Should Andy Burton be fired for calling someone “a bit of a looker”?

Is calling someone a “looker” any worse than calling them good-looking?

The Sky Sports broadcaster Andy Burton has denied that he has been suspended, instead insisting that he has been "stood down" from tomorrow night's Carling Cup match between Birmingham and West Ham.

Either way, it seems he's become embroiled in the scandal surrounding sexist comments from his fellow Sky Sports broadcasters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who were suspended by the channel after being recorded agreeing that a football official, Siân Massey, would need the offside rule explaining to her because she was a woman. This afternoon it was announced that Gray has been sacked for his comments.

For his part, Burton had said prior to going on air, before last Saturday's game between Liverpool and Wolves, that Massey was a "bit of a looker". There will surely now be considerable debate about whether those comments, taken away from the other comments made by his co-presenters, should be considered sexist in their own right.

One online dictionary has "looker" down as originating in 1893 and the use of the word in this context being "a very attractive person, especially a woman or girl". But not, one should add, a word that can be used only about a woman or a girl. Indeed, in the Guardian, in Simon Hattenstone's 1997 interview with the actor Pete Postlethwaite, he described the actor so:

However often you've watched Pete Postlethwaite on stage or screen, it's hard to prepare for the close-up: the compact body, dainty feet dressed in Kickers, the skin – cross-hatched with thin red contours – resembling a faintly exotic cheese, and those cheekbones bursting out of his head like swollen knuckles. Yet, against all odds, Pete Postlethwaite is a bit of a looker.

But a quick internet search for the use of the term does suggest it's more often used about women. Commenting on Beyoncé's Grammy Awards win in February last year, the Scotsman's Gary Flockhart said of the singer: "I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't start frothing at the mouth when the talk turns to the singer. That's probably because she's a bit of a looker, not to mention one of the best singers on the planet."

Of course, we can't all be "lookers". In a review of the book The Bolter by the Daily Mail's Craig Brown, he says of its heroine: "Idina Sackville, was, to put it bluntly, one of the greatest slags of her day . . . certainly no looker." Charming! The Daily Mail goes a step further in its review of the film Run Lola Run, describing the lead actress, Franka Potente, as, "certainly a looker as well as a goer".

Can the Daily Telegraph's use of the term settle the question – is calling someone a "looker" sexist? Perhaps there was no better opportunity than its review of Sex and the City 2, featuring as it does Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw, who herself has been analysed ad infinitum as to the degree of her feminism or otherwise.

The Telegraph's Harry Mount declared: "The penny dropped. The audience loved Sarah Jessica Parker because she's not much of a looker – like a very thin Bette Midler. With Carrie Bradshaw, there's none of the feelings of envy or self-loathing that hit them on seeing a gorgeous model getting hitched."

So, is calling someone a "looker" any worse than calling them good-looking? Is calling someone good-looking enough to get them the sack? It seems Andy Burton may be about to find out.

Jason Stamper is the New Statesman's technology correspondent.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.