Cat no. 32

Something About Diss

Running time20:43 Black & White Sound 1964 Diss, Norfolk

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BBC East documentary, John Betjeman gives his views on the landscape and architecture of Diss.


DocumentaryPortrait of a PlaceTelevision

Sir John Betjeman on a tour around Diss in South Norfolk, alights from the train at Diss Station and immediately discovers the Jolly Porters, a railway inn. The camera follows his journey by taxi into Diss, showing industrial buildings such as the tar refinery and the gas works. Sir John proceeds along Victoria Road, commenting on the various ages of the buildings, especially the new developments and the Victorian Villas, until he reaches the Mere and Mere Street. Sir John takes the viewer on a tour of Diss, highlighting the buildings, shops and architectural features of interest. The film uses stills of Diss, from c. 1880, to show how Diss has changed over the century, or as often as not, how it has remained very similar.

The Corn Exchange is featured. Built in 1854 it was given to the Town Council by Rear Admiral A.H. Taylor in 1956. (Later there is film of Admiral Taylor entering his home, Mount Pleasant, with his son.) There are interior shots of the Corn Hall featuring a corn sale, one of the most important in the region with merchants present from Bury St. Edmunds and Norwich. A sequence shows St. Mary's Church, a mixture of 14th and 15th century architecture. A still of an engraving before Victorian restoration is compared with a similar contemporary shot. Scenes of the interior of the church are shown over which is heard Sir John reading a poem of a former Poet Laureate, John Skelton, who was Rector of Diss. From St. Mary's Church, Sir John goes in search of medieval Diss, discovering an unsung 15th century house on Drapers Row as well as the Greyhound Public House, Mount Street and the Saracen's Head. The film shows interior shots of the Greyhound, highlighting Jacobean Relief plaster work.

Sir John includes many non-conformist chapels and meeting houses in his tour, as well as notable Diss businesses. He highlights the interior of Bobby's the drapers showing the mahogany counter, oak shelves and Victorian carving, all from around 1850. Mr. Bobby can be seen at work. Sir John turns his attention to neglected buildings in Diss, showing how some older buildings have been left to fall into a state of dilapidation. He is also scathing about new developments. He likens a row of modern houses to Slough. Sir John also warns against using Diss for housing the London overspill. The film finishes with shots across the Mere.

Background Information:

John Betjeman was born in London on August 28th, 1906. He was educated at Marlborough, which he always claimed to have loathed, and was a contemporary of Louis Mac Niece. In 1925 he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, leaving after three years with no degree having failed the compulsory divinity examination. After a spell as private secretary to Sir Horace Plunkett and an attempt at teaching in a prep school, Betjeman became the assistant editor of the Architectural Review before becoming film critic of the Evening Standard in 1934. During the work he worked with Sir Kenneth Clark in the films division of the Ministry of Information. He was Knighted in 1969 and became the Poet Laureate in 1972. He married Penelope Chetwode in 1933 and they had two children, Paul, born in 1938 and Candida in 1942. Betjeman died on the 19th May, 1984, having suffered from Parkinson's disease.

The threat of Diss becoming a town earmarked for the London overspill, of which Sir John was so afraid, never happened.


When this film was originally shown, the credits were added electronically on transmission.This was filmed in two days; one day to record Sir John in Diss and another to takes other shots that were needed. The voice of the woman reading the tour guide is that of Jean Goodman

Featured People:

Sir John Betjeman; Rear Admiral A.H. Taylor; Mr. Bobby of Bobby's Drapers

Featured Buildings:

Diss Station; Tar Refinery; Gas Works; St. Mary's Church; Corn Hall; Post Office; The Jolly Porters; The King's Head; The Saracen's Head; The Greyhound; Denmark Street Hall; Plymouth Brethren Meeting House; The Unitarian Chapel; Baptist Church; Park House; Mount Pleasant; Gostling's Chemist Shop; Bobby's Drapers Shop

Malcolm Freegard

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