Sour grapes from TV’s old gals
It’s “morally wrong” that there are no older women on television, John Humphrys tells The Daily Telegraph. Since Humphrys is still soldiering on at the Today programme, aged nearly 70, he may be feeling guilty – but like so much that’s said on the subject of women on TV, this is silly. Producers don’t worry about morals; they worry about ratings.
Besides, there’s hypocrisy in all this, as the impeccably feminist Carol Sarler noted in The Times. Yes, we can see why Harriet Harman went “whinnying” with outrage into the Today studio last week. Only 18% of presenters over 50 are women, while among the 481 presenters of all ages at the BBC, Sky, ITN, Channel 4 and Five, the headcount of 50-plus is just 26.
The root problem, though, says Sarler, is that women have always been there to “decorate” the news rather than present it – and it’s a tradition that’s flourished because “women smart enough to know better tacitly collude with it”.
The problem didn’t start when on-screen women got older: it started “when they were 25 and... happy to muscle past their plainer-Jane colleagues by primping and preening themselves into what passes for contemporary beauty: big eyes, glossed lips, defined breasts, dieted hips and all the trimmings of fecund allure”.
There wasn’t any moaning then, since they were well rewarded for attending to the physical rather than the cerebral. “I don’t know if Joan Bakewell minded her handle ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’, but I do know she was not sufficiently troubled to lengthen the skirts that displayed eye-popping yards of comely legs”.
Now we have the grumbling. It’s not fair, say Anna Ford and Selina Scott; Fiona Bruce says she doesn’t “dare” let a grey hair show. What else did they expect from their “Faustian pact”? If you “trade with looks as currency, you should not be surprised if it devalues as they fade”, says Sarler.
Ford complains that “male dinosaurs” like David Dimbleby and John Simpson still adorn our screens but doesn’t mention that they never traded on their looks. (Look at Andrew Marr, with his thinning hair and jug ears – hardly chosen for his handsomeness.)
“The old gals may chuck as many sour grapes as they please,” says Sarler. They are compromised, “and, as such powerless. They sold their souls to the Devil decades ago and now comes payback.” So let’s have some young plain Janes on our screens whose brilliance comes from within – and some TV bosses willing to put them there.
• According to Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, the replacement for the Routemaster bus will soon be visible in London. Within two years they will have become “a glorious and regular addition” to London’s streetscape. Apparently we will have 600 by 2016. Good. The important thing about buses is to be able to get on and off when you want to. I may even start taking buses again myself.
Tabloid money: the fear of being exposed as a ligger
• “The night before her death, grandmother Stephanie Bottrill leaned over her neighbour’s fence and told them she was so poor she hadn’t been able to eat for three days,” writes Jane Moore in The Sun. She was given a plate of food from the neighbour’s barbecue before another night sitting in the dark and cold “because she couldn’t afford to feed the meter. The following day she threw herself in front of a lorry…”
In a suicide note to her 27-year-old son, she blamed the government’s ‘bedroom tax’. A single mother on anti-depressants, Stephanie had lived in a three-bedroom council property with her son and daughter.
“When they moved out, she was told she had to move to a smaller house further away, or pay an £80 per month tax on the two empty bedrooms.” She didn’t have it. The system failed her, says her son. “Call me old-fashioned,” says Moore, “but if her children could afford to move out to places of their own, couldn’t they have found £10 a week each to help her out financially?”
Times are hard and countless people are struggling, but it suggests a “skewed expectation from wider family members that the responsibility of keeping their loved ones fed and warm lies solely with the state… The truth is that nothing and no one should be blamed for Stephanie’s suicide, the reasons for which, one suspects, ran far deeper than just the ill-advised bedroom levy that is rapidly turning into the current administration’s poll tax.”
• Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes has been “publicly lambasted for spending £700 of taxpayers’ money on two chauffeur-driven work trips”, writes Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. He now says “he always felt bad about the cost: ‘I was uncomfortable about it from the moment I became aware of it.’ He means from the moment co-workers rightly blew the whistle on his extravagance. And substitute the word ‘uncomfortable’ for ‘fear’ – fear of being exposed as a ligger and losing his job”.