Rona Dougall: Attitudes towards age are so old hat

File photo of Joan Collins, taken in 1997. Picture: TSPL

File photo of Joan Collins, taken in 1997. Picture: TSPL

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THE redoubtable Joan Collins turned 80 last week. Not that she was shouting it from the rooftops. It was up to a columnist from a tabloid newspaper to “out” her as an octogenarian.

The glamorous showbiz legend is coy about her age and appears to have been 75 for the past decade.

This incredible pensioner is on her fifth husband and has declared herself the happiest she’s ever been with her half-Scottish, half-Peruvian toy boy, Percy Gibson. When asked about the 32-year age gap, Joan famously quipped: “If he dies, he dies.”

Surely anyone rocking it like this showbiz legend should be proud as punch to say “look at me with my younger man and my exciting life and all at the ripe old age of 80!”

But instead many women, especially in the world of entertainment, are reluctant to acknowledge the fact they’re getting on a bit. Well, quite a lot in Joan’s case.

In America last year, a B-movie actress took an industry website to court, claiming its revelation of her true age meant she had missed out on film roles for being “too old”.

The 42-year-old Junie Hoan’s lawyer claimed: “If one is perceived to be ‘over the hill’, ie approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an ‘upside’.”

Age 42 and over the hill? What a depressing indictment of the shallow movie industry. But it’s not just Hollywood that has problems with older women it seems.

Earlier this month a study found that just 18 per cent of UK television presenters over 50 are women.

Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy and the shadow culture secretary, accused the TV industry of ageism and sexism. “It really is a black hole. Broadcasters behave as though the viewing public have to be protected from the sight of an older woman and that’s just rude. There is nothing wrong with being an older woman.

“We’ve got to fight back against this sense that older women are less valuable, whereas men accumulate wisdom, authority and experience as they age.”

She has a point. No-one seems to care that the likes of David Dimbleby, Jeremy Paxman and the Rottweiler of the Radio Four airwaves, John Humphrys, are well into the autumn of their lives. Their craggy, lined faces are seen as a badge of honour.

I’m straying into dangerous territory here as I am an “older” woman television presenter – nowhere near 50 I hasten to add. You see! I’m guilty of it myself, of almost being ashamed of my age.

It’s a standing joke amongst the Scotland Tonight team that I’m a bit wary of revealing my true age, although when they look at me pointedly when they’re discussing the outbreak of the First World War or the sinking of the Titanic, I think they’re taking the joke a little too far.

And must my younger colleagues shriek with laughter when I jokingly say I’m dreading turning 40?

But the fact is, the reason my bosses at Scottish Television actually hired me in the first place was because my almost two decades of journalism experience gave me credibility as a presenter.

Many cultures around the world revere their older people. We should too, because there’s plenty to admire.

Last week an 80-year-old Japanese man who began the year with his fourth heart operation became the oldest conqueror of Mount Everest. Yuichiro Miura, a former extreme skier, said in a phone call to his family: “I made it! I never imagined I could make it to the top of Mount Everest at age 80. This is the world’s best feeling, although I’m totally exhausted. Even at 80, I can still do quite well.”

Unfortunately for him there is an 81-year-old snapping at his heels preparing to steal his record. “Damn these sprightly oldsters,” Yuichiro must be thinking.

I was at a party that one of my neighbours threw for her boyfriend’s 70th birthday at the weekend. I don’t know what the average age was, but I’m pretty sure they had all collected their free bus passes.

They all had interesting tales of long lives well lived, and of travels around the world. One of the men was boasting of how he was now 78 and fit as a fiddle. How old did he feel inside I asked? About 18, he answered.

Age? It’s just a number.

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