Joan Bakewell to air her own version of Betrayal, 40 years after Pinter put their affair on stage

Hannah Furness
Dame Joan Bakewell will air her own play about her affair with Harold Pinter - Rex Features

At the time, it caused quite the scandal: the BBC broadcaster’s love affair with one of the most famous playwrights of his day, splashed across the stage for all to dissect.

Harold Pinter’s Betrayal laid bare the details of his relationship with Joan Bakewell, leaving her hurt, under the glare of 1978 gossips, and not a little put out that her story was being told without her input.

In a move which could come to define the phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold”, she will next month broadcast her own version of events, after rediscovering a play she first drafted 40 years ago.

Bakewell, now a Dame, has today announced a new 45-minute drama entitled Keeping In Touch, which tells the story of Betrayal from a rather different perspective.

Joan Bakewell and Harold Pinter

It was first written in the late 1970s, when she picked up her pen for a cathartic response to Pinter’s work, intended for her eyes only and swiftly tucked away in a drawer.

But, as she came to look through her archive in her 80s, she found the work and, when asked by a radio producer friend if she had any plays in the pipeline, mentioned it to the BBC.

Newly-polished, it will be broadcast for the first time on April 22, starring Charlotte Riley as protagonist Rachel, a young wife and mother left feeling “trapped” by the confines of her era.

Charlotte Riley, who will play Bakewell's protagonist Rachel

Bakewell said: “When he [Pinter] wrote Betrayal in the 70s, long after the affair was over, I was very shocked and hurt to some extent that he had used so closely the events of our affair.

“When somebody writes a play that uses events of your own life without asking permission, you do feel in some way diminished by that.

“You feel something’s being appropriated of your own life without your permission.

Playwright Harold Pinter seated in front of (L-R) Roy Scheider, Blythe Danner and Raul Julia. Pinter is holding a copy of Betrayal.

“In the months that followed, just for my own satisfaction, I wrote a play about the same events and put it away.

“It wasn’t really for public consumption and I just wrote it for my own answer for myself to the play that he [Pinter] had written.

“I found it gave me some reassurance that I was in possession of the events of my own life. It reestablished my sense that I owned my own life, and that it was mine to write about.”

Pinter and Bakewell photographed at the British Literature Prize in 1995

The story itself uses different characters, with new names and professions - broadcasting rather than publishing - but also details the lives of a young wife, her husband and her lover.

“It’s the story of my experience as a woman at that time, trying to make decisions about her life,” said Bakewell. “The events run parallel but the characters are different.”

Long forgotten, the script remained in Bakewell’s own archives until she began searching through papers out of curiosity 40 years on.

Colin Morgan, the actor

“It needed rewriting because it had been written quite skimpily and not groomed for production in any way because I hadn’t thought it would see the light of day,” she said.

“It reminded me that in a sense I’d stuck up for myself, whereas I’d felt rather distressed by Harold’s play, my own play made me feel that yes I had a voice too.”

Keeping In Touch, she hopes, could be heard as a period piece, detailing a different era before mobile phones when would-be lovers had to meet up in person or use landlines to conduct an affair.

Alistair Petrie

Her own eight-year relationship with Pinter occurred in the 1960s, while she was married to Michael Bakewell, a radio producer, with a young daughter.

Pinter too was married to Vivien, an actress. The play will explore the dilemma of a woman marrying young, as Bakewell did, going on to “feel that it is limiting: she feels trapped”.

The final broadcast, starring Alistair Petrie as Rachel’s husband David, and Colin Morgan as David’s friend Tom, will be broadcast on Radio 4 after an archive recording of Betrayal.

Dame Joan Bakewell found the play in her archives

“So that people can see on the one hand and on the other,” said Bakewell.

Keeping In Touch will air on BBC Radio 4 on April 22, 3:45pm.

It forms part of a new season announced by Gwyneth Williams, controller of Radio 4, today, including the first radio dramatisation of The Hours, starring Rosamund Pike and Fennella Woolgar, a new play about JS Bach starring Simon Russell Beale, and a new radio comedy show featuring Mel Giedroyc.

READ MORE ABOUT:

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes