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Touring Britain The Classic Motorist's Way
Thursday 5 March 2009
9:00pm - 10:00pm
Cultural historian David Heathcote uses two of the earliest Shell Guides to explore modern-day Britain.
The Guides are works of art in their own right and embrace the best of modernism and a love of the wild
and unexplored. They used cutting edge art and photography and beautiful poetry and prose to entice
the townies out to explore Britain in their newly-acquired automobiles.
The 1930s Shell Guide to Dorset was compiled by Paul Nash, one of the leading contemporary surreal
war artists, while the Guide to Cornwall was edited by the young, ambitious poet John Betjeman, who
took on the job to pay for his wedding expenses.
Heathcote's journey takes him through Dorset, exploring the wild and the ancient sites in Cerne Abbas
and Badbury Rings. He also visits the seaside town of Swanage, which Nash disliked because of its
In Cornwall, Betjeman recommends that visitors should go to Tintagel in bad weather when the car park
is empty, advice which Heathcote follows with spectacular results. The Guide takes him to quiet corners
of Cornwall, old fishing villages and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.
As he travels, Heathcote explores the themes of development which the Guides raise. Betjeman declared
that traffic had spoilt everything by the 1960s, but Heathcote discovers a different, more optimistic view
of the changes in Cornwall and he is still able to delight in many of the treasures that the Shell Guides
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