The cult of the older women ie any woman over 35 is based on the ‘well you would wouldn’t you?’ scenario, so what it really means is, do we still want to fuck her? I wonder if that’s the secret measuring stick used by the BBC to justify their decision to replace ooh say Arlene Phillips with the blandoid Alesha Dixon who now sits between two desiccated old men, Bruce Forsythe and Len Goodman.
But anyway whether you ‘would’ or not, in a business where women are still valued primarily on their looks and ‘fuckability’ Miriam O’Reilly has won a landmark case and really really embarrassed all those short (they are) white, middle aged men who run the BBC. Miriam was let go from Countryfile but not before a series of ominous remarks were made about her wrinkles showing on high definition television. She was replaced by a younger woman, and (surprise!) all her ideas for further programmes which had been so enthusiastically received were suddenly dropped along with her. It would have taken a lot of courage to go to tribunal especially when it means making an enemy of a very powerful organisation.
Miriam interviewed me once, when she was standing in for Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour. I had just written a series about girls comics called 43 Years in the Third Form and we were talking about the wonderful old comics like Bunty and Jackie. When we’d finished recording we chatted more and she mentioned that she’d been brought up in Balbriggan, a once small suburb of Dublin, and where my dad was born. She told me that the nuns at her convent school placed little black lace mantillas on all the little girls heads as they went into church. Every little girl that is, but Miriam, who was made to wear a blue bobble hat. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘I never found out,’ said Miriam, ‘but my mum was the only mother who wore high heels and lipstick when she came to pick me up.’ While I sat stunned at this example of contemptible cruelty, Miriam shrugged. ‘At that point, I made up my mind to get out of there and come to England,’ she said. Maybe a similar kind of grit has gotten her through the last fourteen months and to a resounding victory.
And one of the most interesting points raised by the tribunal is this:
The discrimination was not justified. The wish to appeal to a prime-time audience, including younger viewers, is a legitimate aim. However, we do not accept that it has been established that choosing younger presenters is required to appeal to such an audience
So the BBC (run by white, middle aged – short – that’s very important – men) are obsessed with youth but their get-rid-of-the menopausal-old-bat-and-stick-a-pretty-face-in-there-instead formula doesn’t get the audiences in. Julian Fellowes, the Oscar winning script writer, has said that television executives are ‘obsessed with this mythical youth audience,’ whereas the average age of the televison watcher is 52. Drama in particular is watched by older people, but ask any script writer and they will tell you the first words out of the executives’ mouths will be: ‘Can we cast young?’ as though if you put a bunch of pretty people on screen, the audience won’t notice the shoddy script. In fact what usually happens is give it enough of a push and the audience will tune in for one episode, but however young the cast – if it’s rubbish they won’t tune in for episode two or three or four.
Which reminds me. I haven’t seen any of those ads for Build Your Own Set of Miniature Boer War Soldiers. Part One only £1.50 with part two, three, four, five, six, seven . . . .free! Or How to Stick Bits of Felt onto Stuff, part one only 0.75p with part two, three etc etc. Not one of these ads. So maybe this recession has a slight upside.