Hit television shows including QI and Mock the Week have been singled out for having ‘token women’ guests in a BBC-commissioned report.

The report on how age is portrayed in the media was drawn up by the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) and praised well-known characters including Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, Patrick Trueman in EastEnders and Betty Turpin in Coronation Street as “strong characters that did not seem to deteriorate as they aged”.

It found viewers felt certain programmes benefited from older presenters with “the gravitas to hold the audience”, but that older men were treated differently from older women.

The report, compiled from research involving 180 people aged between 13 and 92, stated: “Some panel shows were also criticised for rarely having women represented or only having ‘token women’ on their programmes.

“Comedy shows, such as QI [hosted by Stephen Fry, pictured] or Mock the Week, as well as current affairs programmes such as Question Time were implicated in this.

“This phenomenon was brought into sharper focus for some participants when compared with the treatment of older male presenters. For David Attenborough, Bruce Forsyth and a host of news readers, participants felt that their age appeared to be seen as advantageous – consequently they are thought to be treated in a completely different fashion to older women.

“This was particularly apparent for participants when an older male presenter was often paired with a much younger woman.”

BBC director general Mark Thompson, who chairs the CDN which is made up of major broadcasters and other industry groups, said the report contained “lessons” for all of them.

He said: “It is young people who are most concerned with the way they are portrayed and we need to look at this. But we should also note the concern, expressed by older people generally, about the need for greater visibility for older women.”