The BBC's trouble with grey hair

Unless you project an image as an “eccentric” or a “one-off” then as a woman you don’t have much chance unless you play the pretty game

Share
Fact File
  • 69 Age of John Humphrys

Why are there no grey-haired old ladies reading the television news? Here it was. The unenviable but inevitable question for the new BBC Director-General, George Entwistle, on the Today programme. Enough to send you grey overnight if you weren’t already receding. Entwistle expressed concern that it would hardly be right to turf all the grey-haired old men out of their jobs just for the sake of equity. Heavens, no. The pressure on the nation’s golf clubs would be too much.

He was responding to Fiona Bruce’s comments this week that she feels she has to dye out any grey hairs to keep her job. Even 69-year-old John “Fifty Shades Of... And Proud of It” Humphrys sounded up in arms. Maybe he has seen someone hanging around outside the studio with a box of Grecian 2000 with his name on it.

Entwistle struggled to find a good reason. Unsurprisingly. Because this is about so many things at once. Sexism. Ageism. Looks-ism. But it’s also about what people expect to see on television.

I write as a female whose hair is going unevenly grey. I dye a silver streak into the front because I like it (mostly). When I last went on Sky News to review the papers, one viewer tweeted: “Someone please tell this woman during the ad break that she is going grey.” If a woman with a noticeable hair colour were to read the news, Twitter would break.

Yes, there are signs of change. Who doesn’t love Margaret Mountford? Everyone is obsessed with Mary Beard, who has, appropriately enough, the female equivalent of a large Amish beard: a mane of grey hair.

But unless you can project an image as an “eccentric” or a “one-off” then as a woman you don’t have much chance unless you play the pretty game. There is still obviously one rule for men and one for women. We are supposed now to think that Fiona Bruce represents “the mature lady”. She is 48.

In another interview this week, Entwistle had so few female names to pluck out of the bag that he was forced to cite  Antiques Uncovered’s Lucy Worsley as proof of the BBC’s great diversity efforts. She is blonde, beautiful and 39.

Mary Beard responded on her blog yesterday: “I’m perfectly OK with dyeing. [...] But not with the feeling that you have to. And it’s all so self-fulfilling. The more the grey is dyed out, the more women feel that they have to.”

It would be great to have a chubby silver vixen reading the news but I can’t see it happening very soon. If the public’s tastes change, however, I would like to be the first to volunteer to bulk up for the role. I am also prepared to get a blue rinse. I promise not to put it on expenses.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Barclays are reducing the number of staff in their branches - and giving those remain ipads  

A bag? In the bagging area? Whatever next?

Andrew Martin
Pablo Zabaleta celebrates Argentina's World Cup semi-final penalty shootout win over the Netherlands.  

Who is the winner of this World Cup? Twitter

Dom Joly
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?