Joan Bakewell: "I remember"

Joan Bakewell: "I remember"

An author of radio plays, novels and an autobiography, Joan Bakewell’s career in broadcasting has spanned more than 50 years. She's taking a look back at her fascinating career and life. 

…Being very close to my father

Joan Bakewell
A young Joan. L-R with her mother, on a trip to Argentina, with parents before the birth of her sister

I absorbed a great many of his values and his ambition for me. When I was a toddler he used to give me my evening bath—in those days an exceptional thing for a father to do.

It’s a wonderful development of my time that fathers have become far more involved with their children, showing them the tenderness and love I was lucky enough to receive from mine all those years ago.



…Stalking German spies in the fields of Cheshire

I had a very vivid imagination and so did my friend Ann. We thought the war was rather like a film, in as much as it would definitely end well and that we would triumph over the enemy “out there”.

Ann and I concocted an elaborate game: we gave ourselves invented names and friends, and would search out the Germans on our trusty pretend horses.

Perhaps it was a way of dealing with the anxiety the war cast over our lives. Certainly I’ve always been quite an anxious person; I think it comes from absorbing my parent’s apprehension during those years. 



"Harold and I had an eight-year affair during the 1960s… Our relationship was a passionate love affair and one we’d kept secret from the world."



…My mother burning a photograph of me with a boy

She was an old-fashioned conformist and saw it as her job to keep her two daughters on the straight and narrow, so there was no chance we might do something dangerous—like have sex. She never told me the facts of life. But from the age of 15, I took a strong interest in boys. 

One exciting time I won a travelling scholarship and found myself on a coach to Belgium and Holland with other girls and boys from Cheshire schools. It was the first time many of us had been out of reach of our parents and we all set about canoodling and snogging, as it was then called. All amazingly innocent of course, in full daylight on a packed coach.

Someone took a photo of me locked in an embrace with a boy. After the trip I was given the photo, which I cherished and hid away.

My mother used to rifle through my property and when she found the photo she was furious. She insisted on burning it in front of me—a sort of ceremonial event to destroy my shocking behaviour.

But I remember being very confused and thinking, 'Is this so very wicked? If so, how the hell am I supposed to grow up?'



…The beauty of Cambridge

Joan Bakewell
L-R With her father and younger sister, the two sisters 

Moving from industrial Stockport, with its smoking chimneys, to the leafy paradise of Cambridge is something I’ve never got over. The sense of exhilaration I felt cannot be underestimated; not only had I won a place there in one of only two women’s colleges, but we were the generation that had survived the war.

I didn’t much mind that women couldn’t join the Cambridge Union or the Footlights—I was much too busy having a good time.

The only time I got involved in any sort of protest was when my friend Marc Boxer, who was editor of the student magazine, was sent down for publishing a poem deemed to be blasphemous. We organised a hearse to take him to the station. 



"I’ve always tried to live life to the full. If I feel a bit creaky and get annoyed, I have to remind myself I’m pretty old now."



…Late Night Line Up

This was my first proper broadcasting job and it was an extraordinary programme, running from 1965 to 1972. I’d got married in 1955 and had two children by then.

The programme transmitted live in the evening, so I’d put the children to bed, read them a story and then dash to the studio three or four times a week. I’ve always had a lot of energy.

Sometimes the show was erudite and other times we’d just be rather silly, so the magazine format never got stale. Looking back, it wasn’t very good for my marriage as it left my husband on his own too much. 



…Reading Harold Pinter's play Betrayal

with harold pinter
With Harold Pinter

Harold and I had an eight-year affair during the 1960s. We were both happily married to other people and didn’t want to get married to each other—marriage was about domesticity and settling down. Our relationship was a passionate love affair and one we’d kept secret from the world.

So when I read the script of his new play in 1978 (we’d remained friends long after we stopped being lovers and were both on our second marriages), I started to think, Hang on, the things in this play happened to Harold and me.

I became horrified as I realised that he’d objectified our relationship instead of keeping it a tender memory, while alleging I’d also betrayed him. However, it wasn’t to become public knowledge that the play was based on our extramarital affair until some 20 years later when Michael Billington’s biography of Pinter was published.

It roused in me a renewed sense of anxiety as the press went into overdrive. But by the time I published my own autobiography in 2003, I no longer felt any guilt.



…Becoming the voice of older people

I’d already been writing a column in The Guardian called “Just Seventy” when Harriet Harman approached me to be a spokesperson for older people.

I’ve always tried to live life to the full. If I feel a bit creaky and get annoyed, I have to remind myself I’m pretty old now. I’ve done pilates twice a week for years and I think that’s been very helpful in keeping me active.




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