In for a Penny; Bel Mooney Reckons She's Had It All Thanks to Her Love of Literature. She Tells Peter Elson How Public Readings Could Inspire Others to Follow Her

Article excerpt

Byline: Bel Mooney

BUSES have played the unexpected book ends to writer Bel Mooney's life. As a youngster growing up at The Green, Liverpool 13, her bedroom overlooked Queen's Drive, along which trundled a stream of green no 81 corporation buses.

Her present home in Bath is alongside a bus route which, after years living in the Somerset countryside, she finds strangely comforting.

That her first home was a council flat and her current one a Georgian terrace indicates her personal journey. One that involved streamlining and modernising her Christian name from the solid, provincial Beryl to the glitzier, metropolitan Bel.

Mooney's springboard was provided by her aspirational parents, Ted and Gladys. They moved from Liverpool to Trowbridge when she was 14 so her father could rise from a blue collar to white collar job in the Admiralty - and buy their own house.

Although she despised her new life in this Wiltshire backwater town, she continued the parents' upward social trajectory by reading English at University College London.

More spectacularly, at 21 she met, fell in love and quickly married Jonathan Dimbleby, of the broadcasting dynasty, in 1968. The marriage ended two years ago and she guilelessly refers to having a "boyfriend".

She combined her bookish tendencies with being in London's trendy media set of the late 1960s and 1970s. She retains a healthy egalitarianism from those heady days that now seems quite quaint.

Mooney firmly believes that Liverpool University's annual revival of Charles Dickens' Penny Readings is a worthy tribute to the great man's ideals.

"I can't bear the notion that great books or classical music belong to some elite. He insisted that only a penny entrance was charged so anyone could listen to his readings. Working class people queued to hear him," she says.

"I really hate the current assumption that the masses are only interested in I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and are not up to listening to great stories.

I don't think that's true.

"I love the idea of the Penny Readings as it offers people the chance of hearing great words read aloud that otherwise they might never have picked up. It can touch them through the ears and straight to the heart.

"So many people today don't even read to their children, they put televisions in their rooms and they're glued to their screens.

"That's really bad. There's something magical about being read to."

Mooney read aloud to her children. Her son, Daniel (now 31), recalls how she read him the complete Narnia series twice. …