A letter to Radio Times magazine has sparked a national debate over which side BBC Breakfast hosts should sit on the show’s famous red sofa.
After presenter Bill Turnbull departed at the end of an epic 15-year stint on the morning news programme, Adele Clarke wrote that she was “annoyed” to see “new boy” Dan Walker seated in Turnbill’s former spot on the left while the far more experienced Louise Minchin remained on the right.
In the TV world, “camera left” (the left-hand side, as seen by audiences) is where the more senior presenter sits, most likely due to the fact that in the West we read from left to right.
“How long will it take the BBC (and most other news stations) to catch up with the rest of us in the 21st century?” wrote Clarke. “Be brave – try seating a woman on the left and see how the world will keep turning”.
But is this really an example of insidious, if unconscious, sexism or simply a harmless TV tradition? Body language and behavioural expert Judi James told RadioTimes.com that Walker sitting in the left seat rather than Minchin certainly is damaging to our view of women.
“This absolutely reinforces the idea that women are inferior,” said James. “It’s really one of the hugest bastions of sexism that in any double act that you get on television where there’s a man and a woman it’s pretty much always seen that the guy is the dominant alpha and that it’s reflected in where they sit.
“In all the years and years and years that people have been watching the news every day and night of their lives they’ve become used to seeing the alpha silverback sitting on that particular side and a slightly more diminished female junior on the other side.”
While there are a couple of cases where the female presenter takes the left side — Sky News’ Sunrise Breakfast and sometimes ITV’s This Morning — these are exceptions to the rule.
James added that Walker and Minchin should swap seats. “I understand why there’s outrage over where they’re sitting. People were looking forward to seeing a change in the sofa hierarchy, albeit we’re talking about a hierarchy that’s almost been created by television in the first place. That’s a strong reason for wanting to see things change.”
However, the BBC has denied that there’s any link between sofa positions and pecking order, saying that it’s simply to do with which camera angles look best. “There is no seniority in terms of who sits where on the BBC Breakfast sofa,” read a statement. A source close to the show said that producers had tried seating Minchin on the left but “it just didn’t look right.”