Elderly wary of `patronising' TV programmes

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Elderly people have a love-hate relationship with television and try to ensure, through selective viewing, that their lives are not dominated by the box. They are also critical of programmes specifically geared to them, such as BBC's Primetime, wh ich they think patronising.

This emerges from two studies of the over-sixties and over-seventies by the British Film Institute which point out that in academic and television industry audience research, "the elderly have frequently been neglected, either as a distinct social group or as a target for advertising".

It is estimated that 21 per cent of the population is of pensionable age, and that they watch on average 37 hours of television per week, compared with the average 25.5 hours per person.

Detailed BFI research, based on analysis of diaries and interviews, shows that much of the viewing "is well motivated and attentive", though some people living on their own reported keeping the television on during meal times as background company. Whiletelevision is valued, the viewer's attitude to it can be ambivalent, in part because this generation is accustomed to working hard and using time purposefully.

A 73-year-old widow living in rural Lancashire, who took part in the survey, said: "TV keeps at bay the very oppressive feeling of being alone. Sometimes I shout at it, which is very relaxing to me."

The respondents are heavy viewers of daytime programmes, and of news bulletins: some see seven a day. They are keen on information programmes, and quizzes, as a way of keeping in touch. One respondent, a widow of 75, living in rural Norfolk, describes how she likes the Channel 4 quiz show15 to 1 because she learns a lot from it.

Janet Willis, research projects director at the BFI, who initiated the survey, reports there is little to suggest the elderly have disengaged from society: "Television plays a supportive role in enabling them to have more outward-looking perspectives.

"Of greater concern is the perception that television, when it specifically targets this group. is in danger of under-estimating or talking down to viewers."

Those over 65 also display frustration with a lack of clarity, and innovatory television styles which are hard for them to follow. They appreciate on-screen captions, and clear explanations. They are little touched by the video age.

Television and the Household, British Film Institute, 21 Stephen Street, London W1P 1PL.