Danny Baker's live on air rant at BBC bosses shows their attitude to age isn't changing

After finding out his radio show was to be axed, Danny Baker criticised BBC bosses and called them 'weasels' on air yesterday.

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Anyone who had the good fortune to have heard Danny Baker’s exit from his BBC London afternoon show yesterday, won’t forget it.

Over the course of the show, the DJ detailed his anger shock and cynicism over the managerial decision to axe his daily radio show. It apparently wasn’t just that he was angry with what they did, but also with the way that they did it.

The star, who returned to work last year after chemotherapy, said:"By the way, nice way to treat a bloke who had cancer."

He also called BBC bosses "weasels" for axing his Danny’s BBC London programme.

From the music choices to the conversations with the contributors, he continued - especially in the final hour - with a litany of well-delivered, well-expressed and fatally accurate decimation of decisions by "those who have never met me".

"This is the best show I'll ever do, but that is apparently not the point", he added "it's about kowtowing to the reams of middle management".

Seeing the story unfolding first on Twitter and then spectacularly on the show, the only aspect which gave the BBC management any redress to their bizarre decision was the fact that they let him continue.

Anything less would have been lethal.

Baker isn’t the first high profile broadcaster to unexpectedly lose his job and he most certainly won’t be the last. What is unusual is that he used his platform to express his disgust, rather than stoically repress his rage.

Radio 4 discussed the event this morning, and the male presenters discussed with male contributors, Baker’s actions and behaviour. The panel contributing certainly had several examples of other men who had behaved in the same way.

This made me wonder about one salient aspect. Were Baker's actions universally praised, applauded and endorsed because Danny Baker was a man in meltdown?

Would everyone have felt as positively if a female broadcaster was decrying being shelved in order that a show be “refreshed”?

Women in media have been being refreshed since the media was born. They too have blazed a trail bringing expertise and articulate intelligence to any debate, yet traditionally views like those of AA Gill, particularly in the case of the classicist Mary Beard, traduce women’s contributions - not to the content of their cerebral cortex but to the superficial outer-casing they present. Their faces and their bodies must fit, and if they age they must quietly slip away.

Miriam O’Reily stood her ground too in the face of “refreshing tactics”, as she went further and took the BBC to an employment tribunal when she was dropped from Countryfile. Yet for O’Reilly, her stand against ageism, a move empowering and ground breaking for all women in broadcasting both now and in the future, the reaction for her was very different.

Even though O’Reilly won  her case for age discrimination she felt that on returning to work the hostility she says she faced forced her to leave her new job presenting Crimewatch Roadshow just nine months in a three year contract.

When George Entwhistle, Director General of the BBC, made a speech detailing his commitment to putting older women on television O’Reilly fired off a 1,800 word letter of complaint further exacerbated by the bizarre lack of her inclusion on both R4 and BBC1 debates which discussed both the issue and her case.

Following her letter the BBC issued a statement.

A BBC spokesman said: "The BBC has apologised both privately and publicly to Miriam for what happened to her and, as an organisation, we have made sure we learned lessons from it. As recently as this week George Entwistle said he would welcome Miriam back to the BBC if she had a great idea for a programme – the same challenge he has laid down to programme-makers nationwide."

"It would not be right however for Miriam to appear on every single debate about ageism across the BBC as it would risk limiting the range of voices and opinions that audiences could hear."

Danny Baker left the BBC London show greeted by reporters, photographers and the admiration of many.

No doubt he will receive a similar apology as Miriam O’Reilly did.

The question is will he receive the same approbation for taking a stand against his treatment? If the number of column inches, tweets and wall to wall coverage today suggests, then the answer is no.

Speaking to O’Reilly about their decision, she said:

"The BBC is said to have taken the decision to 'refresh' the schedules. In my experience the word 'refresh' is used when BBC management wants to bring in someone younger who may be prepared to accept less money for the opportunity. It's always good to give young talent a break, but Danny Baker was great on the show and the audience loved him."
 
"It's interesting that when the BBC wants to make savings it doesn't look to the people in middle management. What do they all do? No matter how stretched the finances are, management always seem to come out of any round of cuts unscathed and with their large salaries intact."
 
"Licence fee payers have lost trust in how the BBC is being run. The time for change has come."

In the "refreshment" of Danny Baker there was equality to Miriam O’Reilly’s treatment, yet in our responses to both (and possibly the re-instatement of Baker and the potential wilderness for O’Reilly for taking a stand against ageism) it begs the question as to whether irrespective of the enlightened age we’re supposedly living through, society as a whole and broadcasters in particular still believe:

“Men grow distinguished women just get old”.

I think that when it comes to Baker and O'Reilly, the BBC as a public broadcaster must represent the public, and should give us back these fine broadcasters. If they don't, then perhaps the public opinion towards their myopia on the topic of ageing, is best summed up by Danny Baker's eviscerating comment direct to the corporation itself "I hope their abacus comes undone and they choke on the beads".

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