The Week In Radio: In praise of older women

The nation's favourite poem, if BBC viewers are to be believed, is Jenny Joseph's charming vision of the feisty, older lady: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me." And, indeed, this hymn to the mature woman is very much of the zeitgeist. Females over 50 are supposedly hot right now, and as a result the BBC claims to be seeking women newsreaders past the first flush of youth. Obviously, they won't be allowed on TV wearing red hats or being embarrassing, and presumably they will be more Joanna Lumley than Thora Hird, but it's a start.

On radio, despite the hullabaloo over the arrival of 60-year-old Moira Stuart on Chris Evans's show, there are already a host of women at the top of their game. Jenni Murray and Sarah Kennedy are both 60 this year, and they aren't going anywhere. I can't see Radio London's admirable Vanessa Feltz slinking home to her Slanket and sudoku when she hits six decades. And although Sue MacGregor was bundled off the Today programme when she was only 61, it seems that on the radio at least, the older woman can henceforth expect an unstoppable rise.

So far, so demographically predictable, given that the assertive post-war generation was never going to slip quietly from the scene. But does this celebration of seniority extend to the rest of society? As the baby boomers stare dementia in the face and Martin Amis advocates euthanasia booths on every corner, that uncomfortable question was tackled by Katharine Whitehorn in Archive on 4: So Much Older Then.

People have been old before of course. There was a distinct sense of déjà vu in hearing Beveridge in 1954 warning of the coming cost of pensions owing to the vast bulge of old people in the population. And obviously the old have always moaned – there was a wonderful clip of Max Beerbohm in 1935 bewailing the embarrassment of escorting guests round shabby London: "One feels rather as Virgil may have felt in showing hell to Dante." But at a time when 37 per cent of those over 65 live alone, and half of those aged 24 under don't know anyone over 70, the gap between old and young now seems like more of a chasm.

According to Whitehorn, the sexualisation of society makes it worse. "Older people shouldn't be made to feel out of it because they aren't at it like rattlesnakes." By contrast, 40 years ago it was perfectly acceptable to scream with laughter at the idea that anyone over 50 did have sex. The expectations of old age still vary massively according to class, but in the media's portrayal of the old, Whitehorn detected a new, underlying aggression. On the one hand there are those, like Ming Campbell, who suffer nothing less than elder abuse. "No cartoon ever appeared without me looking totally bald and with a zimmer," he complained. On the other hand, there is the patronisingly indulgent tone adopted when interviewing anyone elderly, as though they have acquired a medal, not a bus pass.

This discrimination began, Whitehorn thought, with Peter Cook. "It became possible to express disrespect to old people only around 1960. If I had to pick one cultural moment that marked the shift it would be Beyond the Fringe – Peter Cook being Harold MacMillan." Thereafter, interviews with oldies were conducted with a kind of sniggering irony. "Youthful interviewers discovered that irony in the interviewing of the elderly was a way of sounding as though you valued their opinions while what you really wanted a glittering nugget of barminess."

This was a timely and thoughtful programme for a debate that will get increasingly loud as the Who generation discover that they don't die before they get old. Eighty-one-year old Whitehorn has a superbly dry, patrician – indeed, old fashioned – delivery, and a way of signalling scepticism with the merest inflection. Her exploration found precious little consensus and didn't seem to reach many conclusions, except, as sensible Angela Rippon observed (presumably wanting her job back now that she's 65): "We need a conversation nationally about how we age."

If we get one, I hope we hear from 78-year-old Fay Weldon, who was the guest on this week's With Great Pleasure. "I've been waiting a long time for this," she said, recalling a disastrous Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley 30 years before. "I'd recently written Puffball and Roy couldn't work out why men would be interested in the insides of women. I said well, they were interested in the insides of cars and I didn't see why they shouldn't extend it to their wives."

Age has not withered her, it seems, and she remains just as withering too.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone