Former Countryfile presenter Charlotte Smith was dropped from the show because she was not "young and pretty" enough to pass the primetime test, a tribunal heard today. Smith, 46, who still presents Farming Today for the BBC, said she and her colleagues Miriam O'Reilly, Juliet Morris and Michaela Strachan were treated badly by her former bosses.
The women were all over 40 when the popular Sunday morning show was moved to a prime-time evening slot last year. The belief that they were dumped because of their age was held by others on their production team, Smith told the tribunal brought by O'Reilly against the BBC for age and sex discrimination.
She said: "There was a general feeling among the staff that the four women presenters had been badly treated and we could have fitted in with the new prime-time programme.
I heard in November or December 2009 that they was a shortage of presenters on Countryfile and they were trawling through old footage.
"I laughingly said that I might be available and I was told by a member of the team that while I might be able to do the job, I wouldn't pass the prime-time test because I wasn't young and pretty."
Smith admitted that it was an assistant producer/director that had made the comment. Jason Galbraith-Marten, for the BBC, asked: "Quite possibly the reference was made as an ironic response to your suggestion?" Smith responded: "It was obviously discussed a lot by members of the team and the comment was a reflection what they thought the BBC corporate wanted. I do believe that the BBC decided to remove us from Countryfile because we were older women.Some of us didn't have a very high prime-time profile but also because they wanted the programme to look and feel younger."
Smith said she had worked on Countryfile for 10 years. Andrew Thorman, head of rural affairs for the BBC, today admitted the presenters had contributed to the high ratings which led to the show's move to an evening slot. He said: "I think they played a huge part in the success. He said presenters' looks were considered: "It is TV and whether we like it or not it does play a role but not a significant role that rules out all the other strengths or experience. I suspect that there was much more to it than how someone looked." The tribunal continues.
Article from The Evening Standard