Biography reveals Harold Pinter's affair with Joan Bakewell

Harold Pinter, Britain's leading playwright, had a seven-year affair with Joan Bakewell, the television presenter, during his tempestuous marriage to the actress Vivien Merchant.

A biography due to be published by Faber and Faber in November will reveal that Pinter's play Betrayal was influenced by his relationship with Miss Bakewell, which lasted from 1962 to 1969. It had been assumed that the 1978 play was based on a later liaison, starting in 1975, with the biographer, Lady Antonia Fraser, daughter of Lord Longford and then the wife of a Tory MP. Pinter left Miss Merchant for her and she became his second wife in 1980.

But in Michael Billington's forthcoming biography The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, Miss Bakewell reveals: "Betrayal is about my relationship with Harold and it's all true."

"The affair described in the play was so intense," the Everyman presenter says, "that one can't ever forget how fraught it was and how riddled with moral underpinning. As we lived through the events, there really was a moral imperative to do the right thing. It was a serious matter and I think it took Harold a long time to decide to come to terms with it by writing about it."

The affair began when Pinter had already found fame as the author of The Birthday Party and The Caretaker. Miss Bakewell had begun her television career and was married to Michael Bakewell, a radio and TV drama producer. By the time it ended, she was one of television's most famous faces: as presenter of Late Night Line-Up, she combined intelligence with an understated but undeniable sexual allure, which led to her celebrated epithet, "the thinking man's crumpet".

The biography discloses that Michael Bakewell learned about the affair two years after it started but said nothing.

Perversely, this silence was seen by Pinter as itself a form of treachery. Michael Bakewell backed Pinter at the BBC, helping to get his plays on the air. "Obviously our friendship had ended by the writing of Betrayal," Mr Bakewell told Billington. "I remember vividly Harold's indignation at the fact that I had known for a long time about the affair without saying anything. I think he personally felt betrayed."

Betrayal depicts a seven-year affair between Jerry, a literary agent, and Emma, who is the wife of his best friend, Robert, a publisher (who himself has recurrent affairs). Emma survives the deceit with aplomb. The two men, symbols of parasitic, middle-class, middle-aged business people, are spiritually devastated by it.

Throughout the play (later made into a TV film), a single moment at a party when Jerry throws up Emma's baby daughter Charlotte into the air and catches her, is used as a symbol of pure happiness, lost for ever. This moment, according to Joan Bakewell, was, like many parts of the play, based on incidents during her affair with Pinter. In another important scene, Robert picks up a letter at the American Express office in Venice which is addressed to his wife in Jerry's handwriting. It is the moment when he realises the betrayal of his friendship. According to Ms Bakewell, one of Pinter's letters to her was found by her husband in the same way.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor