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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral