A fine slice of Bakewell's art

LAST October in Stirling, Borders Book Festival director Alistair Moffat met Dame Joan Bakewell for the first time in 30 years.

The acclaimed journalist and broadcaster, who was appointed a Voice of Older People by the UK government the following month, had first encountered Mr Moffat in 1976 when he was making his debut as director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“I’ll never forget our first meeting,” recalled Mr Moffat this week. “Joan was at the top of her profession. She was in the city doing a series of films with a large BBC crew and was on her way to interview me.

“I was wet behind the ears and thought she was sure to demolish me, but the first thing she did was take my arm and tell me: ‘This is going to be a lot of fun’.

“Since then I have marvelled at her brilliant and bold career and hugely enjoyed her autobiography, The Centre of the Bed. She is a lovely, inspiring person to be around and, after a great blether in Stirling, I asked her if she would be interested in coming to our festival and, to my delight, she shrugged and said: ‘Yes, why not?’.”

Published in 2004, The Centre of the Bed, concentrates on her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated media industry and also touches on her affair with Harold Pinter. That liaison was the basis for Pinter’s 1978 film Betrayal.

Much more recently, Ms Bakewell, now aged 76, has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim for her debut novel All the Nice Girls: a wartime tale of love, longing and loss.

It takes place in 1942, when the war was going badly for Britain, and in 2003, during demonstrations against the Iraq invasion. It is also about sexual mores, which should alert Bakewell-watchers who remember the fuss over the explicit content of her BBC2 series Taboo.

One episode was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the National Viewers and Listeners Association (now Mediawatch) and, following the complaint, Ms Bakewell faced the prospect of being charged with blasphemous libel for reciting part of an erotic poem by James Kirkup concerning a Roman centurion’s affection for Jesus.

Last month she made numerous television news and magazine appearances in her role as a champion of the elderly, roundly condemning the shocking treatment of some residents in private care homes.

She first became well known as one of the presenters of the early BBC2 programme Late Night Line-Up, which ran from 1965-72 and, during that period, she was infamously dubbed “the thinking man’s crumpet” by the humourist Frank Muir. Ms Bakewell will doubtless explain why she continues to dislike that epithet.

A former chair of the British Film Institute, she was appointed a DBE in 2008.

Joan Bakewell will open the Borders Book Festival at 6pm on Thursday, June 18, when she will be interviewed in the main 420-seater Brewin Dolphin Marquee at Harmony House, Melrose, by Mr Moffat.

“I can hardly wait for what will undoubtedly be an absorbing hour in her engaging presence,” said Mr Moffat, who revealed that his guest will, earlier that day, meet representatives of various groups representing the interests of the elderly in the Borders.

Tickets for Joan Bakewell are 12 (10 concessions).