BBC ageism row reignited" reads the headline on the Anchor Trust's website, giving details of its "Older Faces Audit". Well, they hope anyway, since pretty much the sole purpose of the survey is to get the words Anchor Trust into the papers – and mere smouldering isn't going to pay off terribly well. They want the towering clouds of black smoke that you get when indignation burns – and to that end some poor sap has been given the task of counting wrinklies on the telly to demonstrate that there's not nearly enough of them.
I'm a wrinkly myself for these purposes, incidentally, since they were hunting for over-50s – and as such I suppose I should feel a surge of umbrage at the revelation that the facially-weathered turn out to be under-represented on the small screen. Apparently only 20 per cent of presenters and actors on BBC1 are over 50 compared to 34 per cent in the population at large. ITV performed slightly better with 27 per cent of over 50s while BBC2 inconveniently bucked the trend completely by featuring 37 per cent of over-50s – which logically should spark a protest by the more youthful mid-lifer, I guess.
Given that these findings are drawn from just one week's broadcasting you might not want to set off just yet, though... whether you're agitating for more grey hair or less. I imagine that the BBC could readily find a broadcasting week in which the balance tilted a bit more favourably to equable representation. But, if it was true, and represented a consistent prejudice in favour of youth (which would fit with broad expectations, surely) should we really be outraged by it? I find it a little difficult to get worked up – even though I suppose I should be waving my birth certificate at the BBC's commissioning editors and demanding that they give middle-age a chance.
It's not that I'm in favour of ageism. In fact I've noticed that my opposition to this particular form of discrimination grows stronger with every passing year. It's not a good idea that the BBC should institute an informal retirement age which comes into effect 20 to 30 years before the official one. But I am a bit wary of demographic selfishness – and I worry about the effect on society as a whole of a cohort of stroppy and demanding 50-somethings.
Just after I'd seen that report on the "older faces audit", for instance, I noted another survey (by YouGov) which reported that couples are delaying getting married and starting families because they simply cannot afford to buy their own house. The rise of house prices over the last decade or so – a rise which has disproportionately enriched the over-50s, it should be remembered – has made things very difficult for first-time buyers. This too is a social unfairness – but I don't suppose that baby-boomers will be eagerly supporting attempts to drive the market down to more realistic levels.
They ("we" in my case) are inclined to take our dumb luck in this respect as an entitlement. We've already calculated that the capital is ours, and mentally built our retirement plans on it. At the same time we're eagle-eyed about generational unfairnesses that don't run in our favour. That well-paid job which helped us pay off the mortgage early? We'd like to hold on to it a bit longer if you don't mind – given the dent the recession has left in the pension fund. And tough luck if that makes it tougher for you to pay your mortgage... or even get one in the first place. By all means lets be vigilant about the unreflective prejudices against the over-50s. But let's not forget that the lottery of birth date has given our generation of over-50s a lot of unearned advantages too. If we really want social equity we may have to be prepared to share them.
Putting in an heroic effort every night
I've always been a little impatient when actors talk about "courage" and "risk" – but occasionally you encounter a production which makes you realise there might be something to it.
Dennis Kelly's play The Gods Weep is one such – not a discreditable failure, in my view, but a pretty conspicuous one for all that. It's been through fierce cropping to get it to two and a half hours long (one rumour had it that the original text ran for close to five hours) and the scars have not all healed well, as several critics pointed out. Everyone involved in this production must know that they're the equivalent of stokers on the Titanic – required to stay at their posts and bail frantically despite the rising waterline. And yet they do it valiantly.
Jeremy Irons, in particular, gives a terrific performance as the central character – faced every night with the actors' nightmare of having to accurately forget lines that he's spent weeks memorising. Reading about the Olivier Awards yesterday it made me think that the theatre really should have its equivalent of Purple Hearts, for wounds honourably received in combat. The winners the other night had already been richly rewarded with great reviews, packed houses and the nightly buzz of success. Surely there's room for at least one trophy to console those who stick to their post in the face of insuperable odds and withering flanking fire?
Chocolate for breakfast? It's just wrong
In one of my favourite gags from The IT Crowd Jen asks Moss what he had for breakfast. "Smarties cereal", he replies. "Oh my God", she says, appalled, "I didn't even know Smarties made a cereal". "They don't", Moss explains, "It's just Smarties... in a bowl... with milk".
It was a joke about the cretinous fecklessness of young males – but it seems it wasn't really a joke at all, just a prediction. Kellogg's has started marketing a cereal – it doesn't deserve to be named – which consists of "crispy cereal shells filled with a chocolate hazelnut centre". According to the company's sales director it offers a way to "retain young adults in the habit of eating breakfast cereal" – though only, it seems, if the cereal is actually a kind of lightly modified Ferrero Rocher.
I don't know which is the more disgusting : the idea of attempting to eat a bowl of this grim product or the fact that, in the teeth of growing anxiety about youthful obesity, a notionally reputable company would spend £4m peddling such nutritional trash – marketing it through Facebook and Twitter and music festivals.
I am happy to pass on a sample of the contagious viral excitement generated on one student website. "It tasted like a dog had farted directly into my mouth", wrote one consumer. Others begged to differ: "Tastes of sick" wrote one. "Rank and stale tasting" posted another. Sometimes you feel food labelling regulation isn't nearly enough... we need prison sentences too.