Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 00:10 UK

Profile: Joan Bakewell

Joan Bakewell
Bakewell says she detested being called the "thinking man's crumpet"

Broadcaster Joan Bakewell has been made a Dame in the Queen's birthday honours, further endorsing her credentials as one of Britain's foremost journalists.

She became a star in the 1960s when a programme called Late Night Line-Up appeared in the schedules of the fledgling BBC Two.

With guests including Allen Ginsberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Marcel Duchamp and Magic Roundabout creator Serge Danot, the show dominated conversations in the arts world.

At its centre was Bakewell, dubbed "the thinking man's crumpet" by comedian Frank Muir.

The epithet was meant as a joke, but it stuck - not least because the doe-eyed presenter was the epitome of 60s chic.

Blitz baby

Born Joan Dawson Rowlands in 1933, she grew up on (appropriately enough) Bakewell Street in Stockport - under the shadow of the Blitz, rationing and her depressive, disciplinarian mother.

"My mother's major precept for child-rearing, which she shared with me when my own were small, was 'you must first break a child's will,'" she told The Independent in 2004.

Joan Bakewell
Bakewell was one of the first women to break into TV journalism
Frivolity and boys were frowned upon, and she was sent to elocution lessons in an attempt to eradicate her northern accent.

But her life changed when she was accepted by Cambridge University, where she studied Economics, then History, at the all-female Newnham college.

"I'd quite like to have been an academic," she later admitted, "but left things too late".

Instead, she joined BBC Radio, where she "turned knobs" as an assistant studio manager.

"I did it badly and was discouraged," she admitted in 1998. "So I left and went into advertising, where I learned to put a few words together quite persuasively."

In 1955, she married Michael Bakewell, one of her contemporaries at Cambridge and, with the arrival of her children, retired from advertising to seek freelance work.

Joan Bakewell's delight at being honoured

"I got the Radio Times and wrote to every talks producer listed," she said. "Half wrote back saying no, half said maybe and about three said come and see me."

As a result, Bakewell began appearing on programmes like Woman's Hour, building up her profile until she got the call to join Late Night Line-Up.

"From there on," she told The Guardian, "I don't think I was ever unemployed."


But while Bakewell's career took off, her private life was in turmoil as she embarked on an affair with Harold Pinter - who she had met through her husband, then the BBC's head of plays.

Their scorching dalliance lasted seven years, even through her second pregnancy, as the couple met undercover in a friend's flat, then in a place of their own.

Joan Bakewell and Harold Pinter
Bakewell recently said she "couldn't resist" her affair with Pinter
Pinter later used the relationship as the basis for his play Betrayal - much to Bakewell's surprise.

"Seeing it is two experiences for me - pleasure at a brilliant and amusing play and heartache at the retelling of events from my own life," she wrote in The New Statesman in 2003.

The affair ended in 1969, although Bakewell's husband had known about it for some time.

Their marriage ended in divorce in 1972, and her relationship with Pinter did not become public knowledge until it was revealed by the playwright's biographer Michael Billington in the mid-1990s.

Bakewell continued to work as a broadcaster throughout the 1970s and '80s, with programmes including Granada's consumer affairs show Reports Action and travel programme Holiday.

Her austere upbringing perhaps became a hindrance on these lighter programmes, where she faced accusations of being cold and dour.

But many viewers appreciated her intelligent, no-nonsense approach - not to mention her clear-voiced, soft-eyed delivery.

Joan Bakewell
Bakewell has recently been seen on the BBC's Restoration series
In 1986, she took up the post of arts correspondent for the BBC but, amidst John Birt's shake-up of the corporation a year later, she was informed her contract would not be renewed.

Reportedly "stunned" at the news, Bakewell claimed her "mission to explain the arts was never accepted as being part of the current affairs output" by the BBC's bosses.

Nonetheless, she has returned to the corporation on several occasions - fronting documentary series like Heart of The Matter - while putting more time into print journalism at The Times, Punch and, currently, The Independent.

'Grumpy old woman'

Outside broadcasting, she acted as an associate fellow at her alma mater in the 1990s and served as Chairman of the British Film Institute from 2000 to 2002.

Following a "very hurtful" divorce from her second husband, theatre director Jack Emery, in 2001, she began her autobiography, The Centre Of The Bed, which was published in time for her 70th birthday.

Still active as a writer and broadcaster, she has confessed it is "almost impossible" to avoid becoming a "grumpy old woman" in her twilight years.

Maybe the recognition of her stature as one of the UK's most important and influential journalists will help dampen any encroachiing ill-temper.


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