And so the cull continues. In the remorseless gallop of our national broadcasting companies to shed the visible vestiges of the past, the latest set of faces to be removed from our screens are those associated with Question of Sport.
The BBC has announced that Sue Barker, Phil Tufnell and Matt Dawson, the trio who have presided over the sporting quiz for what seems an aeon, will no longer be involved when the next series is filmed. They will join the likes of Ian Botham, David Gower, Clive Tyldesley and Phil Thompson among television’s roster of the recently evicted, seemingly the latest collateral in the rush to deliver diversity.
Now nobody can argue that our national broadcasters should not be more diverse. They should be looking in their output to reflect the ever-changing make-up of society, to bring to our screens those who are under-represented. Sure, it would be good if that diversity was extended to include television executives, but that is another argument altogether.
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What is rather odd about the proper and appropriate urge to offer wider representation, however, is that it disregards a rather significant strata of society. The one thing Botham, Gower, Tyldesley, Thompson and Barker all have in common is this: they are over 60. You may not like the manner in which they approached their work, you might have disagreed with everything they have ever said, but no-one could argue they had declined in ability.
Indeed the executives making the decision to let them go have routinely insisted none were fired because they could no more deliver. What appeared to have happened to them which made them suddenly unacceptable as television faces was solely the advance of time. Age did for them. Because when it comes to television diversity, age is not reckoned part of the mix.
In Barker’s case this is all the more counter intuitive. If the proper argument for diversity is that television should put on screen people who look like the audience, then she was the perfect face for Question of Sport. This is a programme largely enjoyed by people of experience (which is how, in these woke times, we should refer to the no longer young). In the pre-pandemic days when a studio audience was allowed, you only had to look at it to see this was a show enjoyed by citizens best classified as senior.
And while there may be plenty of us who would rather stick our head in a bucket of custard than watch Barker, Tufnell and Dawson in their weekly competitive high jinks, that is to miss the point. For the several million who tune in every week, enjoying the company of the three of them is precisely the reason they do. These are their heroes, people they had long ago watched on the international sporting stage now making them laugh by vainly attempting to mime the word dressage to some uncomprehending guest panellists.
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The idea that there are millions of youthful hipsters who will be drawn to the show if you make the regulars a bit younger and more diverse is absolutely fanciful. This is not going to become a must-see appointment in the artisan coffee roasteries of Hackney because Jermaine Jenas and Alex Scott are unveiled as the new team captains (excellent broadcasters though both of them are).
It is a bit like suggesting Fleetwood Mac would appeal more to today’s teenagers if they recruited a twentysomething singer. This is a show with a very specific demographic: the very reason people like Question of Sport is that it has been around forever doing the same things it has always done with the same cast. Or to extend the Mac analogy, that it has long gone its own way.
The truth is that removing Barker and the boys from the mix will simply alienate the existing audience while wholly failing to bring in a new one. But then what do I know? When it comes to television policy, chronology rendered my opinion worthless long ago.