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Adult Education

Age discrimination is an issue of which people are becoming increasingly aware, and reflecting this concern is the BBC's new, Wednesday-afternoon series for the over-50s, Next.

Here Valerie Singleton talked to Marilyn Reynolds, a victim of age discrimination at work, before her interview for a job with a pharmaceuticals company, where she youthfully declares, "I'm going to go for it." But Marilyn doesn't get the job, and the last poignant image is of her bravely scouring the Guardian's careers pages.

This excellent item is sandwiched between more trivial relentlessly-lighthearted pieces about bowling and obsessive competition-entrants. I'm not sure about its title, but Next is a bit like the proverbial curate's egg, good in parts, partly because it aims to inform and entertain such a disparate cross-section of humanity.

Positive-thinking items about outward-bound holidays for older people in the Lake District run into others about mature students at Ruskin College, Oxford. One story is of a silver-haired, retired guardsman in his mid-60s who retired early from his council job to take up a new career as an ageing pin-up we see him posing mid-photoshoot for a woman's magazine are gloriously eccentric.

Presenter Marti Caine is terrific, as are John Noakes and Valerie Singleton, but I cannot be alone in loathing this new concept of the over-50s. Does this age have to initiate a life cycle when you'll forgo your career for abseiling or taking up hobbies like bowling? Some of us, not too far off 50, feel we don't need too much improving at our half-century, thank you very much. The problem is the "old" label, isn't it?

Ken Tynan may have broken a taboo when he said the famous f-word on television some 30 years ago, but today it seems you dare not mention the "old" word. You can be over 50, in your prime, a candidate for the third age, but no-one should describe you as old. Which is perfectly understandable when you consider how the word is now the ultimate insult.

Given the nature of its magazine format, Next manages really rather well to be both positive and realistic about, er, the latter part of life, suggesting a wealth of possibilities and options, a time of catching up on missed opportunities without slowing down, and without, most importantly, dodging the issue that, as my mother-in-law puts it, "old age is a bugger."

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