Replace 'knackered old male comics' with 'tidal wave' of female talent, says Jenny Eclair

Eclair warned against filling seats with 'token' female celebrities.

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The Independent Culture

The comedian Jenny Eclair has called for “knackered old male comics” who present television panel shows to be replaced by a “tidal wave” of new female talent.

Last week Danny Cohen, the BBC Director of Television, pledged to end the male domination of comedy panel shows, such as Mock The Week.

But whilst the BBC executive said it was no longer acceptable to have all-male panels, Ms Eclair, a former Perrier comedy award winner who began her stand-up career more than 30 years ago, warned against filling seats with “token” female celebrities.

Ms Eclair argued that male comedians of a certain age are rewarded with plum presenting roles, whereas older women are not allowed the same opportunities.

Noting that Rob Brydon is to host a new BBC1 Saturday night entertainment game show, she said: “It is a prime-time show but even in afternoons all those knackered old male comics whose knees have gone have got all these lovely quiz shows. Please, can we have one of those?”

Ms Eclair, 53, questioned the qualifications for the women who are invited to appear on panel shows. “Why do they book people like Jamelia and Carol Vorderman?,” she asked, speaking on Radio 4’s The Media Show.

“We don’t want that tokenism,” she said. “The last thing Danny Cohen wants, I presume, is that every female comic in the land, when they’re watching a TV comedy panel game, sees a token woman, be she a presenter or pop star. We roll our eyeballs as far back as they can possibly go and say ‘Please, that is just putting us back hundreds of years.’”

There was no need to book celebrity figures she added. “Suddenly we’ve got this wave of great new female comics. There are loads of them doing good work,” she said. “Is it that women can’t be trusted? That they’re going to burst into tears?...Women are in comedy. I don’t think it is right to deprive women of their right to their fair share of seats on comedy panel games.”

Ms Eclair, who competed in the celebrity diving show Splash!, said she has been excluded from popular panel shows. “I’m not trusted. I’ve been told to my face by a female producer of Have I Got News For You that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

“At that point you just have to swallow it and go ‘fair enough’. I don’t watch any of the panel shows that haven’t invited me on because I’m so furious about it all.”

A former panellist on ITV’s Loose Women show, Ms Eclair said Cohen was an “enlightened” executive. But a total ban on all-male panels would become unnecessary over time. “Once we have enough women doing it, it just becomes normal. Then if we see an all-male show, we’ll just say ‘how sweet, look at all the boys together’ instead of going ‘oh, not again.’”

Jon Plowman, the BBC comedy producer who brought French & Saunders to the screen, said all-male panels were down to “laziness” by producers, who turned to the most obvious names because they are under pressure to deliver the most “laughs a minute”.

Ms Eclair was not amused when Media Show presenter Steve Hewlett asked her if men were not simply funnier. “Oh please. Don’t even pretend that it’s a funny thing to say,” she replied. “I’m a menopausal woman in your studio. What would you want me to say to that?” The answer, when pressed, was “obviously not”.