Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Ms Anne Morley-Priestman

  In The Guardian's media pages this week (on Monday) it was mentioned that the House of Commons employment sub-committee was conducting an investigation into discrimination by employers against older employees.

  I would like to add my contribution to the debate.

  By trade I am an arts journalist. Having moved to rural Essex in 1991 when appointed to launch and edit Antiques & Decoration for a publisher which subsequently went in an exceptionally squelchy liquidation, I have found myself out of the mainstream of work. In this sector, most criticism and feature journalism—and especially reporting—requires one to be based in a major city. So, without a job I can't earn a living; while in Finchingfield I cannot get work in London; without a job I can't move back to London...

  It has occurred to me when sending out job application letters (which all-too often don't even receive a simple acknowledgement) that age as well as location could be a factor; I apply only for work which I know I can do in subject areas of which I have a good knowledge.

  A year or so ago I won through to be interviewed for the deputy editorship of a magazine, published by a professional association. The head of this organisation on meeting me was more concerned with appointing a young person (cheaper?) than one over sixty. He could hardly be bothered to enquire about my professional background, while the editor stood there indicating that I was her preferred candidate for the post, even though I had edited (overall or by section) several magazines in this area and written for national and regional newspapers and magazines.

  He admitted that he couldn't use a computer—I can offer Quark Xpress, PhotoShop, FreeHand, Illustrator and other industry-standard software packages, having taken the trouble to learn these through evening courses at Harlow College and subsequently honed these skills through voluntary and speculative assignments. The person who was offered the job had to be sent on expensive commercial courses to teach her subbing and layout skills. She had previously been employed by the organisation in a secretarial capacity.

  If a person is prepared to learn new skills and to apply these in an up-to-date fashion, then surely the background knowledge which that person can bring to a post ought to be worth something. Add in the ability to do basic research (just for factual accuracy), to spell and to formulate correct grammar and above all to be able to draw upon personal experience when assessing ground-breaking performances and presentations.

  I would include in these the first visit of the Berliner Ensemble to London, Piaf, Judy Garland and Juliette Greco in concert, Beyond the Fringe, Callas at Convent Garden as Norma and Tosca, Nureyev's début in Giselle, Fonteyn performances, Scofield as Macbeth and King Lear, Olivier in The Recruiting Sergeant, the opening seasons of the Chichester Theatre Festival, the Old Vic's 1950s Shakespeare sequence, the premie"re of La Fille Mal Gardée, Visconti's Don Carlos, Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, Cav & Pag and Lucia di Lammermoor .  .  .

  Exhibitions of Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, studio ceramics, studio glass also come to mind as do National Portrait Gallery special exhibitions during Roy Strong's directorship. I know very well that I'm not the sole repository for memories of such events, but—when the broadcast media is so concerned with "I was there"—one would think that there was some value in real experience of whatever it might be at the time when it first happened. Hindsight is a wondrous thing, but it isn't the whole—or, on occasion, the real—story.

  A former colleague mentioned in the course of a telephone conversation that a sub-editor on a particular and well-respected broadsheet newspaper for which he writes obituaries had asked him "Who was Philip Hope-Wallace? Was he an actor?" As I said, whatever happened to research—that simple business of looking something up in a dictionary or encyclopaedia.

  Thank you for your patience.

  And yes, I am still looking for work. Even though I am now 66.

Anne Morley-Priestman

November 2000

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