Editor-At-Large: Parky's ideas about women on TV simply make me squirm

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The Independent Online

A new series of Michael Parkinson's show starts on the television later this week, and he's drumming up publicity by whingeing to journalists about the lack of intelligent older women on the box. Parky certainly has a point - since the demise of Davina McCall there are no women hosting talk shows, which have become a curiously male-dominated genre here in Britain, in spite of the fact that more women than ever have got to the very top in broadcasting. And I will draw a veil over the latest effort from 20-year-old Charlotte Church, which has certainly had a critical mauling. The warbling Welsh goddess kindly offered me the opportunity to appear on her Channel 4 show the other week in a comedy sketch, a job I felt I could decline without my career suffering too much.

In spite of Charlotte (and maybe she's part of it) a lot of British television is dominated by lad culture, from quiz shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats, presented by Jimmy Carr (certainly not a thinking woman's best friend) to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, in which ageing ex-rock stars and fat stand-up comedians swap tired repartee.

Have I Got News for You is a male-run minefield for female guests, a format that reduces most of them to shout, nag or simper in order to get a word in edgeways. In fact there are very few panel shows on television at all in which women appear on screen in equal numbers to men, from University Challenge to that dopey intelligence show hosted by Stephen Fry, who should know better.

But when Michael Parkinson holds up Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey as role models for this country, I want to squirm. I met Barbara Walters a couple of years ago and simply could not believe that this wrinkly pleasant washed-out looking elderly lady was the same glamorous woman I had see on my screen hundreds of times. The power of make-up is amazing!

In fact, we have plenty of absolutely brilliant home-grown women of a certain age on British television - it's just that they are not afforded any of the prime-time slots that men like 71-year-old Parky, 40-something Jonathan Ross and that pensioner Bruce Forsyth occupy as if by divine right. They haven't even got a woman presenting Question Time or any of the main political programmes, where people with surnames such as Dimbleby, Snow, Marr, hold sway. On This Week, Diane Abbott has to share a sofa with Michael Portillo and be helped through the show by Andrew Neil! Talented women who could do any of these jobs just as well include Judy Finnigan, Fern Britton, Germaine Greer, Joan Bakewell - and even, dare I say it, me. Even Anne Robinson has a razor-sharp brain, yet she is reduced to reading out cards on a quiz.

My life would be considerably enhanced if I could turn on the television on a Friday or Saturday night and see Judy running the action from her sofa rather than Mr Ross or Mr Parkinson. It's not as if both of these men are particularly brilliant with female interviewees in the first place - and Judy has that knack of being so approachable that she would surely be able to delve into their sex lives and marital woes without appearing the slightest bit smutty or prurient.

As it stands, two of Britain's most successful female presenters, Sharon Osbourne and Judy Finnigan, are condemned to day-time slots. And don't write in and tell me how great Sue Barker is - females don't get on in the world of sport presentation by being innovative or challenging.

I delivered babies last week, and loved every minute

I have spent the past two weeks working as a trainee auxiliary nurse in the labour ward of Barnsley Hospital, for a TV series which will appear on Five in the next few months. It's been a thoroughly engrossing experience and the care and dedication of these hard-working midwives has been inspiring and somewhat humbling. So far, I have helped to deliver four babies - an achievement for someone who's never even managed to change a car tyre or keep a dog. In fact I can now change nappies, wash them, deal with placenta and mop up all kinds of stuff you don't want to read about with your Sunday muesli. One of the births was a Caesarean, and it all went like clockwork. But an important new study carried out in America shows that babies delivered this way are three times more likely to die than babies born normally. Another study published last week, this time carried out in France, came to the same conclusions. These days, nearly a quarter of babies born in Britain are delivered by Caesarean and it is becoming the choice of middle-class women who can afford private health care. But from my limited experience, unless your baby is in danger, I cannot see why you would want a big slice through the skin and muscles of your stomach and your baby yanked out of you. Apart from the scar, and the loss of muscle tone for ever, it just seems a somewhat impersonal experience. And as for those famous mums who miraculously "lose" a couple of stone and regain their flat stomachs within a month of giving birth - you might as well know that they've paid the surgeon to do a giant pleat!

Rumba'd: £4m for a few dancing lessons? I should cha-cha

Next time I think that my personal trainer is a luxury, and that perhaps there's a cheaper way to prevent the onset of bingo wings, I will just thank my lucky stars that I've not got the thoroughly unpleasant Gaynor Fairweather and her husband Mirko teaching me how to dance. Gaynor, a former world Latin ballroom dancing champion, has been ordered to repay the £4m pounds she had the effrontery to charge a wealthy woman in Hong Kong for dancing lessons. FOUR MILLION POUNDS!! And what did their special coaching technique consist of? Apparently Mirko would shout at their pupil "move your arse" and called her footwork "fucking horrible". He claimed this was "motivational" language. If anyone wants motivating to lose weight or dance the tango, send me £100 and I'll happily tell you to eff off.

What a cheek: Cher's frocks go under the hammer

If you have the body of a pipe cleaner then Sotheby's is selling a collection of frocks that could certainly make you the centre of attention at any party this autumn. They are selling a large part of Cher's wardrobe, dating from her television series with dear old Sonny back in the 1970s. Designed by Bob Mackie, who dressed everyone from Elton John to the stars of 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty', these bejewelled confections are like pieces of sculpture in their own right. Cher's cosmetic surgery has attracted as many imitators as her wild dress sense. I am told that many of our television and film stars now request cheek implants to achieve the "Cherokee" look, which Cher was actually born with. Sometimes the result can look more like a Hammer horror film than something from the Wild West - two well-known American comedy stars have weird pointed shelves at the top of each cheek - and as they were born in New York and Chicago I doubt that mum or dad ever saw the inside of a tepee.

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