Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 17:01 UK

Harman 'shocked' at Strictly axe

Arlene Phillips, left, and Harriet Harman
Ms Harman, right, said she had her suspicions about why Ms Phillips was axed

Harriet Harman has said she suspects Arlene Phillips was axed as a Strictly Come Dancing judge because the BBC considered her too old.

The equalities minister urged the BBC to reinstate the choreographer, 66, who is being replaced by 30-year-old former Strictly winner Alesha Dixon.

At Commons questions she said it was "shocking" Ms Phillips had been axed.

The BBC has denied the charge and said Ms Phillips was dropped as part of an overall refresh for the hit dance show.

Speaking last week, BBC One controller Jay Hunt said: "It's not about bringing in a younger audience. The average age of the BBC One viewer is 52, so why would I take older women off the channel?"

I think it's absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is not going to be a judge on Strictly Come Dancing
Harriet Harman

The show is presented by Bruce Forsyth, 81 - the remaining judges are Len Goodman, 65, Bruno Tonioli, 53, and Craig Revel Horwood, 44.

Ms Harman has been taking the Equalities Bill through Parliament, which, among other things, aims to extend age discrimination laws beyond the workplace to the provision of services.

Her comments came after Conservative MP Nigel Evans called for a debate on BBC pay.

She told MPs: "I think it's absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is not going to be a judge on Strictly Come Dancing.

"And as equality minister, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there.

"So I'd like to take the opportunity of asking the BBC - it is not too late, we want Arlene Phillips in the next edition of Strictly Come Dancing."

Ross pay

Mr Evans said viewers should be consulted on whether the BBC's "so-called top talent" were worth what they were being paid - but said the broadcaster had refused to divulge the information.

"The transparency, we are told, is now going to lead to perhaps a 40% cut in Jonathan Ross's £6m-a-year pay. How he can possibly survive on £3.5m we will never ever know."

BBC Director General Mark Thompson has said the pay of BBC stars - which amounts to about 2% of the licence fee - should not be publicised because of the risk of a "talent drain".

Ms Harman said she was against "lavish spending" at the top of the BBC but said holding the organisation to account should not "tip over into BBC bashing".

Explaining the decision to replace Ms Phillips last week, Jay Hunt said: "When I looked at the four people we had, Bruno is the joker, Craig is the Simon Cowell of the show and Len is the head judge. Arlene has elements of all of them, but when you look at it, Arlene was the obvious one to change."

Ms Phillips will be joining The One Show as a resident Strictly expert.

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SEE ALSO
Goodman 'sad' over Phillips exit
10 Jul 09 |  Entertainment
Dixon joins Strictly dance judges
09 Jul 09 |  Entertainment
Judge's Strictly exit unconfirmed
18 Jun 09 |  Entertainment

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