‘Executive’ by John Betjeman is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains follow a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of AABB CCDD, and so on, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. This very simplistic rhyme scheme fits well with the content of ‘Executive.’
The speaker, who fancies himself an educated, modern man is, in reality, unaware of the stereotypical life he is living and the shallow nature of his statements and desires. For example, there are a few examples where Betjeman’s speaker uses French, as if to show off his intellect. Rather than impressive, it comes across as condescending.
In regards to meter, almost every line of this piece is in iambic heptameter. This means that there are seven sets of two beats per line. The first of these is usually unstressed and the second stressed. This alters somewhat as the poem progresses, with moments of fifteen syllables and a variation in the stresses.
Summary of Executive
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is a “young executive” who has been very successful. He has the best of everything, from shirt cuffs to briefcases and cars. There is nothing about his image that would make one doubt his role. The speaker is apparently immune to the stereotypical businessman he has become. He sees himself as wholly original and worthy of all the praise in the world.
As the poem continues the speaker describes the cars he gets to drive and the speedboat he owns and named after “a bird.” There is also a section regarding his business. It is hard to determine exactly what it is the man does, but this is part of his plan. He wants his work to sound as mysterious and engaging as possible.
The poem concludes with the speaker giving an example of the backdoor techniques he uses to get ownership over patches of land in rundown towns. This, he states, is the “modern style.”
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Executive
I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
The maоtres d’hфtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.
In the first stanza of ‘Executive’ the speaker begins by telling the reader very directly that he is a “young executive.” There is no name associated with this title or personal character traits that define this person as a human being with an inner life. As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that an “executive” is who he wants to be, his entire life is centered around that pursuit.
He goes on to give the reader some physical details of his material possessions. These are quite important to him and take up a great number of lines. He has “cuffs,” meaning his shirt cuffs, which are cleaner than everyone else, and a “Slimline brief-case.” These, along with the fact that he gets to drive the “firm’s” Ford Cortina define what he sees as important.
It is already very clear that he has basic desires, these are all things which he believes should come to him with this career. He loves the fact that the “maоtres d’hфtel all know” him well and “let” him “sign the bill.” The young executive wants to be recognized for what he is and have his position respected. This becomes impossible as the speaker’s tone turns even more condescending. In tandem with the lighthearted and mocking mood, Betjeman creates it is very hard to take the speaker seriously.
You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.
In the next stanza he appears to be replying to a question, although since there is not one in the text, a reader could assume he is just initiating this turn in the conversation. He wants to talk about “what it is” he does. The speaker fakes a casual voice and adds that he is,
[…] partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
This line is followed by two more which continue to feign a relaxed attitude about his duties and position The speaker is proud of his relevance to the company he works for, but by using words like “Essentially” and “basically” he attempts a humble brag that does not come across well. The work he actually does is shrouded in business language making it hard to understand whether or not it is actually important.
For vital off-the-record work – that’s talking transport-wise –
I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.
The third stanza the speaker moves away from his coy attempts at impressing the reader. Now, he is full-on bragging about the perks of his job. One that he very clearly cares about a lot is the “Aston-Martin.”. He’s allowed to drive it only when he does “off-the-record work” though. There is no additional information about what this kind of work is either. He is intentionally being evasive, hoping to make himself sound more important than he probably is.
When he drives the Aston it goes so fast it seems to fly down the street and all those in his path should be marked “down for slaughter.” The last line of this stanza refers to a speedboat the speaker owns. It has never “touched the water.” It is a very clear status symbol and nothing more. The commitment the speaker has to play into all the stereotypes of an executive is impressive.
She’s built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her ‘Mandy Jane’
And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.
The speedboat that the speaker owns is “of course” made of “fibre-glass.” An interesting moment occurs in line three in which the conversation is interrupted with the speaker ordering a drink. He is getting some alcoholic beverage without “soda.” This order is followed up by the speaker asking if the listener would like to know how he “acquire[d] her.” This is in reference to the boat and all the various luxuries of his business life.
He tells the listener that in order to properly tell the tale he must “wear [his] other hat.” He has to transition, mentally, into his other role.
I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.
In this role, he does some “mild developing” or real estate. The types of places he develops are ideally,
country market town[s] that [are] rather run to seed
These towns are run down and in need of economic stimulation which he is able to provide. His role in the developing process is to set up the local government. This includes the “Planning Officer” and the “Mayor.”
And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.
The sixth stanza of ‘Executive’ describes what the young man does if someone, such as a “Preservationist,” hoping to keep the town in his historical state, interferes. He has a plan if ever this should happen which includes talking to the “Borough Engineer.” This person is responsible for examining the structural integrity of the buildings. They will, under his instruction give out “a ‘dangerous structure’ notice.”
Once this is distributed to the “Preservationists” and it becomes clear that the building should be torn down, it is all settled. He cons and buys his way out of any potentially tricky situations.
In the last line, he refers to the “modern style” of the present day. This is both the style of the buildings and the style of business he is engaged in. There are no rules he is not willing to bend or norms he isn’t happy to circumvent.