Removing grey hair on the BBC is more about conforming to a stereotypical “newsreader” image than it is about age. We have a notion of authority which is based on power dressing, posture, pitch of voice and maybe even class. Removing grey hair is one of many tools we have for maintaining our individual power. But then I could be wrong, scrub that. I have grey hair.
There was a time when the typical BBC newsreader was male, middle class, white and spoke with an Oxbridge accent. When I joined the announcers office at Television Centre in the 1980s there was not one female staff announcer, imagine that! There were no regional accents and ethnic diversity was not even thought about. I remember having a conversation about female voices. The senior announcer (there were a few) told me that women don’t have the necessary authority – “their voices are too weak”. The women who did break through as news presenters had low, rich, chocolaty voices – much like the one adopted by Margaret Thatcher.
I would say that it was also an era in which youth was discriminated against, or at least penned off as a separate species. There were very few “authoritative” presenters under thirty; the main news presenters were people like Ludovic Kennedy, Dimbleby and the whiskery Fife Robertson.
All in all the BBC has come a long way in a positive direction. But these days there is a tendency to remove anything distinctively individual about BBC News presenters, particularly when it comes to dress. The logic is that if the audience talks about what a newsreader is wearing they they are not concentrating on the news. Anything which shows individuality or betrays personal preferences may be a distraction. (I would tell you about my attempt to persuade one of the Dimbleby brothers to wear something other than a dark suit, but I can’t).
Perhaps this debate about female grey haired newsreaders needs broadening a little? Are we ready to break down the stereotypical newsreader brand image? Maybe we could have even more variation of people reading the news – short, tall, disabled, red hair, green hair, no hair.