No country for old women

6 Dec

Farewell Mary, and adieu Widdy. Last weekend saw a Great British public rejection of aged ladies, with Ann Widdecombe voted off Strictly Come Dancing, and Mary Byrne left in the bottom two by X Factor voters, finally ditched by judges in favour of teenage scowler, Cher.

Widdecombe and partner Du Bec

In the shadow of Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly being turfed out by BBC bosses for not getting Botox, was the weekend’s result a ringing endorsement by the nation that there’s no place for women on the telly if they aren’t in their twenties, or at least look like someone whose face has been lifted, stretched and pinned back into their twenties?

Mary Byrne could have been the new Susan Boyle (or at least, the Tesco Economy version, without the Demi and Ashton Twitter-following). The 51-year-old belted out songs with a Bassey-esque voice, but viewers preferred youthful-but-bland Rebecca, man-flu victim Matt, and One Dimension, sorry, Direction – the gang-ling that resembles the cast of a Gap Kids advert. True, the final decision was cast by the judges, but was their verdict a reflection of popular will? Or was the only perpetrator of ageism here the fickle music industry, attempting to play God (or, as Simon Cowell calls it, attempting to play Simon Cowell) as they do in all Pop Idol genre shows?

Indeed, Strictly Come Dancing viewers have kept in grandmother of two, Pamela Stephenson. She is only two years younger than 63-year-old Widdecombe, yet comes across as Fiddy compared to Widdy’s Biddy (ok, that was a stretch). So, it wasn’t a vote of age discrimination: just a sign that the voters had tired of Widdecombe’s lumbering attempts at dance routines – routines which made John Sergeant’s stomping-toddler-dragging-teddy-behind-him moves look Billy-Elliotly elegant. Turns out people no longer want to spend Saturday nights watching a scene akin to a yellow, sequinned sack of potatoes being heaved around by Rob Brydon’s Twin.

Then again, on Strictly, too, did the judges play their part. While they had no casting vote over the bottom two, last week marked the first time they made unanimously negative comments towards Widdecombe, with even praise-generous Alesha Dixon saying “The honeymoon’s over”, and Len Goodman comparing the former Tory MP to the recent snow: fun at first, but eventually you get sick of it. For the first time this series, all of the judges were saying in effect, “Go home, Ann”. And for the first time, the voting public chose not to save her.

Equally, the X Factor judges seemed to have written off Mary Byrne before the voting lines even opened. During her second performance, when she broke down with emotion because the song had been her late mother’s favourite, they interpreted the tears as her saying “Oh woe is me. Lamentably, this is the end of the road, old fogey that I am!”. Cheryl Cole et al commented that this wasn’t the end, she’d still have a career, with Cowell reassuring her that she would not be returning to the Tesco payroll. It hadn’t crossed their minds that she might perhaps go onto next week’s semi-finals, and maybe even win – heavens no! Not when she is practically the same age as the other contestants combined.

So, the gains of last year’s Susan Boyle movement were short-lived. There is no place for you on the box if you’re an oldie. Lest we forget, Strictly’s judge, Alesha, was brought in to replace middle-aged Arlene Phillips, amid cries of ageism. The BBC never explained their reasons for doing so, but avid advocate of alliteration, Arlene, would probably call it the disgraceful discrimination by dirty TV execs, ditching dames in favour of damsels, damn them. Or something like that. The message is clear. Female twenty-somethings: the voting public may not mind you, but if you don’t want to be at the mercy of TV bosses, your time is running out.

Luxmy Gopal


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