The salt and pepper pound

Posted on October 23, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Salt and pepper pots

My mother was a devoted fan of “The Archers” and I was forced to spend many hours of my youth listening to daily life in Ambridge with the Pargetters, Grundys and, of course, the Archer family. The radio show started post-war to entertain and educate the British public and British farmers with dietary tips during rationing.

That post-war era is long over, but “The Archers” has survived. I always thought of it as a programme for old people; after all, when you’re a child anyone over 20 is ancient, and my mother was a bit older than that. Now, “The Archers” is being attacked in the media for chasing the youth market and ignoring older folks, so I thought I’d better take a look at what is going on with this “everyday tale of country folk.”

Apparently, “The Archers” and other institutions, such as Radio 3, have been chasing the youth market. Really? I opened a Radio 3 Breakfast Playlist and the first ‘tune’ listed was by Benjamin Britten. It doesn’t sound like they’re in hot pursuit of youth, but perhaps he’s only recently replaced Dizzy Rascal.

What’s the fuss about? Well, it’s about the salt and pepper pound, which the bank accounts of the over 50s are filled with, say consumer organisations, and they’re right. Indeed, Ken Lavery, vice chairman of the Mature Marketing Association claims that not only are we an ageing society, but that “the older demographic controls the world.” He goes on to say that “80 per cent of the UK’s wealth is held by the over-50s.” So, we’ve had the grey pound, which belongs to even older people, and now we have the salt and pepper pound, of the 50-year-olds. I wonder what type of ‘pound’ marketers will come up with next!

Growing number of over 55s

UK demographics show that by 2018 there will be 20 million over-55s in the UK, which is almost two million more than at present. We may be quite a diverse group, but we share a dislike of the “dumbing down of public life” that has been a feature of the media for some years now, according to a report in The Telegraph. Indeed, this ‘dumbing down’ business has also crept into that bastion of English classical music- The Proms.

The Proms season has been accused of “pandering to Radio 2 listeners,” perhaps even those that tune into Radio 1. Apparently, putting a Dr Who themed Prom on, plus an Ibiza dance night with famous DJ Pete Tong (who has made his way into Cockney rhyming slang) was a bit too much for some Promenaders. This year David Pickard, formerly of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, is in control and there will be “no gimmicks” just “world-class classical music.” I hope nothing went Pete Tong for him!

Personally, I don’t like the whole dumbing down process either, but there’s a fine line here, may I suggest, between keeping to the tradition of institutions like the Proms and a certain kind of snobbery. However, I’ll let you deliberate this in the comfort of your homes and refrain from debating it here.


A group of people looking at their mobile phones

Some people have castigated BBC Radio 3 for being a “Classic FM wannabe” because it allowed phone calls and tweets. Allan Davey, the new controller, has put on a hair shirt and contritely confessed in the Radio Times that this has all stopped and there will be no breakfast show phone call, plus news headlines have been cut down. People want the Radio 3 of uninterrupted classical music, with little interference from presenters, who speak in hushed tones and never exclaim “Here’s another banging tune from Bach!”

Sean O’Connor, editor of The Archers with its five million fans, has had to call a halt to storylines that are more Walford than Borchester: he’s been told to forego the high drama and focus a bit more on agricultural issues and the older characters in the series. It is true that there are plenty of important agricultural issues to dwell on these days, such as the plight of dairy farmers.

Finally, a £300 billion annual contribution to the UK economy means the over-55s deserve to have some say. We buy 65 per cent of new cars sold and we’re 36 per cent of the UK cinema audience; hence the success of films like “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”

Years ago we were the youth that everyone wanted to chase, and now we’re the ones calling the shots. If the over-55s can force an institution like “The Archers” to change its storylines, I wonder what other changes we can achieve?

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.