Honouring a television goddess
I feel as if I have known Joan Bakewell for half a century or so. That is to say that when I was a little under 13 years old, I used occasionally to sneak watching her on the telly – talking about culture on Late Night Line-Up. She then seemed to me to be awesomely smart and impossibly glamorous.
Aged 12 or so, I would not have believed that I would later get to know this goddess. But indeed I did. That was mostly when she did a stint in the 1980s as one of Newnham’s external fellows, at a time of one of the most intensive bits of college politics (namely when we were discussing whether to ‘go mixed’ – and I don’t think it is breaking any confidences to say that we were on the same side.
Even more I would not have believed what happened on Wednesday, when I had the fun of presenting her with the Sandford St Martin Trust ‘Trustees Award‘. The Trust has a wide remit, but each year it gives prizes to excellent programmes on tv and radio on religion and ethics – and to people who have made an especially significant contribution.
I had been booked to give Joan her prize. We made a good pairing I think. We’re both committed to giving ethics a good airing, but aren’t exactly paid up faith members.
It all happened in Lambeth Palace. And apart from doing the honours to Joan, it was great to see inside Hogwarts (as the Archbishop himself described it in his speech), and even more to see the famous remains of Archbishop Laud’s tortoise. This was perhaps even more famous to me from my teen-aged years than Baroness Bakewell herself (its survival had been drummed into us by a long suffering history teacher, who thought that the religious conflicts and reforms were perhaps less appealing than the extraordinary survival of this creature/pet).
And there were plenty of other awards. I particularly liked Mark Lawson’s speech announcing the winner in the radio category ('Objections at the Wedding'). It was a funny and elegant critique of those programmes (not only religious) which are based on the presenter’s personal ‘journey’ and which exploit the personal engagement of the presenter in the subject under discussion. As he rightly said, some of the best programmes, tv or radio, are made by those who don’t have a personal investment, and are being old style analytical journalists.
All too true. But I still came away thinking of Joan, and of Newnham’s great track record of producing daring women.