Page 9, 15th March 1996

15th March 1996
Page 9
Page 9, 15th March 1996 — Asking the hard questions

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Asking the hard questions

SHOULD lesbian couples marry? Why is Myra Hindley still in prison? How can a mother cope with the death of her child?

For many people, Sunday evenings are a time of peace and reflection. But for Heart of the Matter addicts, the elegant Joan Bakewell is still asking questions that you never raise in polite company.

Asking the hard questions has always been Ms Bakewell's style, a journalist whose programme, in her own words, "tells of the people whose lives and dilemmas I have found most poignant or most troubling and who each, in my way, have helped shape my own conscience."

Once dubbed the "thinking man's crumpet", Joan Bakewell's mixture of incisive percepdon and practical determination to discover the truth have got her far. She rose fast up the BBC ladder. Educated at Stockport High School and Newnham College, Cambridge, she trained as a BBC studio manager in radio before making her television debut in 1962. Three years later she was one of the four interviewers of BBC2's Late Night Line Up.

By 1981 she had been made BBC television arts correspondent, before being unceremoniously sacked.

In 1987 she became writer and presenter of Heart of the Matter, and has now made over 130 programmes.

But television has not been her only career. Since the 1970s she has made a reputation in print journalism, being both a television critic for The Times and columnist for The Sunday Times. She is also a member of the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Royal College of Art. All this, and a couple of books as well. It is some achievement.

What does she think is the great attraction of Heart of the Matter?

"Can you think of anything more dull than people agreeing with each other the whole time?"

"As the News of the World used to boast, 'all human life is there'. Everybody can identify with the big issues raised truth, justice, loyalty, forgiveness, integrity, duty and honour".

She compares fronting a programme and keeping all the contributors happy to "holding a noisy dinner party".

Married to the film director Jack Emery, and with two grown up chil dren, Joan Bakewell is someone who clearly relishes her job.

"Where else can a respectable woman go around with old hippies on the back of a bus? The sight of all those young people eating old vegetables really brought out my maternal instincts".

Although no longer a practising Christian, Ms Bakewell is still absorbed by religion and the questions that it poses. She admits that "if women priests had been around in my day, I may well have been tempted to join up ".

She describes the Church of England as a "great national institution", which has been "brought low by nonbelievers, cynics, and the indifference of most of us to the great spiritual inspiration that once sent men to the stake for their God."

She has always questioned things. "I was always taught to question when they are absolute: take an intelligent scepticism to authority".

Her views on marriage are surprisingly conservative. Marriage and the family, she believes, are integral to a happy life, and she feels it is good that people today are marrying late. "It is wonderful to see my grandchildren, and to notice how full of life and open to its possibilities they are".

Nevertheless, she refuses to paint a rosy picture of marriage.

"Can you think of anything more dull than people agreeing with each other the whole time?" she says.

"It is important to argue. It keeps the vitality of a marriage alive".

She is now busy working on a new series of Heart of the Matter, dealing with thorny issues like the plight of refugees and the drug Ecstasy.

So what is the secret of Joan Bakewell's success? No one put it better than columnist and television critic Stephen Pile, who wrote in The Daily Telegraph that "the great value of Joan Bakewell in our uncertain world is that she asks the central moral questions, listens with real care and is genuinely interested in the answers".

The new series of Heart of the Matter is on Sunday nights on BBCI. The HEART of Heart of the Matter: A Memoir is published by BBC Books, priced £15.99

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