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AGE RAGE

22-08-2007

We've got age discrimination laws in this country, but as Lynn Hawthorne observes that doesn't seem to have done much to restrict our national obsession with youth. Don't they know "there's many a good tune played on a old fiddle?"

I've started to feel my age lately. I have to do a series of exercises before I even get out of bed in a morning and all the old jokes about 'if I ache, I must still be alive' run through my head. And I'm only in my mid-forties.

Mentally, I'm probably losing years rather than gaining them (or is that just memory loss?) but what pulled me up sharpest was when I applied for a job recently and, despite seemingly having the right experience, was rejected.

I had deliberately omitted my age from my CV, but my experience would have given the potential employers a rough idea and I was applying to an industry that is veering towards the young these days.

In my old job, we were all passed over for young(er) models and all the experience ditched in favour of the biddable, malleable and, dare I say, naïve.

So what is this fascination the powers-that-be have with the young? Yes, they're cheap, they're more likely to do as they're told, but they don't necessarily have the resources to deal with situations to fall back on.

Just think of all the furore surrounding the appointment of two 16-year olds as Police Community Support Officers.

The media seems to be obsessed with youth.

Michael Aspel has been axed by the BBC from The Antiques Roadshow for, allegedly, becoming too much of an antique himself.

Newsreader Moira Stewart was replaced, reportedly on the ground of age as well.

She is a consummate professional, has excellent diction and is a fabulous role model for black women, yet the years of loyal service and doing the Sunday morning slot that nobody else wanted has earned her not thanks but the boot.

The Daily Mail (Saturday 18th August) has just run a two-page article on Sarah Kennedy, presenter of BBC Radio 2's Dawn Patrol show from 6am-7.30am.

Following her even-more-eccentric-than-usual ramblings one day last week, she appears to have developed a diplomatic cold and been off-air amidst speculation that she is often to be found drunk.

I have no idea whether or not this is true, but the affection shown for famous drunks Oliver Read and George Best seems oddly lacking in the view of Kennedy.

Instead, much focus was placed on the strain of the job, linking the unsociable hours with her age.

".... in an industry rather obsessed with the pursuit of the ' youth' vote, Sarah is canny enough to know that, along with(Sir Terry) Wogan and (Ken) Bruce, she has done well to survive this far, and she does not want to push her luck.

" 'Like everyone else, she lives in fear of getting the bullet, even though she knows she is a very popular presenter,' one insider says. 'She jokes sometimes about the fact that she's practically a fossil in BBC terms.

" 'When she leaves Radio 2, she knows that, as a woman in her late 50's, it will probably be the end of her broadcasting career. So no matter how tough it is, she wants to hang on for as long as she can.' "

On the first morning of her absence, Radio 2 replaced Sarah Kennedy with some young-chap-from-overnight-I've-never-heard-of who babbled so inanely and incomprehensibly that I switched him off.

Thank goodness for Alex Lester the following morning.

Surely age isn't the most important point to consider, but the clarity and skill of broadcasting? And, as Sir Terry himself is always reminding us with his TOGs, Radio 2 is the home for people who have outgrown Radio 1.

Listeners of mature years and not especially close to death do not have to be relegated to some obscure local station when they're the age group that has contributed more to the BBC coffers in terms of licence fee than any other.

And where do discerning customers who like a 'decent' film go when they fancy a night out at the cinema? Usually their DVD shelf at home, that's where, because cinema seems to be obsessed with the young and beautiful, too.

Never mind their acting/singing/dancing ability, as long as they look pretty, they're in.

It was a real treat recently to be able to take my mother-in-law (72) and my aunt (73) to the cinema to see the digitally-remastered Brief Encounter as part of the Summer Season of Classic British Films.

Last having ventured into a cinema in the 1960's, they loved the surprise, behaved rumbustiously and enjoyed every minute. Ironic, isn't it, that they harked back all the way to 1945 for a film they liked?

I'm not for a minute suggesting that everything 'in the old days' was good and everything today is not, but I am concerned that this obsession with youth, whether in the media or in the workplace, is destructive.

We ageing, or even, old dogs may have aches and pains, but we still have skills, wisdom, wit, patience and tenacity and this should be celebrated and used instead of dismissing us as past-it or seen as an experienced threat.

Let's hear it for the TOGs and TIGs!

(See also The Stirrer's campaign against Age Discrimintaion link here)

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