'Too old' Selina Scott sues over lost TV deal

FORMER breakfast TV star Selina Scott – who has accused Channel Five of pulling the plug on a lucrative presenting deal because of her age – yesterday said her battle with the broadcaster was going to an employment tribunal.

The 57-year-old claims she was approached to replace 35-year-old newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky while she is on maternity leave in a contract reputed to be worth up to 200,000, but the broadcasters then backed out in favour of a younger frontwoman.

Speaking from her home in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in North Yorkshire yesterday, Scott said: "It is going to go to a tribunal and I will deliver the facts to the tribunal but I can't say anything else in the meantime."

She had previously told the Yorkshire Post that a woman her age could not get on TV "unless she's humiliated in Wife Swap or prepared to lie in a box with rats in the jungle".

The row centres over maternity cover for Kaplinsky for the prime-time 5pm and 7pm weekday bulletins. Channel Five has since chosen to use existing staffers Isla Traquair, 28, and Matt Barbet, 32, to fill in.

Scott, former golden girl of breakfast TV and News at Ten veteran, claims that she was first in line for the job until the station had an unexplained change of heart. It is understood just days before she was due to sign she received a phone call, telling her the deal was off.

Having hinted a few months ago that TV bosses might be brought to book by tougher equality laws, she is now hauling Five before an employment tribunal, claiming she has been discriminated against on the grounds of age.

Legal experts are already talking a 500,000-1m settlement if she wins or Five agree a sum to avoid a hearing. The money would be compensation for injury to her feelings, loss of earnings and loss of pay that she might have received through her increased profile.

The claim against both Channel Five and its director of programmes Ben Gale, who started in April, has been lodged with the Government's Tribunals Service for a hearing in London.

A spokesman said: "All we can say is the tribunals service has relieved a complaint and it is being looked into. No date has been set for a hearing."

Although Scott was never offered a contract, legal opinion is she would still have a case if she can prove that her age was the reason she did not get one. But a Five spokesman said: "We do not accept this claim and will be vigorously defending it."

Scott has been an outspoken critic of TV's attitudes to women in their late 40s and 50s and fired a broadside at the BBC for dropping newsreader Moira Stuart.

Scott grew up near Guisborough but her mother is from Ryedale, and her grandfather, George Bumby, was editor of the then Malton Herald.

After university, she trained in journalism but became a tourism officer on the Isle of Bute where she was talent spotted by Grampian Television.

After nearly two decades news presenting for ITN and the BBC, fronting Breakfast Time with Frank Bough and The Clothes Show, she started her own current affairs shows in America but has spent more time off screen than on it since the late 1990s.

She lived in America for a while saying, "They take women's careers in TV seriously over there" before starting her own farming and sock-making business in North Yorkshire.

She told the Yorkshire Post: "There's nothing on television for a woman of my interests and age group. It's all facile and infuriating, with women usually portrayed as imbeciles.

"A middle-aged woman can't get on the box unless she's humiliated in Wife Swap, or prepared to lie in a box with rats in the jungle."