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Features >

Joan Bakewell journalist and broadcaster

I am not going to be talking to Jordan. When researching the programme [Belief, on BBC Radio 3] we looked for interviewees who were thoughtful and could express quite complicated ideas. We wanted someone with a direction of thought that would engage the listener or reader, and prompt them to have ideas of their own.

I want the programme to establish that belief is a highly individual matter, and sophisticated. It does not yield easy platitudes about given faith dogmas.

Half an hour is a long conversation, particularly when I do not say very much, and am just listening to them.

Sometimes interviewees are clumsy with words. Then I will say, “Could you make that clearer?” You have to do that straight away, or you lose the train of thought. I am very aware of the shape of the programme and where we are. I have a map of the ideas. There is quite a lot of discipline involved.

I interviewed Rowan Williams before he became Archbishop of Canterbury. If I was interviewing Rowan now, I would ask about the rows in the Anglican Communion.

I knew I really liked Rowan, as I had interviewed him in the course of Heart of the Matter. I am very much on his wavelength and with his sympathies. But if I interviewed him now, it would be different. He now holds an office of state; he has professionally changed, and there is probably a deep inner change. But, as far as I am concerned, he remains a deeply religious and spiritual man.

People in the Church are making idiots of themselves over homosexuality. They are out of kilter with modern society.

I am much better at the vocabulary of Christian theology, because I was brought up with it.

I am an unbelieving member of the C of E. I can’t give it up. Last week I went to Sherborne Abbey, where my grandson is in the choir.

Each person has been absolutely fascinating. I was entranced by John O’Donohue, who features in the book. I have known David Puttnam for years, but afterwards he said he had never talked about religion like that before.

I would love to interview Salman Rushdie. To talk about faith and life and death, and of course, that book. I was on the jury that gave him the Booker Prize. It would be fascinating, but I don’t think he will do it.

I am not sure about interviewing the new Pope. I can’t figure him out, and don’t think he would say anything that would lead anyone astray.

I am quite interested in the subversive, and what people make of religions. I am reading Robin Dunbar’s The Human Story, about whether religion is hardwired into man’s brain, and it concludes that it probably is. But it is not provable. The predicted trend that people would believe only in things that there is hard evidence for is not true.

I belong to a book group, and always have a novel on the go. I am reading Dirt Music by Tim Winton, and a more serious history book about the Roman period. Then there’s always a book related to my work. I am currently looking at A Gallery To Play To by Phil Bowen, about Merseyside poets.

Family are the focus of my life. I am divorced and have a wide circle of friends, but am very close to my children and grandchildren. We go on holiday together, and we have great fun booking the villa and choosing where to go. My family life makes me very happy.
I wanted to be actress when I grew up,
and had lead parts in school plays. I did a little bit of acting in Cambridge, but it became apparent quite quickly that I was not that good. Anyway, my mother was dead against it. She thought it was for common people.

Going up to Cambridge was a major event in my life. I read Economics and History, and I was the only one in my family to go to university, and only the second girl at my school (in Stockport) to go to Cambridge. It was the early 1950s and quite a culture shock, but it shaped everything that came after.

I would like to have lived abroad. I keep thinking, why don’t I go and live in Paris for two months? I probably would, except for inertia. It is much harder to do these things when one gets older.

I have always admired the strong women of the 19th century — the novelists and the social reformers. I admire their resilience and sheer determination to stand by their own ideas.

I remember a sermon by Eric Andersen, headmaster of Eton, on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford. I had been invited to the celebrations, and I remember he gave a very appropriate address. Back in the 1950s, I visited a local church in Downshire Hill and there was a real hell-fire sermon. I may not have agreed with it, but I remember thinking it was a splendid Miltonian rant.

I got rather upset about the sheer rage of the God of the Old Testament, when I sat down to try and read the Bible through. I only got to about Ecclesiastes, there seemed to be a lot of ethnic cleansing. It really wore me down, though various theologians explained it to me. But I like the Song of Songs.

I had my car towed away recently, but my son told me I dealt with it very well. I had to treat it as just one of life’s incidents, and not a major event. I did get very angry about the Iraq War.
I am not going to retire. Belief is an ongoing series.

I would love to be locked in a church with Simon Jenkins for the architecture, and Simon Schama for the history. The religion can take care of itself. I do love visiting churches. I recently came across St Finbarrus in Foye, Cornwall, which had a fascinating story.

Belief, a selection of interviews from the series, is published by Duckworth (£12.99, CT Bookshop £11.70; 0-7156-3378-3).

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