The BBC's treatment of Sue Barker speaks volumes about our national state broadcaster and its attitude to older talent, says Mark Dolan

The BBC's treatment of Sue Barker speaks volumes about our national state broadcaster and its attitude to older talent, says Mark Dolan

WATCH NOW: Mark Dolan on BBC's 'insulting' axing of Sue Barker

GB News
Mark Dolan

By Mark Dolan


Published: 24/06/2024

- 09:58

Updated: 24/06/2024

- 10:03

'Sue Barker gave the BBC a great service game, but their backhanded treatment of this tennis ace is a scandal in straight sets'

The brilliant American author Maya Angelou had a wonderful saying - people will forget what you did and what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Which takes me to the appalling treatment by the BBC of sports broadcaster and former tennis champ Sue Barker.


National treasure status gets flung around rather casually these days, but Sue Barker really is a great Briton.

As a tennis player, she actually hit number three in the world and won the French Open in 1976.

Mark Dolan

Mark Dolan shares his thoughts on the BBC's axing of Sue Barker

GB News

After retirement she featured in the gossip columns, particularly when she began a relationship with pop superstar and fellow tennis fan Cliff Richard.

But romance with Cliff Richard was to be short-lived, when she declared new balls please.

Having hung up her tennis racket, she picked up the microphone and became an incredibly successful and popular television broadcaster – and to my mind the best presenter in the history of Wimbledon. She was Wimbledon, and Wimbledon was her.

But it doesn’t stop there, because her time hosting A Question of Sport, marks her out as one of the most successful entertainment broadcasters in the history of British television.

Do you know how long she presented A Question of Sport for? 24 years. A quarter of a century. It was a show in which she had to control some very big and noisy egos, including Ally McCoist, Phil Tuffnell and Matt Dawson – and she gave as good as she got. Her return game was the best.

So with all of that success, as well as hosting the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Grand National, you would assume that the BBC had her locked into a golden handcuffs deal for life. Good luck with that. Sue Barker ended her Wimbledon duties in 2022 because she was worried that the BBC would try to slowly phase her out and diminish her role.

Although she’s put a brave face on her treatment by the BBC, she has confessed that losing the Wimbledon gig came a couple of years before she was ready to go, but she lived in fear of carrying on, only for BBC bosses to be having meetings behind her back about who would replace her. Charming.

Does the BBC have a culture of ageism? I’m not sure, but ask the brilliant Vanessa Feltz, who said you become invisible once you turn 60. Ask dumped Countryfile star Miriam O’Reilly, who successfully suit the corporation for age discrimination. Ask Arlene Phillips, who was sacked from Strictly at the tender age of 66, which is 166 in BBC years. Ask Ken Bruce, the host of the biggest radio show in Europe, on half the salary of his younger colleague Zoe Ball, who had a smaller audience. He left Radio 2 last year to join a commercial rival.

Make it make sense. I suppose dusty old Ken Bruce didn't tick any boxes did he, just like radio legend Steve Wright, who friends say died of a broken heart, after his smash hit Radio 2 show in the afternoon was also cancelled. And as for Question of Sport, after 24 years on air, and regularly getting four to five million viewers a week, with an entertaining show that all the family could watch, you guessed it, Sue Barker was axed.

In her autobiography, Calling The Shots, Barker said that she and her team captains had felt “devastated” after being called into separate meetings by BBC management in the summer of 2020, and then discovering that they were being fired. The BBC upset her further with their handling of the announcement. They wanted her, Dawson and Tufnell to sign a statement saying that they had all voluntarily decided to step away.

Sue was replaced by fashionable younger comedian Paddy McGuinness, and two team captains in Sam Quek and Ugo Monye, who I have to confess, I've never heard of. Well, the show lost 75 per cent of its audience and was ultimately scrapped. Well done everyone. Hilariously, the BBC blamed the economic environment and inflation. I’d run that through BBC Verify if I were you. As we prepare for another Wimbledon, the BBC’s coverage certainly hasn't got the gravitas in her absence.

On my watch, she would still have top billing; she would be the main anchor. I know about this stuff, I'm a big anchor myself. The BBC's treatment of Sue Barker speaks volumes about our national state broadcaster and its attitude to older talent, and potentially to the older viewers who watch, who amid the BBC’s push for youth and diversity, wouldn’t mind a bit of representation too.

Sue Barker gave the BBC a great service game, but their backhanded treatment of this tennis ace is a scandal in straight sets. And with its eye-wateringly high license fee, the BBC is starting to look like an expensive racket.

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