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Coming to terms with Tempus Fugit

There can scarcely be a Ruster alive who missed the big event of the weekend – the seismic, life-changing news that the BBC has axed chairperson of its iconic but safe and cuddly peak-time evening sports quiz programme A Question Of Sport (Sue Barker) and its two captains (Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell).

Barker had/has been presenting the show for twenty-three years, fifteen of them with “Daws” and “Tuffers” as her respective team captains.

It goes almost without saying that an inescapable factor in the development was their current ages – 64, 47 and 54.

It is unusual for there to be less than two sides to every story and, when it comes to those of the “past their sell-by date” variety, this is especially true.

It’s an issue with which every organisation/employer – employee – and indeed (when I come to think of it) every individual in every species that has ever drawn breath on this Earth has to wrestle and come to terms with.

The “woke” Millennial generation that dominates the media these days can bang on as long as it likes about political-correctness; equality of opportunity; feminism; Black Lives Matter; atoning for colonial pasts; disabled, gay and transgender rights; ‘fair representation’ (whatever that means); and any other cause it may choose to embrace in the future, but it cannot deny, hold back or prevent Time moving on.

The fact is that every human being is “of his or her time” [for those concerned with such things, please feel free to add your other gender-references of choice here].

Almost from its inception mainstream terrestrial television in the UK developed its stereotypes – the silver fox, middle-aged, slightly overweight but full of gravitas key male presenter detailing the news of the day; the intelligent, slightly younger, female co-presenter with a good speaking voice that took care of the second-string items and occasionally “stood in” for the key male presenter when he was off on holiday or too pissed to be let loose in front of the camera; and, of course – this a well-loved staple – the ditzy, young (aged 19 to 28), sometimes pneumatic and blonde, “auto-cutie” female who provided a smidgeon of light relief by reading out the weather forecast – for female viewers, largely as an opportunity to criticise her ‘on the day’ hair style or clothes and, for male viewers, as a bit of totty to ogle over (the drawback in the latter case being that afterwards few male viewers could recall a word of the forecast just delivered).

My point here being that the passing years are never kind to anyone.

The career longevity of most “auto-cutie” weather girls was about five years – after which period those with talent and/or potential would have moved on to other, more “grown up”, forms of presenting and the rest (those without such potential) would simply have been replaced by younger versions of themselves.

It was a fact of life and “back in the (my) day” everybody just got on with it.

These days, of course, thanks to cases such as that of former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly which have hit the news as ladies beyond a certain vintage have called in the forces of “wokedom” to try and prevent themselves being discarded for “being a bit long in the tooth” – allegations of age discrimination complicate things somewhat because, of course, a lady’s ability to do her job doesn’t necessarily deteriorate “inch by inch” in line with her looks.

A complication arises, of course – as I suspect in this recent case of A Question of Sport – when the powers that be want to change a programme, e.g. to appeal to a younger audience or one with a different profile. Why is an employer not entitled to make such a decision whenever it feels the demands of its business requires it? When you think about it, any presenter ever discarded could probably work up a case that he or she had been unfairly discriminated against by being “let go”.

(And then again, men get treated differently, of course – which is probably the real ‘beef’ that middle-aged female television presenters have against the world in which they toil).

But to return to my thought for the day.

I confess I was slightly sad to hear the news about Barker, Dawson and Tufnell.

Granted, A Question Of Sport is little more than a petty excuse of a quiz, a source of undemanding fun and – last but not least – an opportunity for the average Brit to observe sports stars from a wide variety of events/disciplines dressed for once in their civvies and talking as themselves rather than as monosyllabic sports jocks.

Yes, the above trio were getting on a bit, but I bet 70% of the existing audience (such as it is) for A Question of Sport were still comfortable with them being the lead figures on the show – those of my age partly because we remember them for being sports stars when we ourselves were younger – and those of younger generations probably through the fact they grew up watching the programme with their parents combined with having become comfortable with the “laddish humour and interaction” they generated on screen.

It occurs to me that long before I pop my clogs the great likelihood will be that developments in Artificial Intelligence and robot technology will have rendered the “day to day” issues around age discrimination in television programmes a thing of the past.

The simple fact is that one day such things will make some many of our current politically-correct and “diversity” issues redundant.

In particular, those of us who live long enough – and also retain their mental marbles – will probably by the year 2030 be able to choose whether to have their “live” sport commentated upon by either “the current presenters of the moment” … or instead by cloned versions of e.g. David Coleman (for opening ceremonies, athletics and some football matches); Murray Walker (of course) for all motor racing events; David Vine (downhill skiing and snooker); Sid Lowe (darts); Harry Carpenter (boxing); Bill McLaren (rugby union); and/or John Motson (football).

When that times comes, I reckon the split in viewers’ choice between the one and the other will be about 50:50.

About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts