‘He fell on my body, then bit me’: what it’s really like to work in TV as a woman

·7-min read

Continuing our series of exposés about the British TV industry, women remember being assaulted for three years straight, denied work once they became mums and batting off men who are ‘famously handsy’

‘My colleagues ignored me for a year’: what it’s really like to work in TV as a disabled person

The television industry has a problem with the way it treats women. According to a survey by Film + TV Charity, 39% of female employees have experienced sexual harassment at work, while 67% have experienced bullying. Bectu, the union that supports TV and film workers, found that two-thirds of those who had experienced abuse did not report it for fear of being blacklisted.

Other studies have reported mothers being prevented from working due to childcare issues, and a serious female under-representation in leadership positions, despite Ofcom finding that women make up around 45% of TV roles.

The Guardian has spoken to a number of female TV insiders to hear what it’s really like.

The producer

I was at a wrap party, which is usually the best of TV fun. By this point, I hadn’t got to know a lot of the channel or the higher bosses and one of the most senior people essentially put his hand up my skirt on my way to the loo.

I turned around and said: “What the fuck are you doing?” He went: “Well, there’s not much you can do about it,” laughed and walked off.

I told a colleague and he said: “Watch out for him. I’ve heard he’s touched up interns and stuff.” I was horrified.

I think I was quite lucky; I have heard of other people having had similar experiences that have gone further than that. He’s been my boss since then. If I did report him, it would get back to him because he’s one of the people who would have to deal with it. I would be terrified if he found out it was me.

I do think there’s movement there, though. I also find that there’s a lot more opportunities for BAME people – I see more and more job posts specifically aiming for people of colour. I do think that, whether it’s quotas or whether it’s just generally monitoring diversity, it is working.

The assistant producer/director

I was sexually harassed by a commissioner from the age of 23 to 26-ish. He would take me out for drinks under the guise of networking. He’d go out and buy me bottles of wine and get me drunk. He’d tell me I was attractive and ask if I had a boyfriend. He’s married with kids.

He recommended me to a talent manager at a company, and I ended up getting a job off the back of that chat. I bumped into [the commissioner] and told him, and he was like: “Ah, so I got you this job. You need to come out for a drink with me, then.”

There was a sense of “I don’t want to ruffle his feathers because he’s powerful”. He had picked a place near my house. After the pub shut, he was like: “Why don’t we get a cup of tea at yours?” And I was like: “OK, well, if it’s a cup of tea, that’s fine.” I have flatmates as well so I felt safe.

Even talking about it now makes me feel sickened and disgusted

We went back to mine, were sitting in the living room, chatting on opposite sofas and then at one point he just lunged at me across the room. Like, he fell on my body. It was very strange, and then he sort of started wrestling me. He bit me on my arm and left marks.

After that, I massively distanced myself. But I kept getting texts from him, saying: “Why haven’t I seen you?” It was very stressful – even talking about it now makes me feel sickened and disgusted. He was a good contact, and you always hear that TV’s about networking, right?

The writer

My friend worked on this show where the presenter was famously handsy. I went along to the wrap party, which was in a bar, and she spent all night sticking to me like glue, because [the presenter] kept chasing her into the bathroom and trying to grope her. She was laughing at the time but now, when we look back, we think – that was not fucking funny. Everybody knew it was going on.

There’s a male-led management culture that becomes a lads-on-tour vibe. I was once working on a show where they cast an actor because – according to the joke being made in the room in front of me – the producer was like: “She’s shit, but I want to fuck her. You know?” It just speaks to their fundamental lack of respect for women.

I also met with a producer, who is now quite prominent in [a broadcaster]. I was pitching ideas and he said: “Where’s your shoes and handbags show?” I said: “What?”

He replied: “You’re giving me all this stuff about assassins and aliens and you’re a 21-year-old woman … where’s your Sex and the City? Where’s your shoes and handbags show? You know, like, shows that are going to appeal to people like you?”

The reality TV producer

I come from a working-class background so it wasn’t an easy route into TV. I was training as a multi-camera director on a reality TV show when I got pregnant with my first child. I was able to job share when my daughter was born, so after the birth I went back to a shared contract, which was great.

[The reality show] was only on for four months every year so I went back to a few different companies. A lot of the time as a mum you end up in the edit suite making programmes, because it’s more office-based. I thought I could just job share – but nobody would entertain it. Nobody would do it. There are no part-time jobs in television and I couldn’t work full time. My phone didn’t ring that year. Literally, not a single phone call or email – nothing. Because most people knew that I had a baby.

My phone didn’t ring that year. Not a single phone call or email – nothing. Because people knew I had a baby

Things are changing slightly with certain roles, but you can’t really progress. You can’t talk openly about kids. When I started, people wouldn’t put maternity leave on their CVs. Meetings are often arranged at times that are awful for mums to go to. It’s much better now – remote working was never offered or even considered in television before, and it has been a game-changer – but there’s still a long, long way to go. You can’t manage long hours when you’ve got children. But you’ve got half a chance if you can work from home, so that is a massive, massive shift.

The assistant producer/director

I was working as a researcher and in order to get promoted to an assistant producer you have to have camera experience. So I was trying to get camera experience and [this cameraman] was being really kind on set, letting me play with the camera.

At the time, I was 23 and everyone else was 40 plus and male. The cameraman and I had been talking earlier about how the hotel was really cold. Later that evening, I was in my room – he was next door – and it was quite late. I think it was midnight.

I didn’t even know he had my number, but he texted me, like: “I found a way to turn the heating up. Do you want me to help you?” I remember at the time knowing there was no way I could show that text to my executive producer, because it was so by the book. But because of the dynamic we’d had that day and the fact that he was next door, it felt incredibly flirtatious. I didn’t reply, then he texted again with a question mark. It made me feel very frightened.

I stopped bantering with him, which meant I didn’t touch the camera at any point during the rest of our shoot. I didn’t get the experience I needed to progress my career, because I was frightened he would think I was flirting with him. That’s the problem of being a woman in TV. All these relationships are friendly. You do need to be charming to progress. But how can you be charming as a young woman with a bunch of men, and not be perceived as being flirtatious?