Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Too ugly for television?

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Mary Beard has been called too ugly for television. 
Photo / Twitter
Mary Beard has been called too ugly for television. Photo / Twitter

If you don't follow the UK dailies, you may not be aware of the media controversy currently erupting over there, involving Britain's best known classicist, Mary Beard and acidic twit / writer, AA Gill.

Gill has publicly declared Beard too ugly for television in his Sunday Times review of her BBC series, Meet the Romans.

The review itself can't be found online, but contained the following slur:

"Mary Beard should be kept away from cameras altogether. She's this far from being the subject of a Channel 4 dating documentary." (A reference to The Undateables, a Channel 4 series which follows people with facial deformities and disabilities on their quest to find love.)

It's not the first time Gill - who has since been branded "UK's most misogynist bore" on Twitter - has slammed Beard's looks. In 2010, he sniped: "Beard coos over corpses' teeth without apparently noticing she is wearing them ... From behind she is 16; from the front, 60. The hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment."

Gaaaaah, etc.

Beard has responded with a relatively measured piece in the Daily Mail, which broke my heart at precisely these moments:

1. "To the charge of having big, tombstone teeth, I plead guilty. I inherited them from my mum, just as I did her uncompromising double chin."

2. "I'm delighted to be a woman in late middle age presenting programmes on television."

3. "It's the content that's the thing, and I believe it's interesting and fun."

But it's not all that gentle. She also says Gill's comments were "a straight case of pandering to the blokeish culture that loves to decry clever women, especially ones who don't succumb to the masochism of Botox and have no interest in dyeing their hair."

Interestingly, Gill's been in similar trouble before, when he barfed up the mocking term "dyke on a bike" in reference to BBC broadcaster and sports commentator, Clare Balding.

(Maybe it's surnames that set him off?)

He also once shot a baboon to see "what killing someone felt like". Is that relevant? I don't know. But it's quite interesting. (What if I shot AA Gill to see what it's like to kill a baboon?)

Anyway, it would be handy if we could all bleat, "Look at you! You're no prize!" back at Gill, to make a nice hypocritical point about double standards. But annoyingly that wouldn't ring true, because he is entirely nondescript; the facial equivalent of air.

Suffice it to say that maybe he should have just reviewed the show, and tried to bypass his weird preoccupation with its presenter's level of sex appeal.

After all, she's apparently very good at what she does, according to the internet. Says one Daily Mail reader, Sam from England:

"I tuned into Mary Beard's programme completely by accident. I had no particular interest in hearing anything about the Romans, having learned all I ever needed to know at school.

However, within a sentence or two, she had completely hooked me in. Her knowledge and enthusiasm of the subject was so compelling that I couldn't help but be seduced by it."

Thank you, Sam from England, for pointing out the only type of 'seduction' that mattered one jot in the first place.

Should AA Gill be reprimanded for publicly criticising Beard's looks, or is it all just a bit of fun? Should TV presenters all be attractive? What other examples are there of someone's looks becoming the focus of attention: politicians, sport stars, newsreaders...?

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.

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