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Old is the new black.

One of the predictable surprises (ie you could predict it but you should appear to be surprised by it) that came out of the Edinburgh TV Festival was the comment from BBC1 controller Danny Cohen, that he believed that the BBC should show more programmes for older people.


He seems to have discovered that the average age of the BBC audience is 50+.  I am not sure how that correlates with the average age of the British public. According to a DirectGov website, “In mid-2003 the UK was home to 59.6 million people. The average age was 38.4 years, an increase on 1971 when it was 34.1 years. There are more people in the UK aged over 60 (12.4 million), than there are children under 16 (11.7 million).” That was 10 years ago so it has probably crept up to 40 by now.


So the BBC is attracting a higher number of oldies than it’s fair share. Is that because of the programmes it already shows? In which case do they really need to make more On Golden Ponds?


Not much is said these days about the proportion of all telly that is repeats: in the drama and serial and series categories I am sure it is also creeping up. After all, the oldies seem to love the repeats: if their memories are good enough they enjoy the nostaligic feeling of being younger as they remember how they felt 30 years ago when they first saw that episode of Dads’ Army or Only Fools and Horses.


And if they are suffering from memory problems it is like seeing the episode for the first time. So the broadcasters can’t lose by showing repeats, as a look at the ratings confirms.


The reality is that younger people are connected 24/7 to smaller devices than TV sets: I watch nearly as much on the iPad as on the TV screen – sport live and mainstream channels on the repeat services like the BBC iPlayer.


Like the frequent cries for more roles for women, for non-English characters, for the disabled, we all want drama and soaps to do a job over and above being entertaining. Looking through the wrong end of the telescope (from the pov of those wanting to break into writing) I can’t help but wonder if the BBC and the other broadcasters couldn’t make a wider range of niche television that perhaps included programmes for the older viewer but also encouraging the very young (school age) to think about the power that the written and spoken word has and encouraging articulateness throughout the population.


The alternative is that they might end up patronizing the elderly with programmes that remind us of the creeping decrepitude of old age and of our mortality. How much better to make us forget our age, forget the recession and the shortening days, by engaging us to engage in dialogue with the young ones. Being a grandparent certainly makes you feel younger even if you feel exhausted when the kids leave. But it is great fun.

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