Janet Street-Porter: Penelope is not my kind of role model

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I suppose I should be thrilled that yet another sign of the exponential rise in power of the over-sixties as a group to be ignored at your peril is the news that Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles are back this Christmas in a one-off edition of To The Manor Born reunited after a gap of 25 years. Now the couple are 67 and 71 respectively, the story revolves around the celebration of their silver wedding anniversary.

Trouble is, like so many of my peers, I don't really consider myself a pensioner. I know I've just received my winter fuel allowance from Gordon, and my Freedom Pass has been invaluable for a spot of early Christmas shopping, but I feel more like 40 than 61, and I certainly don't want to look at a couple of thespian crumblies on my telly over Christmas, as I lie like a beached whale on the sofa after a lot of goose and claret.

I'm much more likely to be watching Dr Who and Kylie who is completely ageless, even if her weirdly smooth forehead is starting to resemble a boiled egg. Give me glamour, glamour, glamour over support-hose and sensible living any day.

Penelope Keith is lovely but no sort of a role model for my generation I'm afraid, with her forgettable clothes and no-nonsense hair, which looks like it was done at a salon somewhere in Surrey in the 1950s. Earlier this week I saw the 67-year-old Sir Ian McKellen in King Lear. What a tour de force not a boring moment in nearly four hours. We went out for a drink afterwards him in a fashionable paint-splattered T-shirt and a baseball cap something you couldn't imagine Peter Bowles doing in a million years.

Patrick Stewart, another sprightly 67-year-old, picked up the prize for best actor on the London stage for his performance as Macbeth at an awards ceremony earlier this week another bloke with great dress sense and loads of fans less than a third his age. But once actresses get over a certain a ge, however, a grisly future awaits them, demonstrated in enterprises like the BBC's Cranford. The leading women are either gorgeous and dewy or like Imelda Staunton and Eileen Atkins condemned to portray sad spinsters looking like a bunch of crab apples wearing frilly bonnets.

Cranford's problem is that it's all costume and no plot worth bothering with. Give me Lear or Macbeth any day. On stage these women star in Chekhov, Shakespeare or Strindberg, but on telly they're cartoon characters.

Two of my hard-working female friends have recently died well before their time. The producer Verity Lambert was utterly glamorous, always wearing beautiful jewellery with never a hair out of place. She might have been over 70, but you'd never have guessed. And Marit Allen, Britain's most successful costume designer, was struck down by an aneurism while working in Australia the other day. Marit had discovered Twiggy as a fashion editor at Vogue in the 1960s and had worked with some of the world's top directors from Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) to Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut).

Latest Government figures indicate that life expectancy is improving at two per cent a year, and by 2025 the average life span for men will be 84.7 years and 87.5 for women. Like Marit and Verity, women will be pursuing their careers well past retirement age and looking fabulous in the process. So I hope that our broadcasters will soon be able to offer us more uplifting and positive images of womanhood than Audrey fforbes-Hamilton or the dowagers of Cranford.

The very picture of charity

Sometimes it's hard to see a future for portrait photography as we snap each other on mobiles and turn the results into jigsaws, screensavers and Christmas cards. So it's surprising that millionaire pop star Bryan Adams is more likely to be found behind a camera these days than performing.

The vegan Canadian has built a reputation as a serious photographer, his exhibition of portraits of women at the Hospital in central London featuring an impressive choice of subjects ranging from human rights campaigners to leading doctors. It's amusing to see that the longest caption is for Lady Bamford. She does a lot of work for charity, but I thought she owned a very expensive grocers?

* Gordon Ramsay makes compelling viewing, and this week's Kitchen Nightmare was a classic. The Priory in Sussex is a former church, with pretty stained glass and ornate carving an atmospheric environment for a restaurant. Sadly, it served sub-standard, overcooked food to an army of pensioners cashing in vouchers, allowing them a 50 per cent discount. The Yorkshire puds looked like old rubber, and the hygiene standards left a lot to be desired. The chef, a chubby young man who did a lot of crying, clearly hadn't a clue, and was replaced by the general manager.

Gordon, who once said women couldn't cook, proudly announced this week that an unknown young woman, Clare Smyth from Northern Ireland, was taking over the kitchen at his flagship restaurant in Chelsea. He's also opening an establishment at Versailles in February with an all-female team in the kitchen. The motley crew at the Priory was all male the norm, in spite of Gordon's efforts to change the atmosphere in professional kitchens.

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