They may not be Old Masters, but they are about age

THE AGONY aunt Claire Rayner sees her impending old age as a tangle of large-print books, library tickets and indigestion tablets. Her husband, Des, prefers to think of the two of them sitting on a desert-island beach, gazing into the sunset.

Their paintings on the theme of ageing form part of a mini exhibition on show at the Royal Academy in Londontonight. More than a dozen celebrities have painted a picture to mark the International Year of Older Persons. They will be auctioned to raise money for Help the Aged.

Among those not afraid to confront their feelings about the onset of wrinkles, absentmindedness and false teeth were Ian Lavender, better known as Private Pike in Dad's Army, the chef Ainsley Harriott, Michael Aspel and Jon Snow.

Lavender is resigned to the fact that he will be known for ever as that "stupid boy" and has made a collage of the ever-youthful Pike with a snow- white beard and steel-rimmed spectacles made of paperclips.

Floella Benjamin, the former presenter of Play School, painted Humpty sitting in front of the round window. "I have such happy memories of that time and every day I get a letter from someone asking about the programme," she said yesterday.

"Many of the children who watched Play School now have children of their own and they remember me. Being old is a state of mind and you should not be afraid of it."

The Butterflies actress Wendy Craig painted a forlorn image of a bent old lady walking away under a canopy of bare, bent trees. Jon Snow saw himself surrounded by grandchildren and Michael Aspel celebrated the fact that he was old enough to refuse to do things he didn't want to do.

A spokeswoman for Help the Aged, which is hoping to raise pounds 13,000 from the sale of the paintings and a raffle at tonight's party, said: "The aim of the exercise is to celebrate the contribution that older people make to society, to dispel the myths about ageing and to work with younger people."

To that end Ainsley Harriott submitted two paintings he had done with his children, Jimmy, nine, and Madeleine, six, on the importance of exercise and healthy eating.

But although all were happy to donate a painting on the subject of ageing, not all were so happy to discuss their own advancing years. "I'm Peter Pan, I'm ageless, I work with children - it keeps me young," trilled Ms Benjamin.

Further details: Help the Aged, 0171-253 2926.

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