It's our turn for a good moan

We all know what it means these days to be a `grumpy old man'.

We all know what it means these days to be a `grumpy old man'. Now the Grumpy Old Women - in the shape of Judith Holder - are set to take over. Jane Hall encourages the TV producer to get her gripes off her ample chest.

Judith Holder taps her foot and looks around impatiently.

There are three people ahead of her in the queue at the Starbucks coffee outlet opposite Newcastle Central Station and she has been waiting for at least a minute.

Starbucks, being an American import to these shores, is by its very nature a fast-moving place for a fast-paced world.

The man and two women are dealt with as quickly as you would expect - but it's not quick enough for Judith.

"You know what really irritates me?" she says when she finally sits herself down and places her mug of white Fair Trade coffee on the table. "Having to queue. I mean, places like this are supposed to be fast but I was in that queue for ages.

"OK, so it probably wasn't ages but it seemed a long time and I don't have much time. And then you get to the counter and you can't just order an ordinary coffee, you have to go through this rigmarole of what type of coffee you want and whether you want a latte or a cappuccino or whatever. I just want a coffee. Plain and simple. COFFEE," she adds stridently.

Judith is on the warpath. "Know what else annoys me?" she opines louder than is strictly necessary. "My boobs!"

It is at this point that other mid-morning coffee drinkers, either too prudish or too embarrassed to find out why a 50-year-old woman should be so irritated by her breasts, begin to back away.

Judith narrows her eyes and in a dramatic stage whisper explains: "It's like someone is inflating them with the thing we take camping to blow up the sleeping bags. Slowly but surely they are expanding every month.

"The only bras that fit now have pulleys, ropes and hooks and are built by civil engineers. My bras look like the kind of thing Hattie Jacques would have hung up in Carry on Camping. If I did try to burn my bra these days, I might have to call the fire brigade."

Judith moves on to complain about knickers and middle-age spread, and elderly people who push in front of her at the supermarket check-out - while claiming not to have noticed the queue - all really, really annoy her too.

If Judith comes across as a female version of Victor Meldrew, you'd be right. She may be a few years off retiring - "Of course, by that age the pathetic pension I've been contributing to for 40 years will probably amount to enough to buy me a pair of tights" - but she certainly knows how to have a good moan.

So, she was the ideal choice to not only write Grumpy Old Women, a wry, funny observation on the irritations of modern life, but also to produce a series of the same name, beginning a four-part run on BBC2 on February 25.

It's the female companion to Grumpy Old Men, which featured, among others, Sir Bob Geldof, Jeremy Clarkson, the late John Peel, and Will Self, all revealing what really got their goats. But don't imagine Judith was asked on bended knee to produce the series.

So incensed was she after watching Grumpy Old Men with her very own grumpy old man - Mike Parker, the director general of transport operator Nexus - that males should think they are the only ones with anything to moan about, that she all but railroaded the BBC into letting her make a female version of the show.

One can imagine the commissioning editor, worn down by Judith's constant pestering, screaming at an underling: "For God's sake, give the bloody woman the job!"

Not that Judith wasn't more than qualified. She has had a distinguished career in TV, having produced some of the funniest people in the business, including Dame Edna Everage, Victoria Wood, and Lenny Henry, and is head of features at Newcastle-based Liberty Bell Productions.

She is also a stand-up comic, having decided at the age of 47, after years of producing and writing for other performers, to try her hand at it herself, with more than a modicum of success.

She has put her skills to good use for Grumpy Old Women, not only writing and producing, but also appearing in it with Mike, daughters Siena, 16, and Ellen, 13, and her mother, Jean Holder, 76. Their hometown, Hexham, Northumberland, also features large.

If spending time with a gaggle of cantankerous female celebrities, as they air frustrations on everything from youth of today to domestic goddesses, body image and shopping, doesn't sound a ratings winner, think again. A one-off episode of Grumpy Old Women with Janet Street Porter, Germaine Greer, Ann Widdecombe, Annette Crosbie, and Sheila Hancock, which aired on BBC2 over Christmas, attracted 4.8m viewers.

Judith believes both her book and the series will prove even more popular, because "We've heard just about enough out of the men, thank-you very much. What, after all, have men got to be grumpy about? A few problems at B&Q? Top of women's everyday niggles are the physical changes we have to go through - men don't have to put up with anything like that.

" I don't think many people have spoken out about hot flushes on TV before. I think women, particularly my age who went through Women's Lib and the `having it all' thing, have plenty to be irritated about. I look at friends who didn't have a career and they look calm and haven't aged. But they look at me enviously and say, she's made a career in TV. We don't know what we want. And we don't have sympathy for each other these days."

Judith's family comes in for harsh treatment in the programme. Mike is shown as a stereotypically unhelpful male, her mother as someone "only prepared to help around the home if there is an ad break," and Siena as a teenager from hell. Then Judith smiles. One gets the feeling her talents as a comic and writer have been put to good use.

So is the Holder clan really that bad? "We have our moments," says Judith. "But I must say Mike has been a very good sport actually. It is fair to say he comes out of the series quite badly but he is really quite helpful.

"As for my mother, she isn't as bad as she is shown, and neither are the girls, bless them."

And Judith? "Oh, I'm definitely a moaner. I'm always in overdrive and have to be able to do everything at 100mph. If I can't, watch out."

* Grumpy Old Women by Judith Holder is published by BBC Books at £9.99. The BBC2 series which starts on February 25 at 10pm.

Unmistakeable Signs

How to find out whether you or someone you know is a grumpy old woman

J Shop assistants cower when you return shoddy goods

J You are the litter police

J Young men are afraid to be left alone with you lest you pounce

J You like a slip-on shoe - saves all that bending

J Wearing a thong would make you look like a Sumo wrestler

J You start collecting used margarine pots and plastic bags

J You start to enjoy pottering

Things that grumpy old women say

J It's a bloody disgrace

J I want to talk to the manager

J Cheerio

J Struth

J Spending a penny

J Whoops

J Is it me or is it hot in here?

J I could murder a nice cup of tea

J I can remember those flared trousers first time around

Judith's top grouches

1 When people say 'bear with me two seconds' and they are always 15 minutes. I'm going to start counting down the seconds: one, two, and going `right, your time's up'.

2 The whole business of pay-and-display in car parks. I find that very, very irritating.

3 People who drive whilst talking on their mobile phones, especially lorry drivers. I can't believe the number of lorry drivers who use them. The other day I was going to Manchester and three out of every five lorry drivers was on their mobile. I now point and mouth `stop, don't do that'. I have become the mobile traffic police.

4 Not being able to shift the weight.

5 My husband recently discovered that if you ring the UCI cinema listings you can stop it at any point to prevent it going through everything. I think you should be able to do that with people.

Celebrity quotes

From hot pants to hot FLUSHES

"The worst thing is a sudden shaft of sunlight and a mirror. And you think, `My God, I've been walking around like the Forest Of Dean'. If I were to lose my tweezers, I would die." - Nina Myskow


"The best thing to do is just treat young people as an alien species, which is what they are, and between the ages of about 12,13 to 20,21, just ignore them." - Kathryn Flett


"I hate the fact that they're supposed to be open 24 hours. What that means is if you go at ten at night, there's only one check-out open so it takes just as long as if you went at four o'clock in the afternoon." - Germaine Greer

"Real Christmas trees really are a pain. You're still finding needles in July. The other thing is, we let the kids decorate the tree and then, when they've gone to bed, we take it all down and do it again properly. We won't tell them though. I mean, they basically just throw things at the tree and see where they land." - Linda Robson

"My husband always buys a tree that is too big for the room. Every single year without fail. So we have this routine where he brings the tree in and I take the children out. I have to remove them from the building altogether because his language is so appalling.

"He gets the tree in and it won't fit in the room because it's too big. He takes it back outside into the street, much to the bemusement of the neighbours.

"He starts hitting and kicking it Basil Fawlty-style, giving it a damn good talking to, before he saws about three feet off the top of it. Of course, that means there's nowhere to put the Christmas fairy. We never have a fairy." - Jane Moore

"On the rare occasion that I'm at a dinner party or a do of some sort, my children die of embarrassment. I will actually say, `Look, I'm very old and I'm very bored with you all and I'm leaving.' It's one of the advantages of ageing - you can be eccentric and rude." - Sheila Hancock

In my next life I'm going to come back as a rather good-looking, even quite fat and plain, 50-year-old man, who's just been widowed or sadly divorced and I would go to the country and I would clean up. I would get a bonk every night of the week. JILLY COOPER

I do get hot. Sometimes I think, `Oh, I can smell the menopause on me.' You know, it's kind of BO and Prozac and furniture polish. JENNY ECLAIR

The best thing to do is just treat young people as an alien species. KATHRYN FLETT


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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Business Editor
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