Betjeman biographer fooled by poet's hoax love letter [UK]
When the author and critic A N Wilson launched his biography of John Betjeman on the centenary of the poet's birth he did so with great fanfare. [...]
One of the revelations of Wilson's book included the discovery of a passionate love letter that the poet laureate had apparently written to a mistress.
But that apparently astonishing discovery has now become a crushing embarrassment after an admission by the author that he had fallen victim to an elaborate "hoax". [...]
The capital letters at the beginning of each sentence spell the message: "A N Wilson is a shit". [...]
The Times has the whole story, including
[...] The letter first came to light about two years ago as Wilson was researching the biography.
In a covering note, someone signing herself (or himself) “Eve de Harben”, with the address Résidence de la Mer, Avenue de la Plage, Roquebrune on the Côte D’Azur, wrote that she had received the letter from her father, a cousin of Tracy. Tracy herself died in 1989.
De Harben sent a typed copy of the letter. The original, according to the note, had been sold to an American collector of Betjemania. [...]
The attention of The Sunday Times was drawn to the hoax a few days ago when a journalist also received a letter from de Harben.
It had the same French address and the same story that she had married a Frenchman. In the letter, de Harben confessed the love letter she had sent to Wilson was “spurious”.
She had made the whole thing up — including the rude message — to avenge an attack which Wilson himself had made some years ago on Humphrey Carpenter, a “dear friend of mine”. Carpenter was himself a distinguished biographer and book reviewer for The Sunday Times.
This explanation, however, appears to be yet another spoof. Carpenter’s widow Mari said this weekend she had never heard of de Harben. She also said Wilson and Carpenter had patched up their differences not long before her husband’s death.
Despite the French address, the padded envelope containing the letter was postmarked “west London” and a tiny sticker on the back indicated it had been bought at Warren & Son, a stationer in Winchester, which happens to be Hillier’s home city.
Hillier, however, was insistent. He said: “This isn’t the sort of lark I do . . . I am not guilty. But it is very Betjemanesque.”
He may deny involvement in the hoax, but Hillier does not like Wilson. “The man is despicable,” he said. [...]
And a happy 100th today to John Betjeman.