More than one hundred British actors have signed a petition calling for better onscreen representation for women over the age of 45. Among the signatories are Doctor Who‘s David Tennant, Line of Duty’s Keeley Hawes, Oscar nominee Lesley Manville, Oscar nominee Richard E Grant, Fresh Meat’s Zawe Ashton, and acclaimed writer-actor Meera Syal, according to Deadline.
One of the most glaring examples of onscreen ageism is when the BBC’s flagship Saturday night entertainment programme Strictly Come Dancing started in 2004, 76-year-old Bruce Forsyth was paired with 35-year-old former model Tess Daly as the show’s presenters. And we’ve all seen film and TV actors paired with women half their age as their love interests time and time again – look at Keira Knightley’s career, as just one example.
The Acting Your Age Campaign (AYAC) say that women in the UK have a “shelf life” on screen while their male colleagues have a “whole life” and that “ageism targeting women is an entrenched industry staple that is outdated.” This is certainly an issue in Hollywood, as well as in the British film and TV industries.
Doctor Who is actually a good example of how the actors playing the Doctor and their female companions have become closer in age over the years. The first Doctor (William Hartnell) was paired with his granddaughter and Elisabeth Sladen (who played popular companion Sarah-Jane Smith) was 27 when she first started playing the character – opposite firstly John Pertwee, then Tom Baker.
The fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, was only 30 when he got the role, but it then went back to slightly older actors Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Bonnie Langford was 22 when cast as Doctor Who companion Mel, and Sophie Aldred was 25 when she was cast as Ace. Whereas in the modern era, Catherine Tate is actually two years older than David Tennant – shock horror.
Check out our guide to the best sci-fi series.