Rowan Atkinson Wades Into BBC Sex Discrimination Dispute

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Rowan Atkinson

The “Mr Bean” and “Johnny English” star says that the BBC should have total creative freedom when it comes to hiring and firing onscreen talent.

LONDON – Rowan Atkinson has told the BBC that producers should have total creative freedom when it comes to on screen hires – and should not have to adhere to discrimination legislation.

His comments came a week after the BBC director general Mark Thompson admitted that the BBC had “got it wrong” by firing older female presenters and vowed to bring back more.

In a letter to the BBC Radio 4 Media Show, Atkinson said that “the creative industries are completely inappropriate environments for anti-discrimination legislation.”

The actor, comedian and screenwriter is one of Britain’s biggest talent exports, starring in such shows as Blackadder, Mr Bean and movies including Johnny English.

Citing the of case of Miriam O’Reilly, the BBC presenter who won a landmark case against the BBC after being dropped from the rural affairs show Countryfile, Atkinson said while he did not blame O’Reilly for using the existing law, his argument was more that “the legal tools she used should never have been available to  her.”

Atkinson likened using age discrimination to situation to Pierce Brosnan complaining that he was sacked from Bond movies for being too old.

“If either at the outset of a TV program, or at any time during its screen life, you want to replace an old person with a young person or a white person with a black person, or a disabled straight with an able-bodied gay, you should have as much creative freedom to do so.”

The comments are at odds with the direction signalled earlier this month by BBC bosses, who are making a concerted effort to make sure more older women presenters are seen on screen.

“There are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC,” the director general said in an article for the Daily Mail.

“As the national broadcaster and one which is paid for by the public, the BBC is in a different class from everyone else.”