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August 22, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:14am

Channel 4 news boss Dorothy Byrne’s MacTaggart Lecture in full

By Press Gazette

Thank you very much indeed for the great honour of being the first old lady to be invited to deliver the MacTaggart lecture.

I was telephoned late on a Friday night a few weeks ago while dancing at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway. So I realised at once I was your first choice.

But we old ladies – or even wee old ladies – are not proud. Decades of cervical smears destroy all pride.

Of course the first thing I did was check out my illustrious predecessors. A younger woman might have been intimidated.

Yes. Kevin Spacey. He proved to be a good choice.

Shane Smith of Vice, an organisation well-named as it turned out.

And by an extraordinary coincidence three people with the same surname – Murdoch. What are the chances of that eh? I especially enjoyed James Murdoch from 2009. He told the audience that it was important to: ‘encourage a world of trust’ and that newspaper readers were: ‘treated with great seriousness and respect.’

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Let’s delight ourselves by remembering how Ofcom described him just three years later, in his role at News Group Newspapers during the hacking scandal. He ‘repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive and chairman’.

So much for trust and respect.

I met James Murdoch once and he patronised and dismissed me. Hey James, now I patronise and dismiss YOU.

Elsewhere on the list, I spotted one name among my predecessors who has not yet had the comeuppance he deserves for his assaults on women.

That’s one of the things about being an old lady, you gather a lot of information over the years. To men who have behaved badly in the past, I say this: you know who you are. And so do I.

Tonight, there’ll be no shortage of sexist bastards, possibly among you in the audience. But I have positive messages too about how we must find courage in this time of crisis and most of all how we must unite to use the power of television to protect democracy because it is being seriously undermined.

I am the Methuselah of TV, I’ve been in the industry nearly 40 years and at Channel Four for 20.

In the course of my work, I’ve thought I’d die a few times, I’ve been temporarily kidnapped, condemned as a terrorist whore, told by my own colleagues I should imprisoned for several years and hardest of all been a single parent.

I’m just about the oldest female TV executive working for a broadcaster and for many reasons being a woman working in news and current affairs has been a struggle.

But I would recommend television journalism to any young woman today embarking on a career.

In what other line of work when some bastard annoys you or you hear of some absolute disgrace, can you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to make a programme exposing that and I’ll put a stop to it!.’ And sometimes you even do.

But I begin with early man in TV. Surprisingly perhaps, I think we have much to learn from him. There’s a reason he has no clothes on in this picture. That was the downside of early TV man; a tendency to remove his clothing.

A quick tip for men. Don’t take your trousers off unless specifically invited to do so.

I started out in television at Granada and from my very first day the overwhelmingly male management made me feel at home. Or to be more accurate, they tried to come home with me.

My colleagues took me to the bar and we were joined by a senior manager. As I was standing on the pavement afterwards, this top bloke suddenly appeared beside me and suggested we get in a taxi together.

How kind was that? Supposing I hadn’t known the way to Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the taxi driver had just arrived from Kabul, that could have been really helpful.

As it happened, my mother had taught me to always memorise the way home, so I was able to tell him his services wouldn’t be needed. Services of any sort.

Try to picture this happening now at Channel Four. Let’s pretend Channel Four employs lots of working-class people from the North of England and imagine a young bloke called Bert from Accrington on his first day.

His new young colleagues take him out to the pub and then I turn up and join them even, although I don’t work directly with any of them. Bert gets up to leave. I follow him out.

Bert stands on Victoria Street to hail a taxi and I sidle up next to him and say, ‘Great news Bert, I’m coming home with you. ‘

That first day at Granada, a female boss had also told me that a director would take me out to teach me the basics of filming and he would sexually assault me, but I wasn’t to take it personally because he sexually assaulted all women he worked with.

Sure enough he did assault me – one of the few examples in my career of the promise of a TV boss coming true. His assault was a criminal offence but who could I complain to? I learned early on that as a woman I was on my own.

Not all approaches were offensive. Some were merely ludicrous.

When I joined World in Action, I was at that point the only woman on the programme, but I needn’t have worried about feeling lonely. Again, there was a man with a kind offer.

Even although I hardly knew him, one of the journalists suggested we have sex. I realised I would need to use all my diplomatic skills in order not to hurt his feelings, so I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Of course I won’t have sex with you. Do you just ask random women for sex?’

And guess what? He did. I asked him what his success rate was and he said, ‘One in a hundred which is pretty good for me.’ Looking at him, I thought it was surprisingly high.

Some, but by no means all, of those men then had terrible attitudes towards women. But, as a group, they also had great attributes which we have lost.

They believed that television was there to say and do big things. Many thought that it was their right and their role to change society. Those men at Granada were passionate believers in the power of television.

They were radical alternative thinkers who believed programmes could be used to make our country a better place. How many people in TV today would say out loud that they wanted to use TV to make Britain a better place?

Their achievements were immense – extraordinary investigations like The Birmingham Six, great documentaries like Seven Up and inside the Communist Party, landmark series and strands like Disappearing World or End of Empire, a new way of covering elections in the Granada 500 and the invention of new forms in television like the drama-doc.

And they challenged the authority not just of those who ran the institutions of the UK but also of their own TV bosses. Far too many people in TV now spend all day agreeing with their bosses.  It’s simply ghastly to witness.

Our country is undergoing seismic changes. There is widespread disillusion and a loss of a sense of belonging as society fragments. Whatever happens about Brexit, we need big new ideas to take us forward. But I don’t see big ideas on TV now.

Too many programmes are saying small or medium-sized things about society. Where do we go for big ideas? Books, Tedtalks, podcasts, all really popular.

On the news, I’m hearing every day that the very fabric of our democratic system is being ripped to shreds.

But where is this crisis being analysed outside of the news. UK broadcasters still make some great investigations but where are the programmes which shake all our assumptions about society?

So often I’m told that documentary formats now deal with important subject matters but formats only describe society as it is, they don’t provide a vision for change.

If we are worried about becoming irrelevant, one of the best things we can do is to start making big controversial programmes about the UK which put us back at the heart of public debate as we used to be.

We are all desperate for young audiences. Millions of young people are now politically aware and active.

They’re prepared to spend hours listening to extraordinarily serious podcasts, often authored by some pretty heavy duty thinkers.

They’re searching for alternative ways of seeing the world and for answers to major issues like climate change and the viability of our current financial systems.

A great Ted Talk gets millions of views. We have to stop being afraid of serious analysis authored by big brainy people. We have the ability and we have the airtime. Let’s make some really clever and difficult programmes.

We are obsessed by the fall in audiences and forever looking over our shoulders at Netflix and other streaming services, hypnotised by their success.

But terrestrial TV still accounts for 69 per cent of all TV viewing, according to very recent Ofcom figures. That is three hours 12 minutes a day which is massive.

And we have something else too – very high levels of trust. The latest Ofcom figures show that 71 per cent of audiences think television news is accurate and trustworthy.

Take advice from an older woman – I’m about the same age as ITV – when you’re getting on a bit, reinvent yourself. I used to be a tall blonde woman.

And think what you have that makes you special. In the case of terrestrial TV – we are the only people who have any interest in saying big things about Britain. That’s not the role of Netflix or other streaming services, terrific as they are in many ways.

I counted 29 different programmes on Netflix about drugs. I wonder if there’s a drug cartel anywhere that’s not currently being followed by a streaming service.

There’s also a plethora of programmes about serial killers. Programmes about mass murdering drug lords will contribute nothing to the reinvention of the UK’s political landscape.

But when we do major investigations here in Britain, like Channel Four News’ investigation alongside that of Carol Cadwallader into Cambridge Analytica, they gain huge traction. The public appetite is there.

Now painful as it is to admit it, Rupert Murdoch made a very good point in his MacTaggart back in 1989, the very period when I was working on World in Action.

He said television was ‘controlled by like-minded people who knew what was good for us’ and criticised TV for reflecting the values of a ‘narrow elite’.

My vision of empowered and daring producers and commissioning editors who want to shape society for the better doesn’t work if all those empowered people are just a bunch of posh boys.

By what right do we showcase big ideas if we are such a small group? I looked at the two Directors UK reports which came out late last year.

OK the figures are not completely up-to-date but only 2.2 per cent of directors came from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and fewer than 25 per cent were women.

That matters because we can’t reflect society properly if we ourselves don’t reflect society.

When you change who is making TV, you change TV. I am proud that I was part of a group of women who changed current affairs by making regular programmes about issues affecting women.

The first programme I produced and directed for World in Action was about rape in marriage, then not a crime, and two very senior journalists told me it wasn’t a suitable subject for the programme and indeed not even a ‘story’.

They were right. It was more than a story. It was a scandal which besmirched our society. These women-focused programmes rated well but I could tell that quite a few of my colleagues didn’t rate them much.

My reputation was nearly destroyed when Mary Whitehouse rang up to say how good one of my films had been. By great good fortune, I took the call. I’m ashamed to say I told her Dorothy Byrne was out but I’d pass on the compliment. I never told me colleagues she’d rung.

 The lack of people from ethnic minorities then was appalling. At Granada, I was the union equality officer when ACTT asked us to do a survey of the number of black people working there.

I didn’t need to do a survey, I personally knew all five black people– out of a workforce of around 1,600.  When I reported this back to the joint union committee, one of the ‘brothers’ said, ‘That’s five too many.’

And another chipped in, a la Trump, that they should all go back home.

Of course, I pointed out this almost certainly WAS their home. While that would never happen now, the lack of progress in increasing ethnic diversity in television is the single most disappointing failure during my career.

I was asked quite recently by a Channel Four manager what I thought of our diversity initiative. I replied that I honestly couldn’t remember how it was any different to the last diversity initiative.

In fact, was he absolutely sure it WASN’T the last diversity initiative? Or maybe the one before? I have known so many in my time. Not so long ago I was sitting in a room of managers at Channel Four and one asked why we thought we were not achieving more on ethnic diversity.

Everyone looked puzzled and thoughtful – the way people in TV do when they’re pretending to be deep and meaningful – until I said, ‘I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but everyone in this room is white?

Could that be connected?’ So, Alex Mahon, Tony Hall, Caroline McCall and David Lynn, it’s time to achieve real change.

But we also need to resist the idea that we don’t need older white men anymore and that they should be crushed out of the way. I hate the term, ‘Pale, male and stale.’ As someone who sticks up for the rights of old ladies, I need to stick up for old gents too.

They are still overrepresented, but their voices are vital for our society.

Look at John Ware who just reported an excellent and important Panorama on anti-Semitism.

He is pale, he is male, but he is certainly not stale. Is he politically correct? Well fairly recently we were in an edit suite together and he called me ‘Sweetie.’ At once the room fell silent. Indeed, I would say time stood still.

And then in the low and vaguely threatening tone I have polished over years, I said, ‘I am not your sweetie.’ To which John replied, ‘Yes you are.’ Sisters, I regret, I just laughed.

The most important reason for us to get our houses in order on diversity is that our current failure undermines our role as the key mediators between politicians and the public.

How can we represent the people of the UK if we ourselves are unrepresentative of the population? Mind you, politicians are also unrepresentative.

Look at Dominic Cummings and Seumas Milne, the Svengalis of our two main parties. One went to Durham School and Exeter College, Oxford, the other to Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford. That’s what counts as diversity in British politics.

We have shortcomings but we mustn’t underestimate our importance to democracy. The majority of people in the UK still rely on TV as their main source of news – 75 percent of the public.

We play a vital role in democratic debate in this country. Viewing figures for election debates and interviews are high, as they were for the recent Tory leadership debate. In the debates Boris Johnson deigned to join, around five million viewers watched.

That’s way more than can be reached by any newspaper and certainly for the Tories’ alternative to us – the Prime Minister’s Q&A sessions with the public on Facebook Live

Don’t believe politicians when they say that the public doesn’t trust the so-called mainstream media in the UK. They trust TV. Remember, terrestrial television has huge levels of trust:  71 percent.

It’s politicians who are not trusted – they have a trust rate of 19 per cent. And news on the internet – the medium  politicians are increasingly using to bypass us – has, according recent Reuters Institute figures,  a trust level of only 22 percent with a mere 10 percent for news on social.

Our investigations and those of other news organisations have also exposed the ways in which news on social platforms is used by those outside the UK to attempt to influence voting.

It has never been more essential that politicians should use the most trusted medium of. In the past, our politicians accepted that they had to be held accountable on television.

But in recent years, there has been a dramatic fall in politicians holding themselves up to proper scrutiny on TV and in recent months and even weeks, that decline has, in my view, become critical for our democracy.

We have a new Prime Minister who hasn’t held one major press conference or given one major television interview since he came to power.

That cannot be right. And we have a leader of the opposition who similarly fails to give significant interviews on terrestrial TV. We may be heading for an election very soon.

What are they going to do then? I genuinely fear that in the next election campaign there will be too little proper democratic debate and scrutiny to enable voters to make informed decisions.

Many of you will have seen the excellent recent BBC series on Margaret Thatcher. One striking feature was the number of lengthy television interviews Thatcher did.

Leaders of the past subjected themselves to half hour or forty-five minute interviews with the likes of Brian Walden and Robin Day and held regular press conferences.

During the 1987 election, Thatcher and Kinnock chaired daily press conferences and gave several full-length interviews. Even more recently, Miliband and Cameron also did extensive interviews in election campaigns.

However, Theresa May, when she was leader, and Corbyn, failed to hold themselves to account in the same way. In the 2017 election, May and Corbyn did only one or two events a day.

Outside of election periods, and setting aside some interviews with Andrew Marr, Theresa May’s PR people generally said she would do interviews of only four minutes, maybe six if you were lucky.

Throughout her time as PM, May’s longest interview with Channel Four News was seven minutes. How do you delve into the complex problems of our times in a few minutes. Jeremy Corbyn sometimes permits only one question, and then doesn’t answer it!

At the 2018 Conservative Party Conference, Mrs May made history by refusing to do interviews with Channel Four or Channel Five. Other broadcasters were so appalled that they signed a letter of protest to Downing Street for which I thank them.

When we were trying to get that interview, Robbie Gibb, May’s press supremo, said to us, ‘What’s in it for us?’ As if interviews were purely for the benefit of politicians and not the public.

It is notable that Theresa May told Laura Kuenssberg that the one thing she regretted was refusing to take part in TV debates.  And no offence meant but she has lots of things she could regret.

During the entirety of the most recent European election, neither May nor Corbyn did a major interview with a broadcaster, not even on the night of the results.

But what is happening now is far more serious. For weeks and weeks of the Conservative leadership election, Boris Johnson was virtually invisible on television.

The public was able to view him mainly on hustings organised by his own party. Our experience at Channel Four was typical. He kept promising to come on Channel Four News. He never did. He didn’t do an interview with ITV News or Channel Five News either.

And he failed to turn up to our leaders debate. There’s his empty podium in the middle. Throughout that campaign, Boris Johnson was castigated widely for failing to be held accountable on television.

He did the minimum he could – just two leaders’ debates, one interview with Laura Kuenssberg and just one real grilling by Andrew Neil.

And what about this man? The leader of the opposition is rarely to be heard in any significant television interview. It’s not so much, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ as No Jeremy Corbyn.

The other day John McDonnell said he was going to put Jeremy Corbyn in a taxi and send him off to see the Queen. That befuddled me as I’ve been able to get in taxis by myself since I was about twelve.

I had the wild idea of sending the queen – a fellow old lady after all – a camera so that if she was lucky enough to meet Mr Corbyn she could ask him some questions on behalf of the British people. Because few of us get to do that.

Jeremy Corbyn gave the alternative MacTaggart last year and some of you may remember that he said, ‘At their best, journalists challenge accountable power.‘

Yes, Jeremy but we need the chance to question accountable power. He also said that, ‘fearless journalists and those who support them and their work are some of the heroes of our time.’

Go on Jeremy, be a hero, come on Channel Four News, go on the Today programme or Newsnight. You can do it. You can even get in a taxi by yourself and do it. It’s easy. You just hail them on the street and they stop. Although, maybe not if your Jeremy Corbyn. Could that have been the problem?

Corbyn did do an interview on Channel Four News at the Labour Party Conference in 2017 but then didn’t do another until the same time in 2018. And he hasn’t done one since. So annual appearances. What does he think he is? My birthday?

Ironically, both Johnson and Corbyn used to be journalists. Corbyn began his career as a reporter on the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser and is even a member of the National Union of Journalists. And when they were outsiders in their parties they both spoke to TV regularly.

Of course, Dominic Cummings, allegedly the most important political figure in this country at present, has never done a television interview as far as I know.

And indeed has such respect for our democratic system that he was held to be in contempt of it when he refused to appear in front of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news

Boris Johnson has been proclaimed by Downing Street as the first social media PM.

On taking office, he recorded a jolly statement – so much more fun than being grilled by Emily Maitlis or Jon Snow. It reminded me of something and at first I couldn’t think what it was.

And then it came to me. This great flagbearer for democracy Vladimir Putin who also likes to talk directly to the nation.

We’ve also seen a stream of paid adverts on Facebook. He says he wants us to join him. Great, can we bring Matt Frei and a camera crew?

Meanwhile, he’s roaming round the country doing photo opportunities with Kinder eggs full of drugs. Shouldn’t he be busy doing something else?

As for his Facebook Live Q&As. We were told it was ‘unpasteurised and unmediated.’ Of course, it was also unregulated and therefore under no duty to be duly impartial. We did not show that propaganda exercise. And we should not show this propaganda as a matter of course.

The questions were easy and there were no follow-ups. Here’s one – ‘How would he protect mental health services?’ Break your heart Cathy Newman, could you have come up with that? Call yourself a journalist Andrew Neil, could you thought of this toughie? ‘What’s going to be done to tackle knife crime?

But the most challenging question of all came last: Who is your favourite politician? He said Pericles. Oh you man of the people! You couldn’t resist showing off your lovely classical education at Eton and Oxford.

What will it be next time? What’s your favourite colour? When will you bring world peace? Do you have any personal morality at all? Oops that last one is a real question. Couldn’t help myself.

What would Margaret Thatcher have thought of these two mighty leaders who avoid the regular grillings she accepted?

I would never have thought I would say these words: I believe that Mrs Thatcher would agree with me; Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are cowards. She had a word for men like them – ‘frit’.

If they really believe in the policies they promote, they should come onto television to explain them, to allow them to be scrutinised and to justify them.

And just this weekend we read that these cowardy-cats in the Tory party may stop junior ministers from going onto the Today programme. I have previously described listening to Today as like accidentally walking into a knitting shop in Bournemouth.

But even I accept that millions listen to it and they have a right to hear from their political leaders on it.

Let’s look at a Western democracy whose leader decided he didn’t need to be held up to scrutiny. Who could I be thinking of? Where did Boris Johnson get his great idea about not having to bother with people like us?

Yes, it’s Mr Chlorinated Chicken himself, Donald Trump. Trump has abandoned formal White House briefings. He, like our PM, prefers to take questions from journalists during photo opps, notably getting onto his helicopter. That’s what you need Mr Johnson!

A helicopter to drown out all intelligent questions!  Journalists have to shout out and there is no opportunity for follow-ups. And as we all know, Trump’s on social media day and night.

Of course, if you asked HIM who his favourite politician was he’d say himself. That’s actually true. When asked who his favourite president was, he said Donald Trump.

More importantly, Trump has abandoned any belief in the primacy of truth. If the leader of a democracy no longer believes in the fundamental importance of truth, then that democracy is undermined. That is what has happened in the US and we must not allow it to happen here.

Trump lies as a matter of course now. The Washington Post listed ten thousand of his lies a while back but it’s gone up since then.  He lies for convenience and on a whim.

Recently, he repeated a claim that his father was a German, born in a lovely little village. It’s an easy mistake to make isn’t it? I used to find myself saying to my own father of a morning, ‘Guten Morgen PAPI Wie geht’s DIE (dier).’ He’d look confused. He came from Craigellachie.

It’s unfortunate that Trump’s father ISN’T German because it means that if his great new idea of people being ‘sent back’ catches on, my country, Scotland, would get Donald Trump.

I’m not feeling Nicola Sturgeon would be pleased. Trump’s mother came from the Outer Hebrides. I’ve got bad news for you Donald, I asked around on your behalf during my recent Hebridean journey. I couldn’t find anybody who wanted you.

Time for a fish!  In honour of Scotland, I’ve brought along a herring to rival the kipper Boris Johnson produced in the leadership election. He said that Brussels bureaucrats had demanded that each kipper had to be accompanied by a plastic ice pillow. That was simply untrue. Even Donald Trump’s never lied about a kipper.

Going back decades, Johnson has lied about the EU.

1991 – EU bureaucrats reject Italian demands for smaller condoms. Rubbish.

The EU set rules on the shape of bananas. Nonsense

More recently, he claimed he was resigning from Theresa May’s government partly because the EU had prevented the UK from passing a law to save the lives of female cyclists. What a feminist that man is! So many women say that to me.

Here is what we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our Prime Minister?

I’ve talked to journalists from several television organisations about this issue. They said they would be loathe to use that word ‘liar’. Remember when Andrew Marr told Penny Mourdant her claim that the UK couldn’t stop Turkey from joining the EU was ‘ strange’.

It was strange but it was also untrue, a lie. Is it time for us to start using the L word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians ARE lying?

And several of us have excellent online factchecking services – we need to put more of that information into our broadcast programmes to help viewers spot the porky pies. .

Of course, politicians don’t hold back from criticising us rudely and saying WE lie. The Labour Party said the Panorama on anti-Semitism purveyed: deliberate and malicious misrepresentation designed to mislead the public’.

I am chair of a small international charity the Ethical Journalism Network which helps journalists round the world uphold standards. I honestly never thought I would be campaigning here in the UK to establish the primacy of truth.

If we are going to be asked to cast our votes on the basis of lies, then democracy is in trouble. Hang on a minute, did that already happen?

At Channel Four I’ve commissioned many award-winning international films on Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Iraq, Syria. But the films which matter most are those, like MPs for Hire, which investigate our own country and its politicians.

Another ploy of both Trump and some of our own politicians is to accuse journalists of being negative and unpatriotic. Trump regularly attacks journalists for being ‘the enemy of the people’ and criticises his opponents as negative and lacking patriotism.

He even said that the congresswomen he’d wanted to be sent home should be ‘more positive’ and reminded them that they had an obligation to love their country.

Presumably before they got thrown out of it. Some of you will remember that Trump’s chum Nigel Farage accused Andrew Marr of being ‘an enemy’.

And you might remember the night that this woman, now Secretary of State for Business, Andrea Leadsom, told Emily Maitlis on Newsnight that broadcasters should be ‘a bit patriotic’ because ‘we all need to pull together’.

Boris Johnson’s equivalent of Trump’s attack on the negativity of journalists and opponents is to rail against ‘the doubters, the doomsters’ and ’the gloomsters’.

I don’t need any politician to tell me to be patriotic. And it’s not being a gloomster to question policies. It’s the role of the free press in a democracy.

But it’s not all bad news. There is a leading politician standing up for truth

Michael Gove! He has launched a rapid rebuttal unit to give instant responses to ‘media myths and half-truths’ to ensure that we the people ‘are not being alarmed by scare stories or falsehoods’.

Now I don’t like to be a snitch, but there’s someone Mr Gove should keep an eye on.

Yes, the UK’s most famous recipient of EU farming subsidies, Dominic Cummings. Let’s remind ourselves of just a few Vote Leave messages.

The EU will ban the British kettle. Really Dominic?

The EU prevents us from protecting polar bears. Honestly Dominic?

Turkey – population 76 million is joining the EU.  Well we’re still waiting on that.

In the difficult period we are entering, we need the truth and we need proper scrutiny of all our major politicians. Television is a bulwark of our democracy, those who undermine its role are undermining democracy.

It’s time for the television industry to stand up for itself and speak out publicly against what is happening. Yes, we are rivals but we have to form a united front in opposing attempts to side line our central role in the political life of this country.

And forget the idea that the public can judge what is true. We showed 1,700 people six stories and asked them to judge which were true and which false.

Only 4% of people got all the answers right. And why should they? They are not in a position to research the truth of stories. That’s what journalists are there for.

With so much to be done to uphold the role of television in our democracy, where are the other old ladies to help me? All the women I started out with have gone.

What happened to them?  I feel a bit like a character in an Agatha Christie story’ And Then There was One’. Were they all murdered? I’m the only one left, did I do it? I’m the obvious suspect. Meanwhile, the men went on and on, gathering their MBEs and OBEs and fresh young wives.

We need to do much better in keeping women in the workplace and ensuring careers are not blighted by having children. As the freelance editor of an ITV programme and a single parent, I had to go back to work after six weeks.

And the percentage of women working freelance has increased since then. For those who are staff, much more could be done to introduce flexible working. The problem barely discussed is the menopause.

A quarter of women suffer significant symptoms and a major survey found that a quarter of women considered giving up work these were so bad.

Often this problem coincides with parents falling sick and children taking major exams.

That happened to me and life was a real struggle. Major broadcasters and larger companies need to take the lead by offering flexible and reduced working to older women so they are not lost to the industry.

Even getting your boss to understand there IS such a thing as the menopause can be a problem. Kevin Lygo is an inspirational leader but his knowledge of middle-aged women’s medical matters is perhaps wanting.

When he was my boss, we were meeting one day when he suddenly remarked that I looked seriously unwell. I said I was not ill. ‘But you’ve gone all red and you seem to have a fever,’ he said. I repeated, ‘I am not ILL Kevin,’ in what I thought was a meaningful way. He repeated that I was and I should go home.

So I went back to my desk and announced I was leaving for the day. Everyone asked me why and I said, ‘Because my boss has never heard of the menopause.’

More recently Kevin has told me that this misunderstanding occurred because he assumed I was too young to being going through the change of life. What a charmer!

Now, some of you may be aware that very occasionally I have a poem published. So tonight, I bring you a first – a MacTaggart poem.

Think of me as your poet laureate. To avoid undermining my reputation as a serious journalist, I use various noms de plum. Tonight, my nom de plume will be ‘Sweetie’.

So here, to conclude, is my poem.


I have a dream

Boris and Jeremy together on telly

Or is that a nightmare?

All BBC presenters massively overpaid equally

A programme about THIS island

Making more noise than Love Island.

And dirty bastards arrested before they die

Or they just die. Either option is good.

The menopause is not mistaken for malaria.

And I can at last come out

And admit I was twelve when the Sound of Music was released

Work that out!

And so I say to you all

So long, good night, auf wiedersehn goodbye

The sun has gone to bed and so must I.

Thank you very much.

Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

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