Harman reveals that female TV presenters disappear after they turn 50

Women account for 53 per cent of all over-50s but just 18 per cent of TV presenters above that age.

Harriet Harman put in a more than credible performance at yesterday's PMQs, and Labour's deputy leader is back in the spotlight again today, challenging the main broadcasters over the disappearance of women presenters from our screens after they turn 50. 

Harman wrote to the BBC, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky News in February requesting figures on the number of women employed on and off-screen and the statistics have now been published for the first time. Here are some of the most striking: 

  • Women account for 48 per cent of TV presenters under 50 but just 18 per cent of TV presenters above that age (despite representing 53 per cent of all over-50s). 
  • While TV presenters are broadly reflective of age in the general population (30 per cent of TV presenters are over 50 compared with 34 per cent of the UK population) they are wholly unrepresentative in terms of gender.
  • Only 5 per cent of all presenters and 7 per cent of the total TV workforce (on and off-screen) are women over the age of 50.
  • Out of a total of 481 regular on-air presenters at the BBC, Sky, ITN and Channel 5, just 26 are women aged over 50. 

Of the broadcasters, ITV performed the best, with 55 per cent of their presenters women aged over 50, followed by the BBC with 20 per cent and Sky News with 9 per cent. ITN and Channel 5 have no women presenters aged over 50. 

Harman said: "The figures provided by broadcasters show clearly that once female presenters hit 50, their days on-screen are numbered.

"There is a combination of ageism and sexism that hits women on TV that doesn’t apply to men in the same way.

"It is an encouraging first step that broadcasters have been open in providing these statistics. Their response shows that they all recognise that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

"I will be publishing these figures annually so we are able to monitor progress."

Harman has long been admired by the left and loathed by the right for her tenacious campaigning, most notably over equal pay for women and the Equality Act. Let's hope she's as successful on this front. 

The BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt