ROWAN ATKINSON LETTER TO THE MEDIA SHOW 16TH FEBRUARY 2012
I heard the piece on the programme yesterday about what the BBC had learnt in the wake of the age discrimination case brought against it by Miriam O'Reilly, in relation to her employment on the Countryfile programme. Although your discussion was more about BBC policy than the law of the land, I remain amazed that, to this day, few people seem to appreciate the attack on creative free expression that Miriam O'Reilly's case represents.
Her complaint that she was fired from the Countryfile programme for being too old is in my opinion no more sensible than Pierce Brosnan complaining that he was sacked from the role of James Bond for being too old. Which he was and which he is. A James Bond film may be a fictional conceit and Countryfile a non-fictional one but they have complete creative equivalence. Like a James Bond movie, Countryfile is a fabrication, a construct, created by individuals, having asked and answered 1000 creative questions. What kind of programme is this? At whom is it aimed? What kind of presenters do we want? What sort of age, gender, colour, type? What are they going to wear? Who's going to write the scripts? And the theme music - Symphonic, soft jazz, Antiques Roadshow, what? The list is endless and what you end up with is far from what anyone would ever describe as a naturally occurring phenomenon. And as such, it is no less contrived a thing than a James Bond movie. And as with any creative construct, whether it's a BBC Factual Television programme or a film or an oil painting, if creative freedom means anything, it is having complete creative latitude to include or exclude anybody or anything for any reason. If either at the outset of a TV programme, or at any time during its screen life, you want to replace an old person with a young person, or a white person with a black person, or a disabled straight with an able bodied gay, you should have as much creative freedom to do so as you have to change the colour of John Craven's anorak. I don't blame Miriam O'Reilly for identifying an opportunity for legal redress and pursuing her case. My argument would be that the creative industries are completely inappropriate environments for anti-discrimination legislation and that the legal tools she used should never have been available to her.
BBC Radio 4's topical programme The Media Show, presented by journalist and former TV executive…