Ex-BBC man: 'Women aren't the only victims of ageism'

Former BBC correspondent Michael Cole has claimed that ageing female broadcasters should stop complaining about sexism and defended producers’ right to choose presenters ‘regardless of age, gender, colour or race”.

Writing exclusively in the latest edition of Press Gazette magazine, Cole said men were just as likely to suffer from discrimination at the BBC and claimed to have endured five years of rejection because he looked too young.

‘I have to smile every time a middle-aged female television presenter comes out of the shrubbery complaining that her honour has been tarnished by those wicked people at the BBC who have failed to promote her, to renew her contract or, in extreme cases, sacked her,’said Cole.

‘What do these women expect? It matters how you look on television. The studio lights aren’t kind to ageing skin. Without exception, they all got their first jobs on the box when they were young. And they got those jobs, at least in part, because of their looks.”

Cole said producers should be free to choose presenters “regardless of age, gender, colour or race’and argued that casting was one of the most potent factors in the success of any programme.

‘The creative process should not be skewed, and the producer’s freedom constrained, because any woman believes she has the right to a permanent place in a visual medium,’he said.

‘There aren’t any gorgons on television and with the possible exception of Patrick Moore, there aren’t any strange-looking presenters either. Gargoyles are for cathedrals.”

Cole, who was a correspondent at the BBC between 1968 and 1988 and twice won Royal Television Awards for best home news story, argued that ‘all of us, men and women and children, prefer to see young, good-looking people, unless we are very unusual indeed”.

He went on to claim that women were not the only victims of ”lookism’, ‘ageism’ or any other pejorative term they use when trying to hold back time and extend their television careers”.

Men were just as likely to suffer from discrimination because of the way they look, said Cole, who claimed to be the victim of prejudice ‘every bit as disheartening as anything a TV sofa queen has ever had to suffer”.

‘Unlike the women who complain of unfairness, I said nothing’

Cole, who joined the Harrods and House of Fraser group as director of public affairs in 1988, said that for five years he had to endure rejection at the BBC ‘not because I looked too old, but because I looked too young”.

He went to recount his struggle to land a position on the BBC desk in London, but claimed that ‘unlike the women who complain of unfairness, I said nothing”.

‘I know Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford, Anna Ford, Selina Scott and Julia Somerville,’he added. ‘I have worked with them. Without exception, I like them. They are all talented broadcasters.

‘Instead of complaining, women on TV should feel fortunate that they have natural gifts that men can never hope to match.”

He added: ‘Look at the male news presenters: Mark Austin, Alastair Stewart, James Mates, Chris Eykin, Ben Brown, Nicholas Owen. All of them have been successful on-the-road reporters with a body of great stories to their credit.

‘Consider the women news presenters: Natasha Kaplinsky, Julie Etchingham, Fiona Bruce and all the stars of breakfast television. They may do a serviceable studio interview and sometimes have to present a bulletin from abroad.

‘But they are really there, on our screens, because they are attractive women who can read the teleprompter convincingly and they wear some beautiful jackets.”

The BBC declined to comment.

The full version of Cole’s feature – headlined ‘Prejudice and discrimination in televeision? It’s nothing new’– is only available in the April edition of Press Gazette.

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