Francis Beckett: Keelite of the Month November 2014

1969 History & Philosophy

Francis Beckett What am I doing now? 

I’m an author, journalist and playwright, and I get to do some broadcasting too. I’m finishing my eighteenth book, about Tony Blair’s post Prime Ministerial career. Two of my plays are published by Samuel French and these days are mostly performed by amateur companies, and a third won the Independent Radio Drama Productions award. I edit Third Age Matters, the national magazine of the University of the Third Age. I’ve written several short stories for OUP collections. 

How did you get to where you are now? 

By accident.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I’m quite proud that I’ve survived without a proper job since 1984. I’m also proud of some of my books, especially my biography of Clem Attlee; Marching to the Fault Line, an account of the 1984-85 miners’ strike; and What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?, which does what it says on the tin. Some of my journalistic writing isn’t bad. Most writing, especially journalism, is like throwing stones into a well so deep that you can’t even hear the plop as it reaches the bottom, so I suppose I’m quite cheered that my Guardian profile of Keele’s Neil Baldwin inspired a much-praised film, Marvellous, as well as even more fame for Neil. (See "How Neil Baldwin became Keele University's Mascot")

Photo Below Right: Francis received the Ted Wragg Award in 2009. The Ted Wragg Award is a journalists' award for lifetime contribution to education journalism. The picture is taken at the awards ceremony in the House of Commons.

Francis Beckett at Ted Wragg Awards And your biggest mistake?

I hardly know where to start. Not realising early on that the only thing I’m really good at is words.  Getting involved in all sorts of things which I’m not very good at, like politics. Not realising early on that the more serious writing you do, the better you get at it. Not taking my chances to go onto the staff of national newspapers – it felt more adventurous to freelance, but it was probably a mistake. 

What are your ambitions now?

There will be some more books, some more plays, some more stories, and maybe a novel.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field? 

Today more than ever, the most important thing for the aspiring journalist is not to undersell yourself. A lot of people in the business will try to put you down, and they will exploit your talent and enthusiasm with endless internships and no job offer. Eventually the time has to come when you say: either pay me for my work, or get stuffed.

Francis Beckett What made you choose Keele University?   

Having been at a Jesuit boarding school, where I was force-fed Victorian values, snobbery and religious bigotry, the new universities of the sixties seemed to represent freedom and a freewheeling style of learning.

What kind of a student were you? 

Lazy academically, hyperactive socially and politically.

‌How has Keele influenced your life?

It taught me to think. Professor Tony Flew made an atheist out of an agnostic ex-Catholic, and I shall always be grateful to him for that, even if he himself started to doubt his lack of faith by the end of his life. Keele gave me a home – I had been itinerant as a child, following the oscillating fortunes of my parents into nine sharply contrasting homes and almost as many schools, and at Keele I felt I belonged somewhere, for the first time in my life.  It protected me – rather too much, I now think.



Francis Beckett Keelite of the Month Nov 2014 Drama Francis Beckett Keelite of the Month Nov 2014 Drama Francis Beckett Keelite of the Month Nov 2014 Drama Francis Beckett Keelite of the Month Nov 2014 Drama

What is your favourite memory of Keele?

Can I have three? Directing and acting in plays – Keele at the end of the sixties had a remarkable flowering of theatrical talent and we had a regular presence on the Edinburgh Festival fringe. Philosophy seminars with John Grundy and the great Anthony Flew and history seminars with Frank Field. And lifelong friends.  They know who they are.

Drama Photos Above:
Top left: Keele’s late night review in Edinburgh, 1969. Left-right: Joe Kelly, Francis Beckett, Anne Richardson, Mac Elsey.
Top right: The same. Left-right: Anne Richardson, Francis Beckett, Moyna Wilkinson
Bottom left: 'Flood' at the Edinbuight Festival, 1969. Left-right: Francis Beckett, Mac Elsey, Joe Kelly, Anne Richardson
Bottom right: Rehearsing 'The Trigon' for the New Universities Festival, 1966. Left-right: Martin Yarnit, unidentified, Sarah Erskine, Francis Beckett, George Duncan.

Find out more at Early Keele Drama.

What is your impression of Keele now?

The students are much more driven and serious than we were, as befits young people growing up in the far harsher world that we baby boomers created for our children to live in. The place seems to have lost some of its introspectiveness, which was a weakness in my day – people seem much less inclined to live their life in the Keele bubble, which is a good thing.

Anything else you would like to add?