Betjeman’s film of Diss

As a child, the poet Sir John Betjeman visited Norfolk many times for shooting, boating and fishing trips with his father, who had a boat moored at Coltishall. They explored the Broads and the coast in trips Betjeman later recalled in his poems Norfolk and East Anglian Bathe.

Mary Wilson
(Gladys) Mary Wilson (née Baldwin), Lady Wilson of Rievaulx by Vivienne (National Portrait Gallery)

In the 1960s, Betjeman became friends with Mary Wilson, wife of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and also a poet in her own right. Mary, who had been born in Diss, suggested that the two friends visit her birthplace together in 1972, Betjeman accepting Mary’s invitation in verse with his poem A Mind’s Journey to Diss. Later, Betjeman and Mary Wilson both did much to encourage the restoration of the 17th-century weavers’ cottages on Fair Green, many of which had fallen into disrepair. They were progressively and sensitively restored in the following decade by Roberta Holt-Wilson.

Diss would become one of Poet Laureate John Betjeman’s favourite towns. He made an 18 minute black and white film about his first visit to Diss in 1963, which is absolutely fascinating. See what has changed – and what has not!

This version from YouTube is in two parts, and there is a bit about Fair Green, before the renovations to the ancient terraces, which occurs at about 5:30 minutes into the second half.

Part I

Part II (click on the bar at the bottom to jump to the bit about Fair Green)

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