The Invisible Age


01The Age Bomb2014121520141221 (R4)

Old age is an increasingly long stage of life. There are nearly 1.5 million people in the UK aged 85 and over. By 2050 there will be 5 million in the UK alone.

Matthew Sweet tries to understand why society is still so reluctant to talk about ageing when - for many - the experience is a good one. He asks whether historical anxieties about population growth still overshadow contemporary discussions about the so called 'fourth-age' and if ageism will soon be regarded in the same way as discrimination on the basis of race or colour.

Matthew's many friendships with people in their 80s and 90s have hugely enriched his social life and, in this programme, he considers why such cross-generational relationships are so rare. He also asks what those over the age of 85 think about his generation's denial of the ageing process.

We explore the new territory that the 'oldest-old' inhabit - to ask about the perspective that age brings, to reflect on experiences and memories of a long life, and to discover what the 'oldest-old' would like to report back to those who are following behind.

Produced by Catherine Carr

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

02The Living Archive2014122220141228 (R4)

What's it really like to be old? This programme is dedicated to conversations with the over 85s about the great turning points in their lives. Presenter Matthew Sweet describes his friends in their 80s and 90s as a "living archive". The "fourth generation" is not only a fast-growing feature of modern Britain, it's a portal to our collective past.

How does it feel to know about something that the culture has forgotten? What happens when your friends and family pass on and you are left? Matthew Sweet talks to people aged over 85 in a quest to find out not only about their lives but also how life has changed around them. We meet some of Britain's 14,000 centenarians - they are part of a growing trend, with demographers predicting that, by 2114, a million Britons alive will have received their telegram from the Queen.

And Matthew travels back to his home town of Hull where, as a six year old, he liked nothing more than spending time with his elderly neighbours. He meets one of these neighbours, who, unbeknown to Matthew at the time, is eminent political theorist Professor Bikhu Parekh, now Baron Parekh. Matthew also talks to Mary Urwin whose father knew Florence Nightingale, and Bridgette Paterson who once played with the von Hindenburg children in the German President's Palace.

Produced by Hermeet Chadha

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

03 LASTLet Yourself Go2014122920150104 (R4)

Matthew Sweet urges us to rethink old age as an opportunity and worthy destination.

News reports about increased longevity invariably come with warnings and worries. Matthew Sweet asks whether we could turn society's pessimism about our increasing old age into an opportunity to gain a new perspective on life.

He spends time with some of the oldest and greatest thinkers, who share with him their insights on ageing. He travels to talk to writers who use their old age to write about the privileged vantage point they enjoy.

In the midst of a public conversation about old age which centres on the cost and loss of a long life, Matthew talks to people in their 80s and 90s about the gains that old age can bring. Matthew likens his conversations with the so called 'oldest-old' to meeting explorers of a new territory. He is curious to ask them what they can share with us about the things they have learnt and the things they can see.

Produced by Catherine Carr

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.