Joan Bakewell

The Right Honourable
The Baroness Bakewell
Born Joan Dawson Rowlands
(1933-04-16) 16 April 1933
Heaton Moor, Stockport, Cheshire, England
Alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge
Employer BBC
Title President of Birkbeck, University of London
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Michael Bakewell (1955–1972; two children)
Jack Emery (1975–2001)

Joan Dawson Bakewell, Baroness Bakewell, DBE (née Rowlands; born 16 April 1933) is a British journalist, television presenter and Labour Party Peer. Baroness Bakewell is President of Birkbeck, University of London.

Early life and education

Bakewell was born Joan Dawson Rowlands on 16 April 1933 in Heaton Moor, Stockport, Cheshire, England, and moved to Hazel Grove before she was three. The Rowlands family stemmed from the lead mining villages of the Ystwyth valley, in Wales. Her great-grandfather moved to Salford, where he was a preacher in the Church Army. On the maternal side, the family were coopers, and settled in the Gorton district of Manchester.[1]

She was educated at Stockport High School for Girls, a grammar school in local authority control, where she became head girl. She won a scholarship and attended the University of Cambridge, where she studied Economics, then History.[2]

From 1962 to 1969, she had an affair with Harold Pinter while she was married to Michael Bakewell.



Joan Bakewell first became well known as one of the presenters of an early BBC Two programme, Late Night Line-Up (1965–72 and 2008). Frank Muir dubbed her "the thinking man's crumpet"[3] during this period and the moniker stuck, although Bakewell herself dislikes the epithet. In 1968 she took the role of narrator of the BBC TV production of Cold Comfort Farm, a three-part serial, and played a TV interviewer in the cult swinging 60's film The Touchables.

Bakewell co-presented Reports Action, a Sunday teatime programme which encouraged the public to donate their services to various good causes, for Granada Television during 1976–78. Subsequently, she returned to the BBC, and co-presented a short-lived late night television arts programme; briefly worked on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, and was Newsnight's arts correspondent (1986–88).

Later, Bakewell came to the fore as the main presenter of the documentary and discussion series Heart of the Matter,[4] which ran from 1988 to 2000.

In 2001 Bakewell wrote and presented a four-part series for the BBC called Taboo, a personal exploration of the concepts of taste, decency and censorship. The programme dealt frankly with sex and nudity and in some cases pushed the boundaries of what is permissible on mainstream television.[5] Bakewell used frank language and "four-letter words" to describe pornography and sex toys. She watched a couple having sex while they were making a pornographic film and read out an "obscene" extract from the novel Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Taboo was broadcast between 9.50pm and 10.30pm on BBC2.

Taboo was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (subsequently renamed Mediawatch). Following the complaint, Bakewell faced the nominal prospect of being charged with blasphemous libel after she recited part of an erotic poem by James Kirkup concerning a Roman centurion's affection for Jesus, "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name". After its first publication in 1976, Denis Lemon, the editor of Gay News, was given a nine-month suspended jail sentence and was told he had come close to serving it.[6]

On 26 May 2008 Bakewell introduced an archive evening on BBC Parliament called Permissive Night. The programme examined the liberalising legislation passed by Parliament in the late 1960s. Topics covered included changes to divorce law, the death penalty, the legalisation of abortion, the Race Relations Bill, the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts (using editions of the documentary series Man Alive) and the relaxation of censorship. Permissive Night concluded with a special one-off edition of Late Night Line-Up which discussed the themes raised in the programmes over the course of the evening.

In 2009 she won "Journalist of the Year" at the annual Stonewall Awards.


Bakewell's autobiography, The Centre of the Bed, was published in 2004.[7] It concentrates on her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated media industries and touches on her affair with Harold Pinter, while he was still married to the actress Vivien Merchant and she was still married to Michael Bakewell. That affair was the basis for Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal, adapted in 1983 as a film.

Bakewell currently writes for the British newspaper The Independent in the 'Editorial and Opinion' section. Typically, her articles concern aspects of social life and culture but sometimes she writes more political articles, often focusing on aspects relevant to life in the United Kingdom. Formerly, from 2003, she wrote the "Just Seventy" column for The Guardian newspaper. In September 2008 she began a fortnightly column in the Times2 section of The Times. Her first novel was published in March 2009 by Virago Press. All the Nice Girls drew on her experiences in war-time Merseyside to tell the story of a school "adopting" a ship.

Honours and public roles

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours[8] and was Chairman of the British Film Institute from 2000 to 2002. She was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[9] In November 2008, Joan Bakewell was appointed a voice for older people by the UK Government. She is Chairman of the theatre company Shared Experience.

It was announced in November 2010 that she would be awarded a life peerage, joining the Labour benches. She was created Baroness Bakewell, of Stockport in the County of Greater Manchester on 21 January 2011,[10] and formally introduced to the House of Lords on 25 January 2011[11] supported by fellow Labour peers Lord Puttnam and Baroness Kennedy.

On 20 July 2011, Bakewell was made an honorary graduate at the University of Essex and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Chester.

Views and advocacy

In 2008, Bakewell criticised the absence of older women on British television. She said: "I think the fact that people are phased out, people like Moira Stuart and Selina [Scott] – out of the public eye – when they become a certain age is a real disadvantage to serious broadcasting. There's a whole segment of the British population that does not see its equivalent in serious broadcasting and that is women over 55. Now, that is not healthy for a broadcasting organisation's relationship with its audience. The public should be represented on the screen in various colours, forms, sexualities, whatever."[12]

In 2010, Bakewell criticised the side effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She said: "I never thought I would hear myself say as much, but I'm with Mrs Whitehouse on this one. The liberal mood back in the '60s was that sex was pleasurable and wholesome and shouldn't be seen as dirty and wicked. The Pill allowed women to make choices for themselves. Of course, that meant the risk of making the wrong choice. But we all hoped girls would grow to handle the new freedoms wisely. Then everything came to be about money: so now sex is about money, too. Why else sexualise the clothes of little girls, run TV channels of naked wives, have sex magazines edging out the serious stuff on newsagents' shelves? It's money that's corrupted us and women are being used and are even collaborating."[13]

In August 2014, Bakewell was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[14]

In March 2016, she commented in The Sunday Times that anorexia is connected with a general narcissism in 21st century western culture, and that "no-one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food".[15] The choice of the inaccurate headline "Anorexia is narcissism, says Joan Bakewell" provoked strong criticism of her from social and print media, and an apology for hurt caused from Bakewell herself.[16][17]


  1. Bakewell, Joan (2003). The Centre of the Bed. Hodder &Stoughton. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  2. "Profile: Joan Bakewell". BBC News. 13 June 2008.
  3. Manchester Celebrities, John Moss, Papillon (Manchester UK) Limited
  4. Joan Bakewell Knight Ayton Management
  5. Conlan, Tara. "An excuse to shock". Daily Mail. London.
  6. Summerskill, Ben (4 March 2002). "TV Joan faces jail for gay poem". The Guardian. London.
  7. The Centre of the Bed – Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (2003) (ISBN 0-340-82310-0)
  8. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 55513. p. 8. 12 June 1999.
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58729. p. 6. 14 June 2008.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 59681. p. 1261. 26 January 2011.
  11. UK Parliament website (accessed 12 February 2012)
  12. "Women over 55 'invisible on TV'". BBC News. 6 December 2008.
  13. "Dame Joan Bakewell says Mary Whitehouse was right", BBC News, 1 June 2010
  14. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  15. Griffiths, Sian. "Anorexia is narcissism, says Joan Bakewell". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  16. "Joan Bakewell anorexia comments 'perpetuating stereotypes'". BBC. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  17. Bakewell, Joan. "Twitter Feed". Twitter. Retrieved 14 March 2016.

External links

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