Sacrificing our over-50s to the contradiction of youth culture
The Big Brother House is to open to visitors later this month under the auspices of the National Trust – Martin Hesp thinks it’s one step too far in our craven courtship of youth.
We all know the catchphrase "dash-for-cash", but there's another that could be called "yen-for-youth" – and I'm not talking about old codgers like me wishing we were spring chickens...
I refer to the universal trend among companies, charities, other big organisations and even governments that sees them constantly attempting to appeal to the young, no matter what the cost.
The latest episode in this craven crusade to enter that heady and exciting world peopled by folk younger than, say, 25 comes from none other than the National Trust.
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Britain's largest landowning charity is about to open up a new property for the public's breathless perusal – but the hideous, Kafka-esque nightmare that is the Big Brother House.
It's only for a weekend, but the house – located at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire – will be open for guided tours later this month under the auspices of the Trust.
The idea is part of the charity's London Project: "To engage younger, urban audiences in their built and natural heritage by bringing the history, stories and character of places to life in new and relevant ways."
The charity's London director, Ivo Dawnay, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, explained his mission was to broaden the appeal of the organisation: "It's about time the Trust was a bit funnier," he said. "The Big Brother House is a special place. It says something about the epoch we're living through."
A bit funnier? Well, one person who's always given me a good laugh is former MP Ann Widdecombe, who also appeared on the Today programme – but to argue against such frivolity.
I don't agree with much this well-known Dartmoor-dweller has ever said, but I did find myself nodding with approval when she opined: "I'm rather saddened by this. I don't think it's part of the National Trust's mission."
Miss Widdecombe said she accepted that the Trust should update the work it does and not "just wholly go for historic homes", but questioned whether it should be getting involved with the Big Brother House, rather than BBC Television Centre, which is due for redevelopment.
"I do think something has to stand the test of time before you can seriously call it heritage," she said. "I don't think it needs to be tawdry and celebrity-obsessed."
Getting to the point of this particular article, she added: "Even Prime Ministers have discovered in their time that trying to make things look more trendy can upset people who are pretty loyal."
At this point, Today presenter Justin Webb jumped in to add weight to Ms Widdecombe's flying handbag – he asked Mr Dawnay if it was always necessary for organisations like his to be taking part in the breathless chase to appeal to youth.
As he pointed out, the young do get older – they will, with a fair wind, all arrive at the quaint and picturesque borders of old-fashioned National Trust Land sooner or later.
As I listened to Mr Webb's question, I could almost hear the not inconsiderable 22 million people aged 50 and over in the UK cheering with glee.
That's right – 22 million people... The number surprised me when I looked it up in a document from Age UK and found that a third of the nation's population is now over half a century old.
The Age UK fact-sheet, which is updated on a monthly basis, is the most up-to-date source of publicly available general information on people in later life in the country – and it provides a fascinating overview, full of little known facts like these...
Two-thirds of older people in the UK agree that age discrimination exists in their daily lives. Just over half of the nation's adults think that, once you reach very old age, people treat you as a child. Half believe that those who plan services do not pay enough attention to the needs of older people. And nearly 70 per cent agree that politicians see older people as a low priority.
If all that seems a long way from a weekend at the Big Brother House, then I'd argue it is well worth adding a serious note to what, this week, was billed as a flippant lightweight news story.
As a journalist, I constantly hear the refrain of "we want to be more inclusive" from all manner of groups and organisations – and the phrase is almost always pitched at the young, or maybe at those from different ethnic origins.
Fair enough – who am I, a believer in strong community, to knock this general move to more inclusiveness?
But it should be an even-handed – all-for-one, one-for-all – approach. As Ms Widecombe said, the unseemly modern race to court youth can all too often upset those who are already on-side and perfectly loyal. Why spoil that applecart when the thrill-loving, celebrity-worshipping, instant-hit-addicted youth of today will become the more genteel, more thoughtful, drama-avoiding folk of tomorrow?