In an era where diversity is hot topic on political agenda, issues of prejudice and discrimination amongst minority groups still dominate the British media. Last year the BBC caused controversy when it was forced into publicising their top earners which prompted a major debate about the role of women on television. Yet apart from gender equality, there was another discriminatory barrier which the corporation had to settle. In 2011 former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her case against the BBC following her dismissal from the show in favour of younger presenters Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker which proved a very bleak time for the age gap in television. Indeed around this time former BBC breakfast presenter Selina Scott received £250,000 in damages by Channel Five after being unfairly treated by the broadcaster. A very bleak time for the more mature star required action but from the unlikeliest outlets…
The 2011 star studded movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel captured the audience’s imaginations as Judi Dench and co proved that you’re never too old to kick off the shackles of mundane life and be free to follow your dreams. It was evidence that life doesn’t have to end at seventy which was a million miles away from the conservative attitude of television producers and the manner in which they dealt with their experienced talent. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a surprised hit and even spawned a sequel which was music to the ears of such a predominantly mature cast. There seemed to be a newfound interest in the exploits and desires of the older generation which gave the BBC the idea for a brand new series.
In January 2016 the BBC launched the first episode of The Real Marigold Hotel where eight well known senior citizens journeyed to Jaipur in India to establish whether this could be the perfect place to live out their retirement. Miriam Margoyles, Bobby George, Jan Leaming, Rosemary Shraeger, Roy Walker, Syvester McCoy, Wayne Sleep and Patti Boulaye discovered what northern India had to offer for people in the autumn of their lives. Not only was it an opportunity to explore the all conquering issue of the ageing process but it also offered a platform for the older generation of stars to remind their audience that they were still relevant. What began as a one off documentary feature proved popular and was nominated for the Best Factual at the 2017 BAFTA Television Awards.
This newfound interest in the over sixties prompted executives to make a follow up series promoting it from the lowly BBC2 to prime time BBC1. This series followed household names including: entertainer Lionel Blair, wildlife presenter Bill Oddie, actress Amanda Barrie, snooker champion Dennis Taylor, TV personality Rustie Lee, TV doctor Miriam Stoppard, Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson and Just Good Friends actor Paul Nicholas adjusting to life in a 16th-century mansion in Old Kochi. At eighty seven, Lionel Blair remains the oldest resident of The Real Marigold Hotel and was determined to use his time in India to find a cure for his severe hunchback problem which made his stomach severely protrude. Over the four week vacation he tried a number of herbal remedies to combat his enlarged stomach from yoga to a mud bath. This was the most dramatic transformation in any of the celebrities who have appeared in the series and by the end he felt much more confident about his appearance. Evidence that a different culture can sometimes benefit the ageing process.
This year, nine more famous senior citizens gave up their lavish London lifestyles and headed to Udaipur to sample over sixty lives in western India. A stellar cast including actors Stephanie Beecham, Peter Dean and Susan George, writer Stanley Johnston, comedian Syd Little, comedy double act The Krankies otherwise known as Ian and Janette Tough, former jockey Bob Champion and television presenter Selina Scott followed in the footsteps of previous famous senior citizens to see if India would be the perfect place to retire. All still extremely active and ambitious about what life has to offer, it was obvious from the outset that this wouldn’t be a series for putting their feet up.
Watching former Grand National winning jockey Bob Champion accompanied by horse enthusiasts Selina Scott and Susan George riding through the rural towns of Udaipur on the back of a horse reinforced the fact that retirement isn’t about giving up on life. If done well, retirement should be about doing the things which you never were able to do as a working person. Cooking fans Syd Little and Ian Tough were in their element when they undertook a series of home cuisine lessons from a traditional Indian chef which was able to tantalise their taste buds. Stephanie Beecham meanwhile, wanted to experience the spiritual side of India and booked a series of meditation classes which she found both healing and extremely emotional. It would appear that there are many layers to India…
One may draw a certain amount of irony from Selina Scott’s involvement in a documentary series surrounding retirement and old age considering the substantial age row which she was at the centre of just under a decade previously. Yet maybe if The Real Marigold Hotel has taught us anything it’s that in terms of television entertainment, age is completely irrelevant. So let’s look after our more mature stars, learn from them, be inspired by them and use them to help challenge the fixed concepts which society puts on us. In an uncertain world with so much change, it’s great to know that the older generation will always be ever present on our television screens long live The Marigold Hotel!