Posted by: Admin | November 23, 2010

Where are the older women?

TV presenter, Mariella Frostrup is quoted in the November 2009 issue of Saga magazine saying “Women over 50 [on TV] disappear as fast as members of Mugabe’s oppostion.” Ageism coupled with sexism on TV has been a hot topic for some time now with the UK pantingly following the US trend for older male news anchors paired with younger, prettier women on our screens. Witness grey-haired, portly, Eamonn Holmes anchoring Sky News, seated symbolically at a desk and slightly above the blonded, dieted and aesthetically pleasing younger, female, reporters who take to the sofa.

We need more of Barbara Walters' ilk in the UK (image ©

According to a 2009 poll by Populus for Saga, 68% of the 9,441 online respondents  “believed there is clear evidence of ageism against older presenters on TV in Britain”, with 81% of those agreeing it was more evident against women than men.

We are all familiar with the roll call of female presenters who have been quietly (and often not so quietly) shifted off our screens  in recent years: Joan Bakewell, Kate Adie, Anna Ford, Moira Stuart, Arlene Phillips… so just who is responsible?

Interestingly, the Director of BBC News and the Director of BBC People (responsible for recruitment) are both women. Alan Yentob, BBC Creative Director, says that it is important not to “ghettoise” any sector of their viewing public. “Older audiences don’t want to watch only older people on TV – it should be as young as they feel and aspirational,” he tells Saga. Hmm. That assumes that older viewers’ “aspirations” include looking backwards rather than forwards, or enjoying the life stage they are at. The glorification of youth has, I would suggest, gone far enough – we’re not all hankering after our thirties, thank you very much.

Eleanor Mills, writing in the Sunday Times in July this year, is dismissive of complaints, telling ex-newsreader, Selina Scott, “You’re the original Autocutie…who… worked big blue eyes and a blonde flick to mount the newsreader hot seat.” If you are hired for your looks, argues Mills, then you can’t complain when you get fired once your looks have faded. Women of substance, she argues, will endure.

I’m not so sure. Ageism on our screens, it seems to me, is as hot an issue as racism was twenty years ago. No one denied that the lack of non-white presenters was unrepresentative of the viewing public, or that the lack of role models was damaging to our multi-cultural society. In my opinion, the same is true of the lack of older women – I for one want to see women my age become more visible, signalling a tacit acceptance that we are useful, competent and part of society long after the appearance of the first wrinkle.



  1. Taking this topic a stage further, a couple of years ago, a cross section of male flyers were interviewed regarding what they wanted from an Air Stewardess/Flight Attendant. Whilst virtually all admitted that it was nice to see a tarted-up trolly dolly mooching about, they all said that they felt safer and better looked-after by older women who they felt would be more use if there was an incident or emergency on the flight.

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