6. Richard Ingrams (1971), The Life and Times of Private Eye 1961–1971.
  7. The Times, 28 May 2011.
  8. See note in Betjeman's England (2009).
  9. John Betjeman (1943), English Cities and Small Towns.
  10. Richard Clarke. "Richard's Photo Gallery – Shipton Lee". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  11. "BBC Four Schedule: Sunday 26 February 2023". BBC. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  12. Christopher Booker (1980) The Seventies
  13. Betjeman, 2006.
  14. Edward Mirzoeff Notes to the 2006 DVD.
  15. The Best of Betjeman, pp. 215–236.

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