Belfast Telegraph

How it's fine to be old and grey on TV, but only if you're a man

By Jane Graham

I enjoy learning about the wonders of the stars as much as the next person but the often magical Sky at Night would be even better if Patrick Moore lost a few pounds. I often find his penchant for trousers which come to rest just below his armpits an irritating distraction to the miracle of the universe.

And while we're on the subject, why on Earth doesn't David Attenborough dye his hair? He could take off a decade if he got stuck into a bottle of Just for Men. It's quick and easy David! And looks almost entirely natural.

It seems perverse not to take advantage of scientific advancement to look nicer, especially when you're sauntering into people's living rooms with regularity. If we have the good grace to welcome your chit chat on our TVs, the least you could do is show us the courtesy of making an effort with your appearance.

As for Andrew Marr - don't get me started (except to simply note that thousands of conscientious women put themselves through breast-augmentation operations every year, and that's a much riskier venture than ear-pinning.)

This stuff is fun to write, but formidable Meet the Romans presenter, Professor of Classics Mary Beard, is not in need of my sarcasm to protect her from TV critic AA Gill, who triggered a minor rumple this week when he suggested she was too ugly for TV. (He hilariously implied that she was 'this far' from being a subject on Channel 4's The Undateables, a show focusing on people with disfigurements and disabilities).

Beard has heard it all before; two years ago Gill remarked that 'from behind she is 16; from the front, 60. The hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment.' As a smart, charismatic and fearless woman, she's more than capable of standing up for herself. Commenting on his article this week, she noted that it was "easy to find yourself thinking, 'What an odious little twit!'" Indeed it was.

While we can all agree that AA Gill often betrays signs of being a cheap provocateur who takes his ideas out of the oven long before they're ready, he's also missing the point regarding why British TV audiences love people like Mary Beard. She's of a kind that we do very well in this country - the highly educated, deeply knowledgeable, childishly excitable expert.

We adore Brian Cox for his unbrushed hair and geeky, unkempt enthusiasm as much as for his mastery of astronomy.

If Gareth Malone turned up to conduct his choir with odd socks or sellotape on his glasses, we would cherish him all the more. I'm surprised an experienced TV writer like Gill hasn't grasped this yet. Or maybe he really is, as Beard insisted this week, scared of clever women.



There are of course scores of beautifully groomed, high-fashion young women on telly to cheer up AA Gill. Sometimes they even come with their own brains.

But TV companies usually prefer to offer older, greyer men as the serious, authoritative figure in presenting partnerships, as the buxom beauties who've been paired up with Adrian Chiles, Philip Schofield, and Bruce Forsyth will attest.

When serious-minded, respected women like Emily Maitlis do make documentaries looking supermodel gorgeous, they are attacked for parading themselves like clothes horses, thus undermining their credibility.

You can see why high profile women feel they can't win.

Maybe we should take some tips from Mary Beard's beloved Romans and brush up on our torture techniques. First to make AA Gill cry wins Brian Cox.

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