Older women have it tougher than men on TV, says newsreader

Williams, 51, complained that her male rivals, such as Edwards, 54, were treated differently to women. She said: “I was called ‘veteran’. They don’t call Huw Edwards ‘veteran’. We grew up together at BBC News and he’s a couple of years older than me.

“I am the only woman to head up a flagship terrestrial bulletin. The BBC did a survey ten years ago, and its audience told it we need more normal looking older women on telly. Ten years later, we’ve got three women over fifty reading the news. Is that enough? I don’t think so.”

The former BBC Breakfast host said older women “get a level of attention and scrutiny that men do not get, whether it‘s what we look like, how old we’re looking, how tired we’re looking, what we’re wearing”.

She added: “You can see my face. I look like a 51 year old, or as the papers would say, a 51 year old mother of four. That is what I am, that is what you’re going to get on the news.”

Williams, who quit BBC Breakfast as she did not want to move with the programme to Salford, said that in her younger days at the BBC she had been mistaken for a secretary, and was told by bosses that audiences did not want women reading the news.

She said: “I remember working at BBC Radio Leeds. We had a visit from the BBC chairman, Marmaduke Hussey. I was on my typewriter, bashing away. He said to the news editor, ‘It’s nice to see a secretary prettying up the place.’ That sort of thing was part of the fabric. It was stuff you heard all the time. Women in broadcasting have grown up with this.

“I was output editing The World at One, we had a visit from a director-general, who I won’t name, who said to me: ‘You stand like a ballerina’. Another manager said to me, ‘The public would prefer their serious news delivered to them by a man’.

“When you grow up with that as a journalist, when you have the same level of experience of the man standing next to you, it is galling. But what you end up doing is sort of feeling humble and grateful about being there in the first place.”

Williams said that she was heartened by the fact that there is a tranche of female newsreaders in their forties, such as Kate Silverton and Julie Etchingham, who show no sign of stepping down. She said: “In five or ten years the picture will be very different. There will be this tranche of women who are going to be on the telly, and that gives me heart.”

Patrick Foster


This article was published in the Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2016.