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
journalismand especially reportingrequires 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
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 computerI
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
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, butwhen 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 wholeor, on occasion, the realstory.
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 researchthat 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.