It is not unusual for the BBC to suffer criticism for their hiring and firing decisions. From their controversial capers with Jeremy Clarkson, to the apparent obsession with all things Clare Balding – questions over the selection of on-screen talent is never far from the headlines.
This time, the departure of national treasure, Stephen Fry, has made waves not just because of his move away from the spot of quizmaster on comedy favourite, QI.
Fry’s replacement, Sandi Toksvig, has made her name on the showbiz circuit by appearing as a guest on both stand-up and satirical smash hits including Whose Line is It Anyway?, Mock The Week and, often as a host, Have I Got News For You. In addition to having been a frequent feature on QI itself, Toksvig clearly has the academic credentials to match her wonderfully, dry humour – a necessity if one is to follow the footsteps of the genius that is Fry. The first-class graduate from Cambridge won two prizes for outstanding achievement during her time at University, and is now Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, as well as a recipient of an OBE, for services to broadcasting.
“Naturally, the conversation has been raised in the media regarding the BBC’s decision to bring a woman on board for the main role, as it is quite a surprise that Toksvig should be chosen to fill the position, which a man held for over 13 years.”
Naturally, the conversation has been raised in the media regarding the BBC’s decision to bring a woman on board for the main role, as it is (rather unfortunately) quite a surprise that Toksvig should be chosen to fill the position, which a man held for over 13 years. Although, the new appointment does come after a period of complaints aimed at the broadcasting giant, for a seeming imbalance in the number of high profile, hosting jobs which women hold in comparison to men. Recent figures have shown that just one in eight BBC radio breakfast shows are lead by women alone.
The response to the oddly convenient timing of Toksvig’s hiring would be the question of whether or not this is simply a token gesture from the BBC? Particularly as their choice is such a prominent and active spokesperson for women in society, politics and in the media.
It is absolutely brilliant that BBC have acknowledged viewers’ concerns, however, it would be even better if this policy of broadening diversity continued on after Toksvig’s promotion. Even better still, if similar changes were implemented across the board, on all channels and networks. The new personalities and differing perspectives, which would come with the employment of women in these leading roles, could only make for more interesting television. In fact, some of the most successful panel shows are currently hosted by women, such as Sue Barker on A Question of Sport, and Mel and Sue on Great British Bake Off.
It would be a refreshing experience to see intelligent and comedic women take on similar positions to Dara O’Brien or Jeremy Paxman, Rob Brydon and Jimmy Carr. A new dynamic might even pull in a higher audience or a different demographic on interest value alone, considering these shows have spent such a long time with the same format. At the very least, it would be a vast improvement to see more women occupying seats on the panels themselves, if not taking up a hosting job. As there is often a noticeable disproportion, despite the corporation’s equality-ensuring measures.
The BBC have set a great example by hiring a long-standing, female member of the industry to fill Fry’s shoes. The fact that Toksvig’s appointment has raised the issue of women’s significance in television is a welcome sign. Hopefully, this will encourage other stations to follow suit, and make use of a wide range of individuals, who will undoubtedly be out there, ready for the challenge.