Joan Bakewell: The Beatles, Bohemia and Ban the Bomb, EIBF 2012, Review

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Joan Bakewell, Steven Gale (Chair)
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It was a delight to see Joan Bakewell back in Edinburgh - as she put it herself, "the time seems to have flown; I was only here last year" .   But this year she was here to talk about her move into fiction writing with her new novel, "She's Leaving Home".

Steven Gale introduced her as a well known journalist and broadcaster and someone who had been the UK Government advisor for 'older people'.

Joan Bakewell said that she had decided to write a novel as she had received many approaches from television companies all wanting to make a programme about the 1960s.    She felt that with all this interest in the period there must be a market for a book covering the time when she herself had been an adult through the period.

She reminded the audience that the post-war changes did not suddenly start in the 1960s but had  begun gradually  in the 1950s and gathered apace as the decade rolled on. She recalled the arrival of jazz in the 50s which then gave way to pop in the 60s.   She mentioned that as part of her research she went to Liverpool and interviewed ageing DJs about the period and they all seemed delighted to talk to her.

However, she said one had to appreciate the significance of Liverpool; she had been brought up in Manchester and just after the war, with all the shortages, things like books were really valued and records were even more scarce.  With Liverpool being a seaport and the route into the country for goods from America this allowed the city to get all the latest imports first.

These goods included records, so to listen to the latest performers from America was a hugely exciting experience for the young as America was seen as a wonderfully glamorous  place - the home of  film stars and it seemed a land of plenty.  

Bakewell said she remembered seeing her first coffee machine, which was all shining chromium plate, and gasping at the way it produced the various types of coffee.   In her book the main character, Martha, talks of the coffee as "something she knew she would come to enjoy".

Steven Gale reminded us of what the post-war years were like and when a strict dress code for women still existed - wearing of hats, gloves and having a handbag -  trousers not accepted wear,  except for those in the forces, or still working in factories.

But the number of women in employment fell rapidly as soon as the war was over as the men returned and took their old jobs back.   This caused a lot of depression among women who suddenly found themselves cut off from the fuller life they had led during the war when working in the factories or on the land.   

It is a fact that the prescriptions of anti-depressants for women increased greatly after the war.    So we have a picture of women's disappointment and the mother/daughter relationship tensions which Joan Bakewell said she had tried to portray in her book.

The other point Steven Gale highlighted was the much more compliant society that existed at the end of the war.   People had been used to doing what they were told with posters saying, "Don't you know there's a war on?".

But this was thrown into sharp contrast by the films which came from America which showed a level of glamour which we in Britain could only marvel at in awe.   

In her book Bakewell said she illustrated this by Martha's father allowing her to see many of the films from the projection box of the cinema where he worked.   This, of course, was the golden age of the cinema as there was no television and no computers.

Joan Bakewell added that the other huge change was the introduction of the birth control pill, which immediately gave women the freedom to decide when to have their families. This helped to improve greatly the lives of women and immediately gave them greater possibilities for employment.

She was asked which actors she would choose for the main characters in her book if it was made into a film - she answered that she thought Emily Mortimer would be best for Martha, for the mother she felt Julie Walters would be ideal and for the father she said that she had a teacloth at home that says, "last night I dreamed of David Craig" so she thought she would go along with him!

For one of her last questions Joan Bakewell was asked if writing the book made her wistful?    Her reply was appreciated by many in the audience - she said, "now in my seventies I am wistful a lot of the time!" - how true for many of us!

Event: Friday 17 August