9th November 2010
A vegetarian TV presenter was dropped from the BBC’s Countryfile show because she did not want to work in abattoirs, a senior executive admitted yesterday.
Michaela Strachan was forced to leave the rural affairs programme because she did not want to report on producing meat, the corporation’s head of rural affairs told an industrial tribunal.
Andrew Thorman said the decision to stop using the presenter, who had worked for the BBC for more than 20 years, was nothing to do with her age or gender.
Axed: Vegetarian Michaela Strachan was asked to leave Countryfile for refusing to report on meat production
Miss Strachan’s former colleague Miriam O’Reilly, 53, is suing the corporation over being dropped, claiming she was the victim of ageism and sexism.
She says she was advised by directors to consider Botox for wrinkles, was offered black hair dye to mask ‘white roots’ and that she was sacked from Countryfile because the controller of BBC1, Jay Hunt, ‘hated women’.
Miss Strachan, 44, and Miss O’Reilly were axed when the programme was moved to a prime-time evening slot in April last year.
More...Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly forced out as 'payback' for BBC ageism comments
BBC staff threaten strikes over Christmas (so more repeats as usual then?)
As the show was revamped, they were replaced by younger presenters including Katie Knapman, then 36, and Matt Baker, then 30.
Giving evidence at Miss O’Reilly’s tribunal yesterday, BBC’s Head of Rural Affairs Mr Thorman insisted the women were not replaced because of their sex or age.
He said Miss Strachan was let go because she was often unavailable to shoot and refused to work on stories which involved contact with meat.
Too old: Miriam O'Reilly arrives at a central London employment tribunal, where she said BBC bosses were ageist and sexist
‘Michaela was a vegetarian and wasn’t happy to do hardcore stories on meat production, such as stories on abattoirs,’ he said.
He added that Miss Strachan, who now lives in South Africa, had moved country so was often unable to commit to shoots.
Mr Thorman’s comments add further controversy to the BBC’s decision to get rid of four older female presenters while revamping Countryfile.
Miss Strachan, then 42, Juliet Morris, then 45, and Charlotte Smith, then 44, also lost their jobs while male co-presenters – including John Craven, then 68 – were either kept on or given other shows to present.
Miss O’Reilly, who worked for the BBC for 25 years, said that after being dropped by Countryfile she was only offered radio work by the BBC – so the audience ‘would not have to look at my wrinkles’.
Despite winning the show several awards in her eight years, she claims she was given no reason for her sacking.
Instead, bosses offered her a radio show about pensioners in what she believes was an attempt to humiliate her over her claims of ageism.
But Mr Thorman yesterday insisted Miss O’Reilly’s removal from the show was ‘nothing to do’ with age or sex – the problem was she was not popular enough.
The role required more engaging presenters with credible knowledge of the countryside and personalities which could attract prime-time audiences, he told the hearing.
Mr Thorman, 60, said: ‘Miriam did not fulfil the criteria necessary. She did not have
experience presenting on a prime-time show and she did not have the peak time profile that was needed.
‘This was not a reflection of her skill as a reporter or her knowledge of rural affairs.
‘The decision had nothing to do with Miriam’s age or sex.’
Miss Strachan presented a series of shows for the BBC, including the long-running Really Wild Show for children, for which she was nominated for a Bafta in 1999, as well as the Elephant Diaries.
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