David Dimbleby: ‘BBC and others demean older women’

Question Time host David Dimbleby. Picture: PA
Question Time host David Dimbleby. Picture: PA
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TV VETERAN David Dimbleby has criticised the BBC and other broadcasters for demeaning older women.

The commentator and presenter, 74, was catapulted into the debate about sexism at the BBC when former newsreader Anna Ford branded him a “charming dinosaur”.

The former Six O’Clock News presenter said that she wondered how “charming dinosaurs” such as Dimbleby and John Simpson continued to win BBC contracts when “however hard I look, I fail to see any woman of the same age, the same intelligence and the same rather baggy looks” on the small screen.

Asked about Ford getting angry about the issue of ageism against women in broadcasting, the Question Time presenter said: “Well, I don’t know that she does. I think she gets terribly cross about not being on television herself, I think.”

But he said that it was time for the BBC and other broadcasters to change their attitude.

“Why should age matter with women? Women mature elegantly and better than men, very often. I don’t think age should be a factor for women appearing on television,” he said.

“There is a section among television executives who are always being hammered – quite wrongly in my view – to get the biggest possible audience, and [they are told] attractive young women will bring in a bigger audience than less attractive, older women – to say nothing of less attractive older men, like me. That’s the way the TV – not just the BBC – industry works. And I think it’s wrong.”

The journalist said a “cultural shift” was needed and alluded to American TV where older women are kept at work and executives use their experience to good effect.

He added: “I agree that it is demeaning to women and I also think it’s a crazy loss of talent.”

In recent years, the subject has dogged the BBC. Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won an age-discrimination case against the corporation after she was rejected for a role on a revamped version of the popular rural affairs programme.

Figures including Selina Scott, below left, and Dame Joan Bakewell, have criticised broadcasters on the issue, accusing them of banishing older women from the small screen.

The controversy has continued despite the BBC’s then director-general Mark Thompson saying the corporation had “taken on board” that viewers wanted “much more than just youth on screen”. His reassurance came after a decision to replace Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips with the younger Alesha Dixon.

Dimbleby, whose father Richard broke new ground when he commentated on the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, also said that Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was “the most difficult commentary I’d ever done” because of controversy surrounding the event.

Dimbleby, who is set to front The People’s Coronation, a BBC1 documentary marking the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, said that making mistakes in his work was nothing to do with age but “a family trait”, adding: “My father described Ted Heath, who was single, and his wife at one ceremony.”

Asked if he was vain, he said: “Well, I suppose anyone who puts themselves out on television, week after week after week, obviously enjoys the limelight.”