Metro-land revisited The Croxley Green Revels Croxley
And then Sir John came to my home village. You can imagine my surprise on watching Metro-land for the very first time to see my own insignificant commuter backwater celebrated on screen. Here were roads I walked down and events I attended and even people I knew, immortalised on film, watched by millions. But surely there was nothing in CroxleyGreen worthy of Betjeman's scrutiny? This was just another dormitory suburb [photo] on the Metropolitan railway [photos], overshadowed by neighbouring Watford and Rickmansworth. Why would anybody find my life interesting?
If I'd been making a documentary about Croxley Green I might have visited the big house on New Road where Madame Tussaud sculpted her waxworks, and in whose former studio I attended nursery school. Or I might have headed down to the canalside where the John Dickinson paper mill manufactured world-famous Croxley Script watermarked notepaper [photo]. Maybe even gone to the converted farm at the top of my road where barking Barbara Woodhouse trained dogs her way. But no, Sir John selected instead the village's annual carnival - the Croxley Green Revels - and delighted in its muted self-importance.
"Onward, onwards, north of the border, down Hertfordshire way. The Croxley Green Revels - a tradition that stretches back to 1952. For pageantry is deep in all our hearts and this, for many a girl, is her greatest day" John Betjeman at Croxley Green ("Metro-land", BBC, 1973)
One Saturday every summer, as in a thousand other villages across the country, the good people of Croxley Green came together in a festive celebration of community. Some decorated the backs of lorries with crepe paper and sat on the back dressed as cannibals, or hula dancers (or something else typically English) while others twirled batons and paraded along behind. The rest of us would watch and cheer as the procession passed by our doorsteps, before following the final float up to the mile-long village green[photo] where the main events of the day would unfold. At two o'clock precisely the mellifluous tones of an unseen Master of Ceremonies would echo around the central roped-off arena, announcing the almost thrilling programme for the afternoon. Maypole dancing, school recorder groups, maybe even a troupe of well-trained canines - all were highlights of an afternoon at the Croxley Revels in the 1970s, and probably still are today.
Betjeman's documentary concentrates on the climactic moment of the day's proceedings - the crowning of the Queen of the Revels. She and her entourage process into the arena dressed in their glossy ceremonial robes, which look suspiciously as though they've been sewn together from a set of frilly curtains. These costumes were recycled every year, the scariest being the floppy black felt hat and bright blue cloak worn by the unfortunate page boy. He looks on, inwardly mortified, as Queen Jenny addresses her loyal subjects by smirking through a speech of perfect scripted blandness.
I'm just pleased that Betjeman filmed Metro-land in 1972, back when I was an anonymous seven year-old obscured somewhere in the crowd. Had he visited a few years later he might have caught me taking a slightly more prominent role. I was never in the running for page boy, thankfully, but in 1976 I was press-ganged into taking part in the maypole dancing with several of my well-scrubbed classmates. We practised for weeks until we could skip and weave like professionals, then unleashed our honed artistic talents in front of an appreciative audience of parents and grandmothers. Thankfully no cine film or photographs of that performance remains, but I can share with you some old family snapshots of the 1975 Croxley Revels (I appear in only one of them):
And yet, watching Metro-land all these years later, it strikes me now that Sir John Betjeman never once appears anywhere in the two minutes of footage of my village Revels. He provides a voiceover, no more, and a BBC camera crew probably shot the rest. The Poet Laureate never stood on the corner of Malvern Way [photo] watching the bagpipers pass by, nor graced our village green with his cheery presence. He picked out Croxley merely to shine a spotlight on the fake heritage of Metro-land, gently mocking our pseudo-historical pageant played out in former fields with no tradition of their own. The bastard. But I'll let him off, just this once.