Joan Bakewell: My mother had depression which made me love being at school

Joan Bakewell: My mother had depression from time to time, which made me love being at school more than being at home

Journalist and broadcaster Baroness Bakewell, 78, has two grown-up children and six grandchildren.

She is twice divorced and lives alone in north London.

Joan says: 'It's interesting that I'm looking at the camera; photography was quite rare in those days and I was drawn to cameras'

Joan says: 'It's interesting that I'm looking at the camera; photography was quite rare in those days and I was drawn to cameras'

This photo was taken in the back yard of Stockport High School For Girls in 1950, when I was 17 or 18 and in the sixth form.

It’s interesting that I’m looking at the camera; photography was quite rare in those days and I was drawn to cameras – a foretaste of what was to come, perhaps.

The school was very traditional. I remember thinking that wearing a tie was very male and it made us feel rather assertive and proud. We were all made very conscious of how proud we should be to attend a girls’ grammar school. I was sent there because it was aspirational.

My parents wanted me to get on in the world.

My mother, Rose, had left school at 13. She briefly became a tracer (copying drawings of engineering machinery) but gave up when she got married to be a full-time housewife. My father, Jack Rowlands, worked at a local engineering company.

My only sibling, Susan, was six years younger than me. She became a nurse, but sadly died of breast cancer in 1996. We grew up in a semi-detached, 1930s house just south of Stockport. I was happy as a child and close to my family. My mother had depression from time to time, which made for certain tensions, and made me love being at school more than being at home.

Being a Head Girl helped prepare Joan for having to make speeches in the House of Lords

Being a Head Girl helped prepare Joan for having to make speeches in the House of Lords

I went to Norbury Church Primary School in Hazel Grove first, then on to Stockport High School. I actually had a crush on another girl who was a couple of forms ahead of me, but I never made known my love; I just worshipped from a distance. The big thrill was kissing boys, who we met at school dances.

The school was staggeringly strict, with many rules, so I wasn’t much of a rebel. I was once given detention for talking too much, and had to write ‘I must not talk in class’ 100 times. I was a swot, urged on by my family and by my wish to get away and be part of some other world, which I glimpsed in magazines, films and newsreels. The best way to get there was to go to university. I was only the second girl from my school to go to Oxbridge, which made the headmistress proud.

As Head Girl, I’d had to make one or two speeches, which made me nervous, but I learnt to get up and get on with it. That’s how I feel now in the House of Lords!

After I got my scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, the headmistress made a speech and said, ‘Congratulations to the girls who are going on to university– they deserve all our admiration. However, the true role of a woman is to be a wife and mother.’ We were all furious. Of course, she’d never been a wife or a mother.

In 1985, there was a wonderful school reunion. They weren’t going to make a fuss about my career in broadcasting.

They said, ‘You’ve done well. Do you enjoy it Have you met Terry Wogan’ It was a matter of discretion not to be impressed.

Sadly, the school eventually amalgamated with another and became a comprehensive, and the building was taken over by a small private school, which was heartbreaking. I was very upset.

Joan’s novel She’s Leaving Home is published by Virago.