PORTRAIT BY MARK GERSON (b. 1921) OF BETJEMAN UNVEILING THE MEMORIAL STONE TO W.H. AUDEN IN POETS' CORNER IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY, vintage photograph, showing Betjeman withdrawing the veil and looking down at the memorial stone, TOGETHER WITH a separate vintage photograph of the stone with a wreath laid on it, signed by Mark Gerson on the mounts and inscribed 'London', his stamps on the versos, on the versos of both are three of the photographer's stamps and notes of the date and occasion, framed together and glazed, size of each image 8 x 10 inches (20.2 x 25.3 cm), overall size 23 x 15 inches (59 x 38 cm), Westminster Abbey, 2 October 1974
The memorial stone for W.H. Auden was unveiled in Poets' Corner, South Transept, Westminster Abbey on 2 October 1974. It adjoins the grave of John Masefield and memorials to George Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The stone was unveiled by Sir John Betjeman, readings were given by Sir John Gielgud and the address was by Stephen Spender. The inscription reads: 'WYSTAN HUGH AUDEN 1907-1973. In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise. Buried at Kirchstetten Lower Austria' (from Auden's poem 'In time of war'). Mark Gerson was the only photographer present in the Abbey.
Richard Ellmann wrote of the occasion: 'The ceremonious unveiling of Auden's memorial stone in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey on October 2 mantled the poet in an atmosphere of propriety that befitted his age and reputation at death. It might have been the serene conclusion of a life spent endorsing English culture. But, as Stephen Spender intimated in his tribute on that occasion, Auden had lived rambunctiously enough. In the Abbey itself, some years ago, he delivered a sermon in which he edified the devout, for the first time in ecclesiastical history, by using the word "tightarsed." '
Auden and Betjeman were life-long friends, having met at university, Auden being an early admirer of Betjeman's poetry. A.N. Wilson repeats the story, first published by Charles Osborne but suppressed by Betjeman's injunction: 'The two were said to have had a fling, or perhaps a fumble, the legend being that Auden had to bribe his scout (college servant) £5 for keeping quiet when Betjeman was discovered in his bed. "It wasn't worth the £5", he is quoted by his brother, as saying. The incident might have happened', Wilson comments, 'but the joke seems too unkind for the essentially benign Auden, who always took sex (a matter that interested him far less than it did Betjeman) in his stride. Betjeman denied the story.'
No example of these photographs is viewable on the National Portrait Gallery web site (if there).
PROVENANCE: Mark Gerson.
REFERENCES: Richard Ellmann, New York Review of Books, 12 December 1974; A.N. Wilson, Betjeman, 1998.