The Baroness Bakewell

Baroness Bakewell 2018.jpg
The Baroness Bakewell giving the Humanists UK Holyoake Lecture 2018 in Manchester
Joan Dawson Rowlands

(1933-04-16) 16 April 1933 (age 89)
Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge
Years active1965-present
TitlePresident of Birkbeck, University of London
Political partyLabour Party
Spouse(s)Michael Bakewell (1955–1972)
Jack Emery (1975–2001)

Joan Dawson Bakewell, Baroness Bakewell, DBE, HonFBA, FRSA (née Rowlands; born 16 April 1933), is an English journalist, television presenter and Labour Party peer. Baroness Bakewell is president of Birkbeck, University of London; she is also an author and playwright, and has been awarded Humanist of the year for services to humanism.

Early life and education

Bakewell was born on 16 April 1933 in Heaton Moor, Stockport, Cheshire, England, and moved to Hazel Grove before she was three. Both her grandfathers were factory workers: the Rowlands branch 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. Her grandfather was an iron turner. On the maternal side, her grandfather was a cooper in Ardwick Brewery. The family lived in Gorton, a district of Manchester.[1]

Bakewell 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 Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, where she studied Economics, then History,[2] and joined the Marshall Society.[3]



Joan Bakewell began her career as a studio manager for BBC Radio, before moving into television.[4] She first became known as one of the presenters of the BBC2 programme Late-Night Line-Up (1965–72 and 2008). Frank Muir dubbed her "the thinking man's crumpet"[5] during this period and the moniker stuck, but Bakewell herself dislikes the epithet.[6] 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 1960s 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 in 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). Arts coverage was then dropped from news programmes in the era of John Birt's changes to the BBC. Bakewell switched to being the main presenter of the ethics documentary series Heart of the Matter, which she presented for 12 years.[4] She resigned from the programme in 1999.[7]

In 2001, Bakewell wrote and presented a four-part series for BBC Two 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.[8] 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.[8][9]

Taboo was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association by then headed by John Beyer. 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, had been given a nine-month suspended jail sentence.[10] Bakewell later wrote that in the programme she "read this poem with extreme distaste and I hope that showed on my face."[11] The Broadcasting Standards Commission rejected complaints from viewers.[9]

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 the category Journalist of the Year at the annual Stonewall Awards.[citation needed]

In 2017, Bakewell was one of the minor hosts of the Channel 5 documentary series Secrets of the National Trust.[12]

She presents Portrait Artist of the Year alongside Stephen Mangan for Sky Television.


Bakewell 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.

Public roles

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,[13] and formally introduced to the House of Lords on 25 January 2011[14] supported by fellow Labour peers Lord Puttnam and Baroness Kennedy.

In September 2017, Bakewell was elected co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, the cross-party group which represents humanists in Parliament.[15]

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."[16]

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."[17]

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.[18]

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".[19] The comments provoked strong criticism from social and print media, and an apology for hurt caused from Bakewell herself.[20][21]

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bakewell said that the Government should stop treating the elderly like "a crazy old people's club" and let them work out how to keep safe from coronavirus themselves.[22][23]


She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours[24] 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.[25]

In 2007 She was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from the University of Chester.[26] On 20 July 2011, Bakewell was made an honorary graduate at the University of Essex (DU Essex).

In 2017, the charity Humanists UK awarded Bakewell its prize for Humanist of the Year, in recognition of her achievements in broadcasting and services to humanism and other good causes.[27]

Personal life

Bakewell's autobiography, The Centre of the Bed, was published in 2003 and concentrates on her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated media industry. It also details the extra-marital affair Bakewell had with playwright Harold Pinter (between 1962 and 1969), while she was married to Michael Bakewell (the marriage lasted from 1955 to 1972) and Pinter was married to the actress Vivien Merchant. The affair was the basis for Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal, adapted in 1983 as a film.[28][29] In 2017, Keeping in Touch, a play first written by Bakewell in 1978 in response to Betrayal, premiered on BBC Radio 4.[30]

In 1975 she married Jack Emery, a British director, writer and producer for stage, TV and radio, who was 12 years her junior. The couple divorced in 2001. Bakewell said, "The age difference did matter, but other things mattered more."[31]


The Joan Bakewell Archive is housed at the British Library. The papers can be accessed through the British Library catalogue.[32]


  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. ^ Bakewell, Joan (19 June 2010). "My hero John Maynard Keynes, by Joan Bakewell". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b Vahimagi, Tise (2003–2014). "Bakewell, Dame Joan (1933-)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  5. ^ Manchester Celebrities Archived 29 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine, John Moss, Papillon (Manchester UK) Limited
  6. ^ "Joan Bakewell tells her side of the story about her affair with Harold Pinter". Radio Times. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  7. ^ Gerrard, Nicci (5 November 2000). "Home alone Joan". -The Observer. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  8. ^ a b Bakewell, Joan (17 November 2006). "So what if people are hooked on sex?". The Independent. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  9. ^ a b Cozens, Claire (30 May 2002). "Taboo complaints thrown out by watchdog". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  10. ^ Summerskill, Ben (4 March 2002). "TV Joan faces jail for gay poem". The Observer. London. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  11. ^ Bakewell, Joan (6 May 2002). "Diary". New Statesman. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  12. ^ Rampton, James (11 February 2017). "Alan Titchmarsh on Channel 5 show Secrets of the National Trust". Daily Express. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  13. ^ "No. 59681". The London Gazette. 26 January 2011. p. 1261.
  14. ^ UK Parliament website Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 12 February 2012)
  15. ^ "Crispin Blunt and Joan Bakewell elected as Chair and Co-Chair of humanists in Parliament". Humanists UK. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Women over 55 'invisible on TV'". BBC News. 6 December 2008.
  17. ^ "Dame Joan Bakewell says Mary Whitehouse was right", BBC News, 1 June 2010
  18. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  19. ^ Griffiths, Sian. "Anorexia is narcissism, says Joan Bakewell". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  20. ^ "Joan Bakewell anorexia comments 'perpetuating stereotypes'". BBC News. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  21. ^ Bakewell, Joan. "Twitter Feed". Twitter. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  22. ^ Hope, Christopher (30 April 2020). "Ministers must stop treating elderly like 'a crazy old people's club' over coronavirus ban, Joan Bakewell says". The Daily Telegraph.
  23. ^ Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester (8 April 2020). "Joan Bakewell: 'The idea that people are dying alone is desperately sad'". The Times.((cite news)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  24. ^ "No. 55513". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1999. p. 8.
  25. ^ "No. 58729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 6.
  26. ^ "Honorary Graduates 2007". University of Chester. 18 March 2019.
  27. ^ "Joan Bakewell wins Humanist of the Year 2017". Humanists UK. 27 November 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  28. ^ The Centre of the Bed – Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (2003) (ISBN 0-340-82310-0)
  29. ^ MacGregor, Sue (31 October 2003). "The end of the affair". The Guardian.
  30. ^ "Keeping in Touch, Drama - BBC Radio 4". BBC.
  31. ^ "Joan Bakewell tells her side of the story about her affair with Harold Pinter". Radio Times. 22 April 2017. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  32. ^ Joan Bakewell Archive, archives and manuscripts catalogue, the British Library. Retrieved 2nd June 2020