Former Midlands Today and Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly was warned “to be careful with those wrinkles when high definition comes in” just nine months before she was dropped by the BBC, a tribunal heard.
Ms O’Reilly, 53, is suing the broadcaster for sex and age discrimination after losing her job when the Birmingham-produced show was moved to a prime-time slot.
In a witness statement handed to the tribunal, she said comments by Countryfile’s director Dean Jones “sent a shiver down my spine” when he warned her the high definition could be “crunch time” for her BBC TV career in February 2008.
In the statement, she said: “I do not believe that a man would be asked about his wrinkles nor offered hair dye.
“It was clear to me that this was a reflection of the BBC’s view that women on TV needed to look young.”
Ms O’Reilly was told she would no longer be working on the rural affairs programme in November 2008.
She said she was “devastated” by the news that she and three other female presenters would lose their jobs when the show relaunched in April 2009 with Julia Bradbury, then 38, and Katie Knapman, then 36.
In her witness statement, she said she was not told why she would not have a role on the programme in its new prime-time slot, only that the show was being “refreshed”.
Ms O’Reilly, who was also a former Radio WM news producer, said: “This news was a huge disappointment. I was of course happy for the programme and its success but felt that this success was linked to the presenters’ connection with the audience.
“By this time I had worked for the programme on a freelance basis for around eight years.
“I had won a number of awards for the programme and had demonstrated my commitment to it by refusing other work.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that I was devastated by this news.”
Three other female Countryfile presenters - Michaela Strachan, 42, Juliet Morris, 52, and Charlotte Smith, 44 - were also dropped from the show, Ms O’Reilly said.
Meanwhile, the show’s main presenter John Craven, 68, and Adam Henson, who was in his 40s, were to be kept on with Ben Fogle, 35, who was given Country Tracks to present.
“The four women who were dropped were part of the Countryfile ‘family’,” Ms O’Reilly’s statement said. “Viewers trusted us because we had experience, knowledge and credibility. We brought a level of understanding to the programme that I don’t believe exists now.
“The subject matter of the prime-time show hasn’t changed, it’s still very much identifiable as Countryfile, it’s just that overall the presenter line-up is much younger - that’s the most identifiable difference.”
After being told she would not feature in the prime-time show on a Sunday evening by Andrew Thorman, then executive editor of factual learning, Ms O’Reilly said her departure was reported heavily in the national press.
She claimed her relationship with Mr Thorman, who she had known since she started at the BBC when she was 25, became “cool and off-hand, then gradually became very cold”.
Ms O’Reilly claimed she was victimised because she was suspected of being the source of negative media reports about alleged ageism within the BBC.