Diary - Joan Bakewell

With extreme distaste, I read a poem about a Roman centurion's homosexual fantasies about Christ. I

It looks extremely unlikely that I shall be going to jail. But then, thinking of police workloads and delays in the courts, I can't feel absolutely safe. Now support for my case has come from a surprising quarter.

Let me explain: Taboo, my television series last autumn, explored where Britain now stands with regard to censorship. In the course of discussing the law of blasphemy, I read an extract from a poem by James Kirkup called "The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name". I read this poem with extreme distaste and I hope that showed on my face. It expresses a Roman centurion's homosexual fantasies about Christ and the disciples. Not my kind of thing at all.

The poem had been the subject of the only really successful private prosecution for blasphemy brought since 1922: in 1977, Mary Whitehouse won her case against the Gay News editor Denis Lemon, but he was merely fined and given a suspended prison sentence. Her successor, John Beyer, complained to the BBC and the police about my reading.

Happily, I am getting support from a formidable group of Christians: the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has written to tell me of a resolution passed recently at its annual meeting that it "deplores the threat to bring charges against Joan Bakewell for blasphemy . . . and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly to repeal the blasphemy laws".

With Christians against it, who can now be for it?

Further to my criminal career, I have been receiving subversive phone calls. So, it now appears, have many others. At the last Cheltenham Literature Festival, I appeared on a platform celebrating the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. I expressed disquiet about the proposal to demolish the art deco Royal Shakespeare Theatre in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon, significant to feminist historians as the first work by a woman architect in Britain, Elisabeth Scott. My comments found an echo in the audience and that echo obviously reached backstage at the RSC, where staff had been forbidden to speak of the plans to tear down the theatre, even to family and friends - let alone journalists. Hence my subversive phone callers. All they wanted (no names given, so I couldn't squeal!) was to be fully briefed on what and why it was happening, and the chance to join the debate. Plenty of people outside the company feel the same way. Now that Adrian Noble has quit, is it too late for a public debate on the demolition?

I do not wish to speak of dumbing down. But I recently unearthed the fact that, in 1965, the TV drama producer James MacTaggart - after whom the illustrious Edinburgh television festival lectures are named - produced no fewer than 32 single plays for BBC Television. Four of them were by Dennis Potter, two by John Hopkins, with others by Mercer, Whitemore, Nell Dunn and Michael Hastings. Times change, and there are lots more channels and lots more choice. But where, I wonder, would you look - in which niche of cable or satellite, which corner of BBC and ITV schedules - for just one single play that could compare, in terms of the weight of ideas and challenging topics, with any of those?

The thought is prompted as we gather at the Royal Holloway College for a two-day seminar to celebrate the life and work of John McGrath - founder-director of Z Cars and the 7:84 theatre group. John died in January, and friends and colleagues - David Rose, Michael Kustow and Sir Richard Eyre, among others - gather to speak of his talents and commitment. An early episode of Z Cars written and directed by McGrath - all grainy black photography and camera angles from early German cinema - reveals a view that was thoughtful about crime, thoughtful about the causes of crime. It wouldn't do today, of course: too slow, too simple. Even The Bill, which is excellent, needs its dose of sexual romps and busy camerawork.

If you're interested in film, take note of the name Asif Kapadia. He is a 30-year-old from Hackney who, fresh out of film school, was given the beginner's task of making a five-minute short for the Lottery programme, in which I explained how Lottery money was being used to fund Tate Modern. Even then, he was keen, clear-sighted and a delight to work with. Last week his first full-length feature, The Warrior, played at the gala opening of the British Film Institute's festival of Asian cinema. The film is bold, dramatic and haunting - a brilliant mix of Kurosawa and the Wild West. It's violent, too: it even had Tessa Jowell wincing with fright. The Warrior is released on 3 May. The festival - ImagineAsia - goes on for eight months, and involves 50 arts organisations showing more than 300 films at over 50 venues across the country. So somewhere at a cinema near you . . .

Going to the dentist remains an ordeal. I have a dentist who, over many years, has never given me a moment's pain. But I still get that moment of panic, the sense that I can't swallow or will choke on the instruments. It never happens. Although I'm reconciled to injections and blood tests, the primal fear of dentistry - the sweaty palms, the racing pulse - still survives from childhood. I lie back and think of Martin Amis. But then, he got a book out of it.

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The man who would be king