Get back on air, new BBC chief tells the woman sacked for being too old
Director-General has written to Miriam O'Reilly asking her to return to presenting
The new BBC director-general, George Entwistle, has told Miriam O'Reilly, the presenter who won a landmark age discrimination case against the corporation, that he wants her to return to screens in a prominent presenting role.
Mr Entwistle, whose appointment was announced on Wednesday, has written to Ms O'Reilly, 55, expressing his desire for the former Countryfile presenter to rejoin the BBC.
Finding a new role for Ms O'Reilly, and for other female presenters who claim they have been dropped to make way for younger faces, would demonstrate that Mr Entwistle, 49, intends to take a firm stance against age discrimination when he becomes the BBC's creative leader, in the autumn.
An employment tribunal ruled that the BBC was guilty of ageism when it removed Ms O'Reilly as part of a prime-time revamp of Countryfile in 2009. It was the first time an age discrimination case had been upheld against the BBC.
The presenter, who also introduced Radio 4 programmes including Farming Today, received an apology from Mark Thompson, the outgoing director-general, and was awarded a new three-year contract at the corporation. But she quit after six months, claiming that the roles she had been promised had failed to materialise.
Now Mr Entwistle, who is currently responsible for all the corporation's television output as director of BBC Vision, has proposed a fresh start. Ms O'Reilly said: "I was quite surprised that George got in touch. He sent me an email in which he thanked me for my recent work on Crimewatch Roadshow and said that he would very much like to discuss working with me again once the break I decided to take was over."
Mr Entwistle asked her to contact him directly with any presenting ideas and asked Emma Swain, the BBC executive tipped to take over his BBC Vision role, to examine one proposal for a new series which Ms O'Reilly would co-produce and present.
Under Mark Thompson, the BBC admitted it had been wrong to sideline older women from high-profile roles, following the removal of Moira Stuart from BBC television news and Arlene Phillips as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing.
Ms O'Reilly said Mr Entwistle's appointment was a positive step, adding that she hoped he would "keep his integrity under the pressure of such a demanding job".
The new director-general turns 50 on Sunday and will find his age cohort a demanding audience. Ms O'Reilly said: "The majority of people watching the BBC are in their 50s and older. It's something they have to take into account. The Jubilee coverage was an example of the BBC thinking they can throw a lot of young people on screen and get viewing figures."
During her discrimination case, the tribunal heard that Ms O'Reilly had been told to be "careful about those wrinkles" and consider Botox.
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