Apart from newsreaders and reporters, the media is frequently obsessed with youth. Often that’s because its target is a younger audience and because there are certain rules that audiences don’t like broken; for example, Dermot O’Leary could present Strictly Come Dancing, but you couldn’t ask Sir Bruce to host The X Factor. For reasons that I’m sure are obvious to you all – one works and the other doesn’t.
Apart from Sir Bruce and the newsreaders there are other older people in the media and a number of them are great ambassadors for the issues faced by those of us who are over 50. Two organisations decided to celebrate these media personalities with an annual awards presentation called Older People in the Media. These coveted gongs are run by Independent Age, a charity that provides advice and support for older people, and Gransnet, the online social network for the UK’s 14 million grandparents.
In 2015, the public voted online for the awards for the first time and Independent Age says that it hopes these awards will put a spotlight on the portrayal of older fictional characters as well as marketing campaigns and initiatives that focus on the issues faced as part of ageing.
For example, Baroness Joan Bakewell, that cerebral journalist who was labelled “the thinking man’s crumpet” in the 70s, won the 2015 award for “Best Older Person’s Champion in the Media.” Her response to winning the award was: “I’m really thrilled to win this award as it acknowledges the little efforts I have been making here and there to really champion the case of old people. It all began when I was appointed by the government as the Voice of Older People, which was a request they put to me to speak up for the old wherever I could. They wanted someone to bring the problems of the old to the attention of the public at large. And so that is what I did, I spoke about them everywhere I could go and it’s nice to have that acknowledged.”
The runners-up in this category were Angela Rippon, Dame Esther Rantzen, both very well known, but who is the woman in second place – Baroness Ros Altmann?
Ah, she’s a politician and a leading pensions expert and campaigner. She led the campaign to compensate the 150,000 workers and their families whose company pensions disappeared when their employer’s final salary scheme failed. It’s thanks to her that these employees didn’t lose their life savings and it is Baroness Altmann’s work in this field that led to the setting up of The Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Assistance Scheme.
Fictional older people
Actors of both sexes, although primarily women, have always complained that there were never enough good, meaty roles for them after they turned a certain age. This appears to be shifting somewhat and, of course, there are many actresses in their 50s who are still hard at work, partly because this decade is no longer perceived as old. Characters older than this tended to be less visible, but the Dowager Duchess of Downton would no doubt have a pithy retort for anyone who dared to sideline her character, or try to cast someone younger than Dame Maggie Smith to play the role. In 2014, Dame Judi Dench won one of these awards for the film “Philomena” and Anne Reid received one for her delicate portrayal of Celia in the delightful “Last Tango in Halifax,” which had a very high class ensemble of British actors.
This year, in the ‘Best older person’s character in a book, film, TV or radio drama’ category, first prize went to J.B. Morrison, who was once the lead singer in Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (I think I missed them?). The award was for his character Franck Derrick in the book Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime in which the 82-year-old eponymous hero takes off on a trip to Los Angeles. Runners up in this category were Gemma Jones for her role in the BBC 2 series “Marvellous,” Sir Ian McKellen for his Sherlock Holmes in “Mr Holmes” and for Freddie Thornhill in “Vicious.” His co-stars Sir Derek Jacobi and Frances de la Tour also won awards for their roles in “Vicious.”
Everyday ageism hero
The final award for the ‘Best marketing campaign or initiative that promotes ageing in a positive light’ was won by L’Oreal for its Age Perfect campaign starring Dame Helen Mirren. You must have seen the TV adverts! These awards were voted for by members of Gransnet and they also gave prizes to the & Other Stories/Vans collaboration featuring 86-year-old supermodel Daphne Selfe and the Yves St. Laurent campaign with Joni Mitchell.
Lara Crisp, the editor of Gransnet, said: “As Generation X moves steadily towards ‘older person’ status, these awards showcase the diversity, talent and charisma of the over-50s. Gransnet users are delighted to see themselves represented by people with such verve and wisdom.”
It’s reaffirming and confidence boosting to see the lives of people past 50 being recognised by these awards and I look forward to seeing more opportunities for older people to become winners in the media, and in everyday life.