Michael Bakewell obituary


No BBC radio or tv producer within the postwar period was extra admired inside his career than Michael Bakewell, who has died aged 92 after a gradual decline by Alzheimer’s illness and macular degeneration.

He was the BBC’s first head of performs, appointed in 1963 by Sydney Newman, the dynamic and visionary government who had arrived from Canadian movie and tv and ITV to shake up the drama division. He divided it into drama collection and single performs. The Wednesday Play was the foremost anthology collection and, on BBC Two, Bakewell ran Theatre 625 (within the new high-definition 625-line format).

Till the top of the 60s, this drama was filmed in black and white, BBC Two being the primary European channel to broadcast in color. Between 1964 and 1968, Bakewell produced greater than 100 performs of between 75- and 90-minutes’ length. In 1966, John Hopkins’s four-part mini-series Speaking to a Stranger – which advised the story of a dysfunctional household from totally different viewpoints in numerous timelines (the solid included Judi Dench, Michael Bryant and Maurice Denham) – was acclaimed by George Melly, writing within the Observer, as “the primary genuine masterpiece written instantly for tv”.

Bakewell’s excellent roster of productions included performs by Nigel Kneale (whose 1965 model of George Orwell’s 1984 and sci-fi allegory The Yr of the Intercourse Olympics in 1968 had been outstanding and revolutionary), Harold Pinter, Giles Cooper, Alun Owen, Keith Dewhurst, Alan Plater, in addition to Ibsen, Strindberg and Athol Fugard.

He had a deep empathy with lots of his writers, and deep friendship with a number of, together with Pinter. His spouse between 1955 and 1972 was Joan Bakewell, whose personal skilled relationship with Pinter, as an arts journalist on the BBC, deepened into one thing far more.

Her clandestine affair, which began in 1962, lasted for eight years and have become the disguised topic of the playwright’s Betrayal (1978), an ingenious sequence of startling scenes performed out by the interlocked trio in reverse chronological order, in order that the play ends with the primary trace of underhand play at a celebration within the Bakewell family.

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Vanessa Redgrave, left, with Nyree Daybreak Porter and Norman Eshley, in Twelfth Evening, on the Shaw theatre, London, 1972. {Photograph}: AP

The relatively good 1983 film, directed by David Jones, had Jeremy Irons because the “finest pal”, a literary agent; Ben Kingsley because the writer equal of Bakewell; and Patricia Hodge as his spouse, an artwork gallery proprietor. Not one of the characters had been very similar to their life fashions, and nobody would have recognized in regards to the template had Joan Bakewell not spilled the beans. She felt the play particularly was an intrusive exploitation of her non-public life. Bakewell himself declared to Pinter’s biographer, Michael Billington, that “clearly our friendship was ended by the writing of Betrayal”.

He had caught his neck out for Pinter shortly after the crucial catastrophe of The Birthday Occasion in 1958 and fought an awesome battle with the previous guard of the BBC radio drama division to get his early quick performs on air earlier than working with him on tv. However some injury was repaired – not precisely a rapprochement – when, in 1995, the producer Ned Chaillet, a former Occasions critic, introduced Bakewell and Pinter collectively on a profitable radio model of Pinter’s unmade Proust screenplay.

Michael and Joan divorced in 1972 and, three years later, Michael, a modest, self-deprecating man, married Melissa Dundas, who had been beforehand married to the imposing character actor Francis de Wolff. They shared their respective youngsters from their first marriages and settled in idyllic domesticity, for 3 a long time in a village on the Essex and Suffolk borders, close to Colchester, shifting in 2013 to East Sussex. Melissa prompt they had been the lacking items in one another’s jigsaw.

Michael was born in Birmingham and grew up in Sutton Coldfield, the place he attended Bishop Vesey’s grammar faculty. He was the one youngster of George Bakewell, who labored for the gasoline board and painted in watercolours, and his spouse Elsie (nee Butcher).

After nationwide service with the RAF, he studied English literature at King’s Faculty, Cambridge, the place his tutor, George “Dadie” Rylands, guiding spirit of the Marlowe Society, cradle of the Royal Shakespeare Firm, counseled his “high quality thoughts”.

He graduated in 1954 and joined the BBC Third Programme (which in 1967 grew to become Radio 3), the place he discovered a very congenial colleague within the notable translator and script editor Barbara Bray, who was already establishing a community of connections with main European dramatists together with Samuel Beckett. This was the intense, high-minded surroundings through which Bakewell and Pinter thrived.

Bakewell by no means stopped working, even when much less distinguished within the BBC’s tv set-up. He directed Vanessa Redgrave and Nyree Daybreak Porter in Twelfth Evening on the Shaw theatre in London in 1972, then commissioned one final radio play from Christopher Fry, whom he a lot admired: One Factor Extra (1986) was in regards to the seventh-century Cumbrian monk Caedmon, instantly gifted with musical expertise. And he even managed a few books: a biography of Lewis Carroll (1993) and a examine of Lord Byron’s half-sister and lover Augusta Leigh (2000) co-written with Melissa.

He continued to provide and certainly dramatise such large radio serials as Barry Foster and David Buck as Sherlock Holmes and Watson, respectively, in 1978, a much-admired 1981 Lord of the Rings (with Brian Sibley co-writing), variations of Chekhov and Tolstoy and, in 1987, a seven-part dramatisation of Mrs Henry Wooden’s famously “sensational” 1861 novel of infidelity and double identities, East Lynne, within the writer’s centenary (of her demise) yr, with Rosemary Leach (narrating as Mrs Wooden), Maxine Audley and Brian Hewlett.

Michael survived a bout of bowel most cancers in 1996, after six months of chemotherapy, and continued to take inordinate pleasure in good meals and wine whereas travelling in France, and in music and the pure world, particularly in David Attenborough’s programmes.

Michael is survived by Melissa, by his two youngsters from his marriage to Joan, Matthew and Harriet, and by Melissa’s three youngsters from her marriage to De Wolff, Emma, Adam and Celia.


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