Following an outcry over the dropping of 63-year-old judge Arlene Phillips from hit Saturday night show Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC was forced to deny further accusations of sexist ageism after the announcement that TV comedy veteran Patricia Routledge is to be replaced in a remake of ‘Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’ by Melanie Slade, the 20-year-old girlfriend of England and Arsenal footballer Theo Walcott.
The new BBC series, described as giving the gentle crime comedy drama ‘a 21st century makeover to appeal to modern audiences’, will continue to feature the scenic rolling hillsides and milltowns of North West Lancashire and eccentric crimes beyond the investigative powers of bumbling police officers. However Hetty will now be a feisty young law student and part-time model, who in the course of her sleuthing often finds herself going undercover in lapdancing clubs or on swimwear photo shoots. ‘But rest assured, Hetty will at all times wear her beloved trademark beret!’ promised BBC spokeswoman Ann Carter.
The corporation denied claims that the glamorous overhaul was in response to ITV’s decision to cast Colleen McLoughlin as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, although the BBC acknowledged it does need to make its programmes more accessible to a broader and younger audience, while avoiding dumbing down. In response to a question from a tabloid newspaper Carter refused to rule out inviting members of pop group Girls Aloud to sit in for Kirsty Wark on Newsnight, commenting ‘I can only say we have ruled out, well…you know which one’.
As the controversy continued to rage, Director-General Mark Thompson finally stepped in to the row to say that the idea that the BBC is ageist ‘is just obviously nonsense’. ‘What other network in this day and age would have commissioned yet another series of Last of the Summer Wine as we have just done?’ he asked.
‘And we’re particularly excited to announce the introduction of Billie Piper as Elodie Batty, a feisty young languages student and part-time French maid who is the long-lost niece of the late Nora Batty. And rest assured, you can be guaranteed that in the finest traditions of the show Elodie will regularly find herself in a bath-tub, rolling out of control down the hills of the Yorkshire Dales, and will always wearing those trademark stockings’.