The Countryfile age discrimination case is fascinating. Broadcasters habitually discard female presenters when they hit 40, and the roadside is peppered with former bombshells (Selina Scott, Anna Ford) who used to be the nation’s sweethearts.
But love is fickle, and nobody likes a wrinkle. Why, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to the eradication of wrinkles, advertised with the judicious use of makeup, vaseline on the camera lens, and high-key lighting.
Are the BBC guilty of age discrimination? Of course they are, as are we all. Fact is, the producers wanted a larger audience for Countryfile, and they wanted a younger image in order to do that, just as the producers of Strictly Come Dancing wanted a younger audience when they sacked Arlene Phillips.
O’Reilly won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of age discrimination and victimisation, after she was dropped from BBC1’s Countryfile show along with three other female presenters. A third charge of sex discrimination was not upheld.
Today’s verdict gives O’Reilly the opportunity to claim damages including loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages. But her legal team said she would not be pursuing aggravated damages against the corporation.
This means the total damages which the BBC will pay out are likely to be in the low six figures. O’Reilly has earned just £500 in the past year and has not worked for Countryfile since its relaunch in April 2009.
Meanwhile, David Hepworth dares to point out the obvious: if an attractive young woman (or man) gets a job in television, it’s probably mainly to do with looks. Television is a visual medium. If you want to be known for your intellect, go on the radio.
It’s not as if it’s like real life where competence aces everything else. This is television. If you made it as on-screen talent it’s likely that your looks played a huge part in getting you there in the first place and therefore it seems likely that their inevitable decline will play a similar role in your downfall. It’s the same if you’re in the chorus line at the theatre.