Sarah Sands: Women can follow Fern Britton out of the comfort zone

Share
Related Topics

Who do you think is the most popular woman on television? I was asked the question about five years ago and guessed it must be Natasha Kaplinsky (remember her?) or Davina McCall. The answer turned out to be Fern Britton. Still is. Viewers, like children, prefer women with a gigantic maternal bosom and a friendly, patient manner.

There was nothing of the diva in Fern. She sank on to the sofa each morning, leaving a crater imprint, and the temperature immediately rose. Guests longed to bury their heads into her chest. Other female television presenters looked nervy and glacial in comparison.

But last week Fern snapped. She is leaving the sofa and a £750,000 salary. According to astonished reports, she is going to reinvent herself in the lean and hungry world of current affairs.

Suddenly she was on Question Time, biffing bankers. Some critics said Fern was inadequately qualified to tackle fiscal stimulus. But there was a new fire to her as she played Mother Courage, wanting to protect her children from economic upheaval while calculating her own potential revenue streams.

Fern Britton has denied leaving her job at This Morning because she was paid less than her co-presenter Phillip Schofield. Yet she took the classic course of an aggrieved woman.

An academic who has studied women in the workplace explained to me that women find it excruciatingly hard to discuss pay because they fear it makes them less lovable. Rather than risk confrontation, they swallow their resentment. Women are far more likely simply to resign than address inequalities. The phrase: "They'll be sorry ..." is a phrase deeply embedded in the female psyche.

Whether economically or culturally, Fern Britton became tired of being taken for granted. Why should she dispense laughter and tissues for ever? She is from a family of actors and is probably more rackety and fun than she has been allowed to be. I thought that she was perfectly competent on Question Time, but she shone as a presenter for Comic Relief.

Is there something slightly sexist in the disapproval of women wishing to reinvent themselves? Last Monday, I was a guest on Radio 4's Start the Week with Piers Morgan. His latest volume of diaries has a new tone to it. There is a lot of advice for Gordon Brown and President Obama. The celebrity knockabout continues but an increasing number of protagonists are exempted. Simon Cowell is spoken of with a reverence disguised in banter. Alan Sugar bestrides the world like a colossus.

The author, who began his career squeezing himself into photographs of celebrities on The Sun show business pages, has succumbed to a natural impulse of middle age and professional advancement. He wishes to be taken seriously. Well, if Piers Morgan can advise Gordon Brown on winning the next election – advice to which the Prime Minister listens with "frenzied note taking" – then Fern Britton can chair the G20 summit, so far as I am concerned. All she is seeking is a little professional imagination.

Women have traditionally begun their careers in segregated areas. Martha Kearney was on Women's Hour for many years before she landed The World at One. Recently she wrote of a male listener encouraging her to return to knitting. I expect Fern Britton will encounter the same rebuffs.

Women are free to move from the sofa, but they will have to endure ridicule on the way. Fern Britton should just remember that Jeremy Paxman was once a breakfast television presenter too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London