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Joan Bakewell © Sukey Parnell

An interview with Joan Bakewell

As we approach Oxford Literary Festival’s 20th anniversary, Sam Bennett talks to one of its star attractions
"Change always comes slowly"

At Oxford Literary Festival 2016 Joan Bakewell appears at the Museum of Natural History with Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind.

It’s a title that could suggest bleakness or utter joy. What is it that we get here? “ ‘Stop the Clocks’ is a meditation on growing old,” Joan says. “So it’s sometimes sorrowful for loss (friends dying, faculties weaker). But it’s also full of life because I have much to remember from 80 years and much still to enjoy.”

80 years…and her age has been the topic of her writing. One example being her book The View from Here: Life at Seventy, in which she said attitudes towards those who are 70 plus have to change.

“Change always comes slowly,” She says in answer to my asking if this has happened ten years on. “There are more older people around than a decade ago. The government has to some extent recognised their needs: bus passes, winter heating allowance etc. But nonetheless many old people lead isolated and depressing lives. Social care often remains wretched and inadequate.”

In relation to change I wondered what Joan’s take was on how journalism has altered over the years. “Journalism, as ever, is a mixed bag.” The broadcaster claims.

“Newspapers reflect their owners of course, and most British papers are owned by foreign billionaires who live abroad. They tend to be strident and censorious in their views.”

Bakewell, however, says she did not have to censor her opinions when she first started out, also stating: “I rather enjoyed flaunting convention: but conventions were very constricting in the 50s so today I would seem very conforming.”

Joan’s written about censorship and has also attracted controversy with her BBC2 documentary, Taboo.

“We have a strange paradox,” She says in regards to where we are on censorship today. “We have come far enough to share a belief in freedom of ideas and expression, and yet at universities students are seeking ‘safe spaces’ and rejecting speakers whose views they abhor. This is a contradiction that needs sorting out.”

Joan Bakewell’s Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind takes place on Friday 8th April, 4.00pm, at the Museum of Natural History.

What will people inevitably ask her about?

She has some idea…

“My affair with Harold Pinter usually crops up.”


- Sam Bennett


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