When I’m 65 season

In with the old: BBC One addresses its older viewers with the When I’m 65 season

When I’m 65, a new season of BBC One documentaries, examines the very real concerns facing our ageing population. Benji Wilson finds out more.

By Benji Wilson

1:31PM BST 03 Jul 2012

It is estimated that by 2030 a quarter of the population will be over 65. By 2083, it will be one in three. A quarter of all children born today will live to see their 100th birthday. Those numbers mean that the elderly cannot continue to be invisible. In fact they will hardly be elderly at all in the word’s current sense – they will be richer, more active, more relevant and more numerous than ever before.

Gloria Hunniford appears in When I Get Older

Gloria Hunniford appears in When I Get Older

BBC One’s new When I’m 65 season has digested these considerations and poses some pertinent questions. What will it be like to work at 70? What will it mean to live with 20 or 30 years of ill health or bereavement? What are the financial implications? What are the cultural implications? How will that affect grandchildren and young people going into work?

Danny Cohen, the Controller of BBC One, says, “This is a massive issue for our audience,” going on to argue that the idea of television as a medium fixated with youth (Cohen is 38) is a myth. “I don’t agree with that line. It’s fascinating that that keeps coming back despite the wealth of statistics that show it differently – the average age of BBC One viewers is about 50.”

How we treat an ageing population is, he says, an issue that’s going to affect us all, young or old.

“In strategic terms I want BBC One to start doing more issue driven series at 9 o’clock. I’ve always been attracted to subjects for television that people tend to ignore. When you combine that with areas of huge public import, that combination is a good place to be for BBC One.”

The When I’m 65 season has attracted some well-known senior citizens to front its programmes. Next Wednesday, The Apprentice’s Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford see if septuagenarians can still cut it in the modern workplace in The Town That Never Retired. EastEnders actress June Brown (who plays Dot Cotton) presents Respect Your Elders on Thursday 12 July, in which she investigates the increasing social gap between the old and the young in the UK. Monday’s How to Live Beyond 100 meets some of the country’s 12,000 centenarians and asks how their attitudes have changed with the times.

It all begins with tonight’s When I Get Older (see preview, right) in which Tony Robinson, John Simpson, Lesley Joseph and Gloria Hunniford (who are all over 65 themselves) go to live with pensioners who are in far less enviable positions than they are.

Gloria Hunniford is 71. She is nine years older than Ivy, the woman she was sent to live with for four days. But the contrast between them both could not be starker.

“In the street before I went in, the producers asked for all the money from my purse – I was to live for the next four days on the money that Ivy has to live on. That was just over 12 pounds. That was my first shock.”

Her next shock was to open Ivy’s cupboard and find that there was nothing except a couple of tins. There was nothing in the fridge either, bar some margarine and some milk.

The redemptive message of When I Get Older, which is at times both agonising and deeply moving, is that even without the intervention of high-profile names like Hunniford, there is help out there.

“You just need a catalyst or a reason to get up off your backside and ask for the help,” says Hunniford. “I suppose that will be the question with all four cases in the documentary – who’s going to be the catalyst? Is it a person in the family? A younger person nearby?”

So what sort of debate does Hunniford think the season will provoke?

“I think what it will trigger is that we all know an Ivy, a pensioner or a neighbour who might love to have a chat or even just somebody to listen to them for half an hour every so often. I think these programmes might just trip the conscience of a few people. “In fact one person who saw our programme said to me, ‘Oh my God, I just thought to myself I have not seen my grandmother for about six months. It just made me want to get up and do something.’ That’s the aim.”


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