Anna Nolan: My shock as a BBC exec sat me in the Blue Peter garden and told me to get my teeth done. As a woman, it seems, I needed all the help I could get

Anna Nolan

FORMER BBC presenter Miriam O'Reilly (53) is suing the BBC for ageism. She, along with three other female presenters, were axed from the show Countryfile just before it was moved to primetime television.

They were replaced by three women in their thirties.

The men on the show were kept on -- John Craven, who is 68 and Adam Henson, who is in his forties.

In the lead-up to the termination of her contract she had been told by the director of the programme, Dean Jones, that the advent of high definition television would be a "crunch time" for her BBC career.


As they were driving along to a shoot, he allegedly told her: "You are going to have to be careful about those wrinkles when high definition comes in."

High definition has the effect of a clear, more defined picture -- which is great for sports, movies, nature documentaries and anything cinematic. It has the affect that "you are there".

The downside is that it brings up every line, every pimple and every crevasse on the face. High definition is the actor and the presenters worst nightmare.

O'Reilly also said that a cameraman had offered her a can of black spray-paint to help blot out the "white gap" on her head that appeared when she was filmed from some angles.

She also alleges that she was asked by another of the programmes directors whether she would consider having Botox injections.

There is no doubt that television favours the younger, prettier woman. Men, on the other hand, can last for years and years longer. Just imagine Strictly Come Dancing with an 80-year-old woman presenting the show with a 30-something man.


Or imagine a 55-year-old woman presenting Winning Streak, with a cute young 30-year-old man.

It doesn't work that way in television.

There is sexism in the business, and there is no doubt that the women who work in it are under pressure to adapt, change, enhance or reduce different parts of their body.

I remember when I worked in the BBC, I was told to get my teeth fixed. I had a gap that they found unattractive. One day, I was filming in the Blue Peter garden, on a presenter course.

My instructor had been analysing me for two days -- assessing interviewing skills and the likes. At the end of the feedback, we sat on a Blue Peter bench.

As I looked on at the little statue to Petra, the Blue Peter dog, she took my hand and said to me, "One final thing, Anna. You would be wise to get your teeth done. It all makes a difference"


There was something cryptic in those words -- "It all makes a difference".

What all makes a difference?

Was she saying as a woman, I will need all the help I can get?

Looking back it was actually a great piece of advice, and I eventually got the work done.

But I am not so sure if a man had had the same issue, whether it would have been brought to his attention.

I am glad to say that on all the TV productions I have been involved with, I have never had any pressure to adjust how I look -- weight wise or facial wise.

But I am still young enough.

I wonder how the women feel who are in their late forties, early fifties. Are comments made? Are knowing looks given? Like Miriam O'Reilly, are cans of hair colour handed out, or suggestions of facial work made?

One of my all time favourite quotes is from Greg Dyke, who used to be the Director General of the BBC.

It goes something along the lines of the following -- "Talent should be cared for, loved, nurtured and minded until they are needed no more."

I feel that that nurturing and care seems to end just a little bit earlier for women than for men.

Don't miss Anna's column in tomorrow's Herald