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Why Lynda’s exit will be a turn-off for UTV viewers

It’s really no surprise that UTV has decided to — how shall I put it? — let Lynda Bryans go.

After all, the station appears to be following a pattern that’s become very familiar in TV land. Female? Over 40? Get her off the screen before she frightens the viewers!

Yes, it’s our old friend ageism, that highly contagious condition that weirdly only affects women. What gives male presenters their immunity? Their baggy eyes? Their jowls? Their grey locks? Oh, sorry, that’s gravitas. It must be something else then ...

No doubt UTV, like other stations, also feels that in these financially challenging times, they can make a saving by ditching Lynda. The fact that she was one of their — whisper it! — older presenters meant she also brought experience to the job, and that kind of professionalism always costs a bit more. But, to borrow a phrase from a well-known advert, does UTV think she’s worth it? Apparently not.

Besides, there’s always a younger person desperate for on-screen experience who’ll do the job for less.

If the autocue sticks or the next bit of footage doesn’t play and they burst into flames, well, there’ll always be a veteran anchorman to her right who can step in and save the bulletin. With gravitas.

The thing is, getting rid of Lynda isn’t the sort of move that nobody notices. In fact, it’s one of the things that everyone here does notice.

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Particularly since UTV for many years held a special place in our hearts as “our wee station”. It did local programming better (though BBC NI has forged ahead now).

Consequently UTV’s presenters aren’t just presenters but personalities — viewers spend hours with them, regard them as friends.

They care about what happens to them. And many probably didn’t think a wee homely station like UTV would appear to do an Arlene Phillips or Selina Scott and ditch a woman just because she’s 40-something.

It’s a message that women in particular pick up on. Just as many will have looked at Lynda on screen and felt better about themselves — “there’s an attractive, intelligent mum just like me, juggling home and work” — they’ll wonder what her absence tells them about themselves.

And about UTV ...

Especially when in the real world older women have never had it so good. The idea that a woman becomes invisible when she hits 40 has never been less true. Many are reaping the rewards of the efforts put into establishing careers.

All around are powerful, sexy, on-their-own-terms role models, whether it’s Jennifer Aniston or Madonna. Newspapers tell them about cougars and how ‘60 is the new 40’. Post-Bridget Jones, some are only starting a family at 40. They don’t feel old. Because they are not old.

Except, it seems, on TV news programmes where just as men of a certain age develop character along with the frown lines, women get the chance to develop career changes — as long as they have the common decency to keep out of sight.

When her husband Mike Nesbitt ran as a UUP candidate in the recent election, Lynda was dealt a series of blows. She was taken off air by UTV, which said it was abiding by broadcasting election regulations though the move struck some as unnecessarily punctilious.

Then, there were newspaper disclosures about her husband’s personal life, with Lynda’s photo illustrating every story, as if she had put herself forward for public vote, too, and was also weirdly on trial. All very unfair.

Typically, Lynda handled it all with dignity, just as she has parried the end of her UTV contract, saying that no one owes her a living and the freedom allows her to explore other options of which I’m sure there will be plenty.

As for UTV? It becomes less local by the day. No UTV Life, with all its human interest stories. No big name chat shows like Kelly. No Logie. Barely a glimpse of Pamela. Now no Lynda. Just ads for a Dublin-based breakfast radio show that we can’t get up here and the late night game show horror that is “Brainbax”.

Ah well. In an era when they’re pushing the retirement age ever higher, it seems there’s always one place where women can still collect the carriage clock before a single grey strand hits the light of day. On the TV news bulletins.

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