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Under the Grandfluence: Judith Holder

Under the Grandfluence: Judith Holder

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

16th Jan 2024 Life

6 min read

Judith Holder, producer of Grumpy Old Women and now co-host of the Older and Wider podcast with Jenny Eclair, talks ageism in TV and following her comic dream
Having been an influencer for years as a TV producer and executive producer, writing and producing Grumpy Old Women, Judith Holder now presents her own humorous podcast about ageing, Older and Wider, with her good friend and comedian Jenny Eclair. Ian Chaddock talks to Judith about her incredible career.

How did you get involved in working in television? What are your memories of those early days in the business?

Working in TV is the only thing I ever wanted to do and when I was little my favourite game was standing in our larder with a table in front of it and pretending to be Fanny Craddock doing her cookery show. I adored Black Beauty, Lassie, Blue Peter (of course) and Crossroads.
When I went to university I joined the TV society—we had a studio and everything—plus I had a crush on the leading light (who I will not name) and went on to become a famous journalist. Needless to say he did not notice me at all.
Despite getting a very respectable degree, as I was not an Oxbridge graduate I stood no chance of getting onto one of the BBC training courses, so in desperation I took a secretarial course and finally got a job in educational radio working for a woman who kept vodka in her top drawer and sent me to collect her dry cleaning on a regular basis.   
"Helen Fielding and I were the dunces"
I eventually applied for a job as a production assistant on live regional TV in Bristol and lied that I had done it before. Production assistants count reporters in and out of items and back into the network, amongst other things, and I didn’t even know how to read a stopwatch. I flew by the seat of my pants.
My big break as they say was as a researcher on nationwide and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones) and I were the dunces. We were sent to do the skateboarding parrots while everyone else was fixing satellites to the White House and briefing politicians. 
I knew that entertainment was where I really wanted to be, and unbelievably I got hired by LWT to work with Clive James, Michael Aspel and Gloria Hunniford.
I wrote a really funny CV and covering letter and I think I made them laugh a lot in the interview. Again, I flew by the seat of my pants but eventually produced some seriously talented names.
Young Judith Holder posing in ballerina costume

Looking back on your incredible career in television, you worked with some amazing comedians and you’ve written and produced some incredible shows. How did TV shape the way you grew as a person?

My job has always defined me. It was so much more than a job. Working in TV is a huge privilege and responsibility as well as a buzz. I worked for eight years on talk shows—all the Hollywood A-listers and Z-listers, three of the four Beatles, all the way down to Frank Carson, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog. 
I became so much more confident, but with the self-knowledge that comedy was something I had a bit of an eye for.
"It was cripplingly tiring being a working mother"
My personal life suffered—I remember going to Hollywood for a meeting when my eldest was 11 months old and taking her vest with me on the plane because it smelled of her. I literally went to do the meeting and turned round and came home again. 
It was cripplingly tiring being a working mother and when we moved to Hexham in Northumberland I then factored in all those long journeys down to London too. I made so many friends—Dale Winton, Victoria Wood (close chum) and many more. And, of course, Jenny Eclair!
Victoria Wood in documentary

What are your proudest and most fun memories of working on Grumpy Old Women?

I think I was so proud that we made it a little bit cool to be a woman of a certain age. It was a gang that no one had created at that time, and women laughing at menopause symptoms, knicker sizes and not being embarrassed about what people think of them was great. 
I remember when we did one of the live shows I sat on the side of the stage (York I think—about 1500 women in the audience) and I knew when the laughs were coming and saw them all rock forward in their seats with laughter.
It was a marvellous feeling, but of course I was always backstage.

Did you feel ageism in television before you retired at age 60? Was it a difficult choice to retire or something you did happily?

Gosh, yes. I remember suggesting to one of the commissioning editors (about 12) that a programme idea would appeal to the older market and he said, “there’s no point in making programmes for the older audience because they are watching anyway”.
I could have wrung his neck. Slowly but surely, I became the oldest person in the room, but not in a good way. TV is a young person’s game and I felt awkward and out of step.

How is retired life? What do you enjoy doing most?

I am mostly retired now, but somehow so busy it’s like everyone says. The best bit is being able to wake up and find it’s sunny and think, well I’ll go out on my bike today and then do a spot of gardening. Marvellous freedom.
The absolute best bit is not having to manage people, and not having to sit at my computer all day.
Jenny Eclair laughing onstage

You teamed up with your long-time colleague and friend Jenny Eclair again for your podcast Older and Wider. How did the idea come about and how was it entering the world of podcasting?

We had written four stage shows and two books together and were great friends, and truthfully it was the only way to get anything commissioned.
No one wanted us to make any more TV (see above the wretched commissioning editors’ attitudes) so with podcasts you can just get on and do it! No need to involve anyone else. 
Avalon backed us and launched us with a producer and off we went. We had no idea it would take off the way it has.
We started with guests but now it is our chatting like friends and going off piste that people seem to like. We have listeners all over the world. About 1.5 million downloads at the last count.

Do you feel that older women are maligned and ignored by society, especially in this technological age? Has the huge success of your podcast reflected that a lot of people feel like that?

Yes, we are ignored, but also so very underestimated—we know stuff, we can do stuff, we’ve lived a lot, we have wisdom. But somehow society doesn’t tap into it. Alas.
The other day someone asked me if I had an email address. Or if I was OK with stairs!

What are some stories you’ve heard from listeners about how the podcast has influenced their lives and how they view themselves?

We have a lot of women over 50 who say it is like overhearing two old friends talking. A lot of women listen in the small hours when they can’t sleep, many people listen while they are going through tough times in hospital because we make them laugh out loud.
I think we reflect them, and sometimes younger women like us because it reminds them of their own mothers.

Are there any episodes that have proved particularly popular with your audience and why do you think that is?

Jenny had thousands of emails when her mother died last year, I had thousands of emails when my dear spaniel died (run over she was only two) and as we both became nanas this year too, we had so many emails of congratulation.
It’s just fantastic. We have created such a beautiful gang. 

What is the main message of the podcast and to older Reader’s Digest readers that you want to put out?

Please tell them that our podcast is free and weekly—it’s available on all the platforms and it’s incredibly easy to get. Download the podcast app and then put us in the search box and there are currently 222 episodes.
"If there is any point to older age it is to find out who you really are"
If there is any point to older age it is to find out who you really are. For me, that means I can come out from behind the curtain and actually perform my own comedy material. It’s a lifelong ambition, but it took be a while!

Is media changing with more varied voices, or do you feel like there’s still a long way to go with accepting and encouraging the creativity and hard work of older people?

Virtually all the feature films now are about older people. Finally Hollywood has realised that we are the ones that go out to the cinema and pay for it. So it is changing. Joan Bakewell presenting is fantastic. 
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