BBC U-turn on £5,000 sexist women-only comedy bursary scheme – men now welcome to apply

A month ago we reported on the latest in a long list of BBC scandals, where we exposed a sexist and £5,000 women-only comedy bursary for those in the north of England. To add insult to injury, not only were male comedians excluded from the “Bursary for Funny Northern Women”, it was also launched in honour of Caroline Aherne, a known perpetrator of domestic violence against men who attacked her husband. In his memoirs, her ex-husband Peter Hook described her abuse as follows: “putting cigarettes out on my arm, attacking me with bottles, knives, chairs and other assorted furniture.”

aherne logo

We’re pleased to announce that our reporting appears to have had a significant impact at the BBC. While the organisation has refused to comment on Aherne’s abuse of men and its appalling treatment of her victim, it has at least responded to some of our other queries and concerns.

While all the news coverage of the bursary (including the BBC’s own material and even its logo), clearly states the award is only for women, we did thoroughly investigate the terms and conditions and found a loophole in that there was no actual clause explicitly excluding men from applying (presumably due to the obvious legal issues of illegal sex discrimination). We’re pleased to announce that this was no mistake in the terms and conditions and the BBC have indeed confirmed it is at least technically open to male applicants even if all the marketing for the award clearly suggests otherwise. The BBC response to our article stated the following:

The award recognises the legacy of a funny and talented woman, something widely acknowledged in the tributes paid by many people when she died.  There was no bar on men applying for the bursary, as you rightly point out in your article, and the best applicants with the most potential will always be chosen.

Thankfully, the BBC have also taken on board some of our concerns and also agreed to make it clearer to male applicants that they’ll be able to apply next year. They stated:

It’s the inaugural year and there’s inevitably a few bumps and things we’d do differently in hindsight…Going forward we’ll make sure there is no room for ambiguity on that (men applying)

Regrettably, we can’t take all the credit for forcing the BBC to be less sexist here. For one thing, the fact they had to massively extend the deadline for applicants shows things all went rather badly for the award. They’re clearly desperate for people to apply which presumably helped them be a bit less discriminatory.

It will be interesting to see how the BBC deals with removing the “ambiguity” they describe in their response. To be honest, there wasn’t any “ambiguity” when it came to what was clearly described as a “bursary for funny northern women” – it’s very clear that the BBC wanted to exclude men and there was zero indication that men could even consider aplying unless one read all the small print and realised the blatant sexism was technically absent from the rules.

As for whether “the best” applicant gets chosen, we’ll have to wait a number of  years to see assess the overall gender breakdown of the winners. The overwhelming majority of comedians are male, including overlooked comedians who “have not yet been heard”, and thus over a ten-year period one will expect to see male winners outnumber female at least five-fold. Viewers prefer male comedians too, with those who expressed a preference over six times more likely to find men funnier than women than the other way round. The BBC’s sexism means there almost certainly won’t be a man getting the £5,000 this time around due to the BBC’s deception, but it will be interesting to see what happens in 2019 and beyond.

It is of note that the BBC states “the best applicants with the most potential will always be chosen.” This policy is of course completely at odds with all their current policies when in comes to comedy, where gender quotas are now strictly enforced regardless of the talent of the performers and it’s an inevitability that at least on some occasions the “best” people with the “most potential” are not appearing on our screens.


If you’d rather not fund the BBC’s sexism you could always donate some of the money you saved to HEqual instead. Our sincere thanks go to those who supported us during 2017.

3 thoughts on “BBC U-turn on £5,000 sexist women-only comedy bursary scheme – men now welcome to apply

  1. I could count the number of funny women I’ve seen and heard during my lifetime on the fingers of, er.. two fingers.. :o)

  2. In an interesting set of figures it is the case that over 50% of Apprentices are female and of course despite to females being paid more than male apprentices the call is for more girls in STEM! Interesting data giving a lie to the idea that Men may not go to Uni. but do get apprentices

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