BBC drive for more panel show women ‘to­kenis­tic’

Fe­male stars in­vited to ap­pear on QI but rou­tinely say no, ac­cord­ing to pro­ducer John Lloyd

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Han­nah Fur­ness ARTS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

FOR years, tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tives have faced ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ism over their fail­ure to put more women on tele­vi­sion panel shows.

How­ever, there is a rea­son for the prob­lem, claims a lead­ing pro­ducer: women keep say­ing “no”.

John Lloyd, the man be­hind shows in­clud­ing Black­ad­der, Not the Nine O’clock News and Spit­ting Image, said pro­gramme-mak­ers tried end­lessly to con­vince women to join panel shows, but were still left strug­gling.

Speak­ing of QI, which is hosted by Sandi Toksvig and strives to have at least one woman on each episode, he said: “We asked women to come on the show but they say no.”

Ar­gu­ing a BBC quota for women pan­el­lists risked be­ing mere “to­kenism”, Lloyd said it was bet­ter to reach a point where women knew they were in­vited be­cause they were “bril­liant” than due to their gen­der.

“If you look at our record com­pared to other panel shows, we have more women,” he told the Chel­tenham Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val.

“We’re be­ing en­cour­aged to do di­ver­sity, but there’s lot of dif­fer­ent types of di­ver­sity – sex, race – we can’t do it all. I think it’s a bit to­kenis­tic, per­son­ally.”

Lloyd’s wife Sarah, who is di­rec­tor of QI Limited, added: “We ask women to come on, but they won’t. You tell me who you’d like to see on the show and I can tell you we’ve asked them. It’s my main aim.”

Lloyd said he was also aware of a lack of black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic co­me­di­ans on shows, but that he had en­coun­tered sim­i­lar re­jec­tions, in­clud­ing one from cam­paigner and ac­tor Sir Lenny Henry.

In 2014, Danny Co­hen, then BBC head of tele­vi­sion, an­nounced all com­edy panel shows should have at least one woman ap­pear­ing in each episode.

At the time, he said: “We’re not go­ing to have any more panel shows with no women on them. It’s not ac­cept­able.”

Among those crit­i­cis­ing the rule were Dara O Bri­ain, chairman of Mock the Week, who warned “leg­is­lat­ing for a to­ken woman isn’t much help” and left reg­u­lar fe­male pan­el­lists “sud­denly look­ing like to­ken women”.

Ja­son Man­ford crit­i­cised the BBC’S an­nounce­ment.

“By say­ing it, you’re un­der­min­ing the fe­male on the panel show be­cause now she’s thinking, ‘Am I here be­cause I’m funny or be­cause they needed one?’” he said.

Ex­plain­ing the re­luc­tance of some women to ap­pear on cer­tain shows, which did not in­clude QI, Jo Brand said they feared they would not get a word in edge­ways, that they would be edited to “look stupid”, that they would be ridiculed by reg­u­lars, did not like com­pet­ing for air time and may be “pa­tro­n­ised, marginalised or dis­missed”.

Lloyd said that in his ex­pe­ri­ence, women turned down in­vi­ta­tions to come on QI more of­ten than men, say­ing he agreed that be­ing on a male­dom­i­nated panel could feel “lad­dish”.

Hav­ing two or three women on a panel, he said, had worked well on QI and “com­pletely changed the shape of the con­ver­sa­tion”.

“The best po­si­tion is when you get to a place where you can for­get the gen­der and colour of pan­el­lists and just think, ‘These peo­ple are amazing’,” he said.

“As the lady in the au­di­ence said, it’s not good enough now and I’m really sorry about that but we are really mak­ing an ef­fort – not out of a sense of obli­ga­tion but be­cause we want the most bril­liant peo­ple.”

QI re­turns to BBC Two at 10pm on Oct 20.

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