Former BBC1 presenter Miriam O'Reilly appeared before an employment tribunal in London yesterday on the first day of a hearing on her claims for sexual discrimination and age discrimination.
Ms O'Reilly, 53, worked at the BBC for over 25 years and presented the rural affairs programme Countryfile until she was axed in November 2008 as part of a widely publicised 'revamp' of the show.
On the first day of the tribunal hearing, Ms O'Reilly submitted a witness statement in which she alleges that nine months before she was sacked Countryfile's director Dean Jones warned her "to be careful with those wrinkles when high definition comes in".
'He said that would be "crunch time" for my BBC career,' added Ms Reilly, who wrote the comments 'sent a shiver down my spine'.
Shortly afterward, Louise Pyne, another director of the programme, told her "it's time for Botox".
She wrote: 'I do not believe that a man would be asked about his wrinkles nor offered hair dye. It was clear to me that this was a reflection of the BBC's view that women on TV needed to look young.'
When she found out she was being sacked along with the show's three other over-40 female presenters -- Juliet Morris, Charlotte Smith, and Michaela Strachan -- she said was 'devastated'.
'This news was a huge disappointment. I was happy for the programme and its success but felt that this success was linked to the presenters' connection with the audience. I had worked for the programme on a freelance basis for about eight years. I had won awards for the programme and had demonstrated my commitment to it by refusing other work.
'The four women who were dropped were part of the Countryfile family. Viewers trusted us because we had experience, knowledge and credibility. We brought a level of understanding to the programme that I don't believe exists now. It's still very much identifiable as Countryfile; it's just that overall the presenter line-up is much younger.'
While the show sacked its four female presenters aged over 40, it retained its two male presenters -- John Craven and Adam Henson -- aged over 40.
Speaking to the Times in February about her decision to sue the BBC, Ms O'Reilly explained:
'Initially they didn't tell me who was being dropped from the programme. I had no idea. It was only later that I found out it was the four women.
'The reason given was that they wanted to refresh Countryfile. [But] it seems this refreshing of the programme applies only to women.
'I think it's an insult to the viewers for women like us to be dropped. The only reason is because we've got older. I can't walk away and leave it because I believe what's happened to me is wrong.'
The tribunal hearing is scheduled to last 12 days. Tune back on Monday for an update...
- 'Careful with those wrinkles,' Countryfile presenter was told (Independent)
- Discrimination law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Employment law news (The Solicitor)
- Employment law Q&A (Community)
- Find an employment solicitor (Contact Law)