When you're on TV, which side of the sofa you sit on can say a lot about industry sexism

When it comes to presenter duos, you’ll always find a man – usually older – sitting to the left of a woman

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The Independent Online

Anyone who knows anything about television knows that Ant and Dec always stand the same way round in public. Ant on the left, Dec on the right. What probably began as a handy way of telling the two apart has become their thing, a sort of light entertainment law.

There are more of these around than you might realise. Take the BBC Breakfast sofa. The new presenter, Dan Walker, has poached the “camera left” position on it, keeping Louise Minchin – a veteran of 10 years on the show - on the right.

So what? Most people probably don’t notice which way round their news is presented at that time in the morning. Or they might have noticed and simply thought it was a matter of height, or the BBC not wanting to discombobulate viewers by putting a woman where a man (Bill Turnbull, who retired last month) last sat.

In fact, there’s a whole subtle semiotics to the sofa. Camera left is perceived as the more senior position, because people read left to right. And so, when it comes to presenter duos, you’ll always find a man – usually older – sitting to the left of a woman (or Ant standing to the left of Dec).

If there really is a belief in television that camera left denotes seniority then Minchin has been snubbed, however absurd the nature of the snub. But then, you are as likely to find radical feminist iconography on breakfast television as you are a unicycle on Top Gear.

The first rule is that all presenting duos must be mixed gender because viewers cannot hack getting their morning update from someone who doesn’t share the same shaped genitals as them. For the male breakfast television presenter, there are just a couple of rules: wear a suit and tie, comb your hair (some don’t bother with the latter). For the female, the dos and don’ts are more numerous, more nuanced. While most grown-up women are allowed to wear a suit, or dark, easy colours like black, grey or navy to work, these are a no-no for breakfast presenters. Trousers, which have been seen on women for at least 100 years now, are outright banned.

Instead, no matter how dazzling their journalist credentials, female breakfast presenters must wear on-the-knee, colour-blocked bodycon, bright silks and shiny high heels. Full hair and make-up are a must. Because it’s the morning and people need cheering up, and men can’t be expected to do that – they’re too busy being serious, in their ties. It’s a tricky balance though. Anything too lurid, too tight or too low-cut and the prude police will fire up their sirens. They should look good but not that kind of good. Save the flesh-flashing for when they’re inevitably asked to go on Strictly.

The sofa doesn’t really matter – not in the big scheme of things. But set against the backdrop of wider industry sexism, it’s a needless irritant. Now the issue is out there, BBC Breakfast should swap the pair’s positions each day. Failing that, Minchin could borrow Chris Evans’ pyjamas and see how it feels to have the backing of a boss who doesn’t care a jot what she wears to do her job, so long as she does it well.


Art should ask for forgiveness not permission

The Royal Opera House has emailed ticket holders ahead of the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor warning them that are scenes that feature sexual acts and violence. In return it has received 40 requests for refunds.

I mean, really. Lucia is about a woman who is in love with one man but is forced to marry another, whom she kills on her wedding night before going mad. A degree of sex and violence is to be expected. What next? A trigger warning that Madame Butterfly “contains matricide”, Tosca a “nasty fall” and La Boheme “some coughing that will go right through you”?

Covent Garden is pussyfooting for two reasons. One, it’s still damping the flames of that rape scene in Guillaume Tell that caused a brouhaha. And two, this production is directed by Katie Mitchell, whose production of Cleansed, featuring castration, eyeball injections and a chopped-out tongue, has them fainting in the aisles at the National Theatre.

Gratuitous sex and violence on stage is as boring to watch as a rarely staged Ibsen but Covent Garden should not have apologised in advance. It should be confident in its vision and if not, then it shouldn’t put it before an audience. Starting on the back foot is an open invitation to booing. It’s an odd thing that this most genteel of audiences is also the noisiest when it sees something it doesn’t like or that breaks out of the aspic mould. No other art-form is so universally heckled.

Still, all these warnings of sex and violence will likely up ticket sales among less delicate culture lovers, so not all bad.


The cost of Costa

Shock! You can’t recycle Costa coffee cups, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. More than 99% of the chain’s cups – more than 2.5billion a year - end up in landfill or being incinerated, thanks to a plasticky lining that stops the cardboard from going soggy. The cups from Starbucks and McDonald’s are the same. I admit, they had me fooled but then how many people seek out a recycling bin for a coffee they have grabbed on-the-go? At home I’m a diligent rubbish sorter, recycling far more than I throw away, but I still buy a bottle of water on the way to work and say yes to a bag in Pret. I shouldn’t be allowed out, but since I am, it is down to these mega corporations to ensure their materials are environmentally friendly. And, while they’re at it, to pay the living wage and their taxes, too.