“How this country thinks of older people and relates to older people, and how older people think of themselves … is directly affected by what is put on television.” Jeff Sagansky CBS Entertainment Chief. That quote might relate to the US, but there is no reason to think that it is not the same in the UK.
In fact in Australia a study done in 2007 found that the elderly were largely portrayed negatively in film and on TV, usually depicted as grouchy villains (think of Albert in Steptoe and Son). With this in mind let’s take a look at 5 of the best elderly characters on the TV and see how they have turned the stereotype of elderly people around.
1. Dot Cotton in Eastenders
If there was ever a feisty older person who was strong and independent then it’s Dot Cotton in the popular TV soap Eastenders. In fact so popular is the character that she became the first ever soap character to appear in a monologue episode. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she refuses to let life’s knocks keep her down and yet beneath that harsh exterior lies a heart of gold.
2. Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren has to be one of the most successful British actresses with a string of BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Emmys and awards under her belt. Even at the age of 68 she still gets offered leading roles in both TV and film, most recently playing Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, a determined and hard-nosed Detective Chief Inspector.
3. Inspector Morse
John Thaw played the senior CID officer who was highly intelligent, opinionated, had a great criminal intuition and was quite the pedant, often pointing out spelling and grammatical errors in paperwork. The television series ran from 1987 to 2000 and was so successful that even after the death of John Thaw, a spin off was created around his assistant Lewis.
4. Agnes Brown (Mrs Brown’s Boys)
An Irish male comedian plays the part of Mrs Brown, a foul-mouthed Irish matriarch who plays a leading role in this highly successful comedy. Mrs Brown might be gossipy and nosy but she cares a great deal for her family and certainly doesn’t portray older people as the shy retiring type!
5. Violet Crawley Dowager Countess of Grantham (Downton Abbey)
Played by Dame Maggie Smith who is now aged 79, the Countess of Grantham is a woman who likes to be in control and uses her power of manipulation to preserve the honour of her family.
She also has a great sense of humour and is not a character who can easily be fooled. Mind you, she could do with a little stairlift advice to tackle that great staircase in Downton Abbey! With such a wealth of older characters on TV they serve to remind us that older people still have a lot of individuality, strength and fierce independence. It’s also very nice to see so many older characters take leading or strong roles in popular and successful TV shows.
This post was provided by Harold Rigby a regular entertainment and lifestyle writer