Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: It's not only the old who are getting bullied off the screen

Very rarely, a fresh face is allowed in; but the culture never shifts, and its arrogant upholders keep their doors andminds closed

Share
Related Topics

Once in a long while, a much dreaded Goliath is brought down by an unlikely, gutsy challenger, and just as in Biblical times, gives heart to the cowed who live within the confines of the inequitable status quo. Miriam O'Reilly, a vivacious and energetic presenter of BBC's Countryfile, has laughter lines and is ageing gracefully.

BBC1 controller Jay Hunt clearly didn't have the eyes or wit to see beyond the signs on all our faces of the years that come and go – as they will for the good looking Ms Hunt too. She decided to replace the older female presenters with pert and pretty younger things. Why? Was it to sex up a programme about rivers and forests, cows and hay? Are there men out there using the programme for masturbatory pleasures?

Such foolish and obtuse decisions are made everyday by those in charge in the bizarre world of television. Everyone accepts that. Not Ms O'Reilly, though, who took the BBC to an employment tribunal which decided she was a victim of age discrimination and not sex discrimination, which I still believe was a factor. Anyway, it was a great week for us older women. Alan Yentob earnestly apologised to Ms O'Reilly on behalf of the BBC. Behind his words you could detect the tremor of insincerity and quiver of desperation.

Expect gestures of contrition over the next year, some post-fifty women put on the screen, self-flagellation, perhaps Arlene Phillips back on Strictly Come Dancing or Moira Stewart sharing the nightly news with the greying Huw Edwards. Golden girls like Angela Rippon will, hopefully, be offered slots that are not in the hours when bats fly and insomniacs pace. The bad news is that TV movers and shakers with the Nero mentality, a contagion across the industry, will still exclude and fire at will, and promote and reward at whim. They do it for crap reasons or just because they can.

Last week, the art critic Waldemar Januszczak, for example, pointed out one of Channel 4's sicko obsessions: "Was there ever a channel that chased after the youth market more hysterically and more relentlessly than today's strikingly immature Channel 4?"

After O'Reilly's case we are talking about how older people and women are shoved around in this vicious game, but not about people of colour, those whose politics don't fit, individuals suddenly deemed too old-fashioned, outspoken men and women, people who can't or won't hide their working class roots, and those who upset the powerful too often. Around a dining table just after Christmas, a very successful independent TV producer and director said that commissioning people were simply not interested in left wing liberals pointing out injustices, or attacking the Tories. What he didn't say, but I suspect, is that as society and the government becomes more right wing and libertarian, TV follows and feeds their appetites.

Just see how many reasons there now are not to let someone like me present programmes (as I once did) or show up too often on prestigious slots. There is my age, race, religion and then the problem that I am mouthy, republican, not naturally pro-establishment and left wing. Long ago I mildly criticised a series presented by one of our best broadcasters, heaping praise on him as I did so. Emails from his producer – rude beyond belief – made me realise I would never go on his shows again. And here we are believing we are free to speak and write. There is a rumour of blacklists of the unwanted – lists we can never find out about. You just know because of the way you are suddenly dropped.

Has anyone noticed we no longer see the hugely talented Rory Bremner any more? The brilliant arts correspondent Razia Iqbal was replaced by a white male arts editor who had never been before a camera and boy does it show. Mihir Bose, who was the BBC Sports Editor for a while, was quirky and clever but clearly not in the club. So he had to go.

And where are the non-white and/or women smartypants to share the loot and space given to the likes of Alan Davies, Stephen Fry and Dara O'Briain? Sometimes you can watch such favoured funnymen for ten hours a night. (Jo Brand is now an honorary member of their club). Can we use the Freedom of Information Act to see how much they are making each year? There is a similar circle of the rich and privileged when it comes to chefs, travel series, daytime shows and so on. Sometimes, rarely, a genuinely fresh face is allowed in – like Gok Wan, for example – but the culture never shifts and its arrogant upholders keep their doors and minds closed.

Makers of programmes, editors and controllers believe they need show no respect or decency. An independent company making a programme on the Asian comedy star Sanjeev Bhaskar chased me for months, got me to change travel plans, booked interviews and changed their minds four times. We let them behave appallingly because we want too much to be on the box, the most powerful medium still. Of course the poor researchers – young, freelance and exploited – have to follow orders and live with the moods of their nasty and capricious (and deluded) bosses who all believe they are born with extraordinary gifts, who know best what is best on TV.

And here is the worst crime of all – the use and abuse of people tempted by reality shows and other formats that need crowds to make the companies and channels huge amounts of money. The punters are fodder and can be relied on never to complain. Some blockbuster programme makers, I hear, don't provide water or snacks to competitors who have to wait for hours in crowded rooms. Evil psychological tricks are used to break people – so much more entertaining that way. There are many more hidden Jeremy Kyles than we could imagine in our worst nightmares.

If such blatant favouritism, cruelty and megalomania were determining fortunes in politics, there might be a riot or two. And TV would express eloquent outrage. But in that world anything goes and there is no redress. The landmark Countryfile case will not affect the devious practices and values of TV wallahs – secular gods who don't give a damn about earthly stuff like fairness and access. And there just aren't enough Miriam O'Reillys to make them.



y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam