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Baroness Joan Bakewell


Baroness Joan Dawson Bakewell, DBE (born 16th April 1933) is an English journalist, television presenter and Labour Party Peer. Baroness Bakewell is President of Birkbeck, University of London. Born Joan Dawson Rowlands in Stockport, Cheshire, she was educated at Stockport High School for Girls – a grammar school in local authority control. It was founded in 1894 & merged with Fylde Lodge High School in 1974, to form a comprehensive called Priestnall School. Priestnall occupied the old Fylde Lodge site. The site of the former Stockport High has belonged to Hillcrest Grammar School since 1983. Joan became head girl of Stockport High School and went on to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she studied Economics, then History.

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" 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.

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, 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. 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.

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. 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.

She was appointed CBE in 1999 and was Chairman of the British Film Institute from 2000 to 2002. She was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. 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 formally introduced to the House of Lords on 25 January 2011 as Baroness Bakewell, of Stockport in the County of Greater Manchester, 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.

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