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BBC ageism a myth, says new face of 'Crimewatch'

The television presenter Kirsty Young has denied claims that the BBC is ageist as she prepares to take over as the new face of Crimewatch, replacing Fiona Bruce.

Nick Ross, 60, who has presented the show for 23 years, left last year amid suspicions that he was axed because he was approaching his 60th birthday. Bruce was transferred to Antiques Roadshow to replace Michael Aspel, 74, when he steps down in the spring. Their departures led to allegations that new appointments were being made on the basis of age as much as ability.

"If I was 22 and some leggy, pouty bird, then I could see it, but they are stretching it a bit thin," said Young, 39, in a magazine interview. "And Fiona and I are of the same generation."

Ross announced in June last year that he would leave after corporation bosses failed to tell him they were ordering a revamp of the show, despite his close involvement with its editorial processes.

He said at the time that he had wondered if his age was an issue when BBC1's controller, Peter Fincham, raised the issue of Crimewatch's ageing audience in a meeting before Mr Ross knew that his contract was not being renewed, and acknowledged that television was "very much a young person's medium". His departure followed the dismissal in March last year of the well respected newscaster Moira Stuart, 55, from her post reading Sunday morning bulletins. That sparked fury among her colleagues, and viewers inundated the BBC with calls demanding her reinstatement.

Young, who starts on Crimewatch later this month and also presents Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, told Good Housekeeping that fronting a show which features reconstructions of serious crimes and whose presenter Jill Dando was murdered in 1999 held no fears for her.

"I don't have a nervous disposition. People's fear is disproportionate to the likelihood of them being involved in a violent crime," the former Channel Five news presenter said.

She added: "A boy being shot while riding his bicycle occupies the news for weeks because it's so unusual. Madeleine McCann going missing preoccupies us all because it almost never happens that a girl is taken from her bed."

At the time of her appointment, announced in September last year, the BBC commissioning editor Ben Gale said: "Kirsty's journalistic background means she is highly experienced in dealing with live presenting, and the kind of difficult and emotive stories that feature in the programme. She has the combination of gravitas and warmth that Crimewatch viewers expect."

The BBC said that the programme was enjoying its highest success rate, playing a part in the solution of one in every five cases featured. With regard to Ross's departure, the BBC said at the time: "It is simply not true to suggest that the BBC has an ageist agenda presenters leave programmes all the time, regardless of their age."

The director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, was called before an all-party parliamentary select committee following the furore over Moira Stuart's dismissal from Andrew Marr's Sunday AM programme last year. The corporation refused to reveal the reasons for its decision, but Mr Thompson told MPs that the way news programmes worked had changed.

Young also told Good Housekeeping that her most difficult challenge had been having her two daughters, six-year-old Freya and 21-month-old Iona. She explained the age gap between them saying: "It was all I could do to marshal my resources to do it again after five years. It wasn't for me.

"I had five-and-a-half months off after both my kids were born. That's considered a long time by some people, but I thought, 'If you can't take that amount of time off when you have kids, when the hell can you take it?'."