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Noel Edmonds: Not Just a 'Bloke With a Beard Who Presents Afternoon TV Programmes'

19/03/2014 14:51 GMT | Updated 18/05/2014 10:59 BST

Imagine the indignation. You are the once-feared anchor of a once-great BBC news programme and some mere light entertainment presenter - known primarily for overseeing the opening of boxes - comes on your show and tells you he's going to become your boss.

Jeremy Paxman could be forgiven for thinking he was having some hideous cheese-induced nightmare. Nevertheless, it did happen and his response to Noel Edmonds on Newsnight (March 17th) was, in my opinion, atrocious.

Not once did Paxman acknowledge the veteran broadcaster's wealth of experience running a large production company and other organisations. Instead he turned some of the more superficial aspects of Edmonds' 46-year career into insults.

It isn't the case that Paxman should have been pleasant to Edmonds because he might one day become his boss but because all guests on a news programme offering expert opinion should be treated with respect. Not least so the viewers can understand their perspectives.

Instead Paxman was sneering and sarcastic before even introducing Edmonds, stating: "Heaven's be praised. At last someone has come up with a scheme to save the BBC - an organisation almost everyone says they love in principle but which fewer and fewer of us seem keen to pay for in practice."

Not pausing to offer evidence to support his bold assertion that almost everyone says they love the BBC, Paxman continued: "Noel Edmonds has had talks with a group of investors about buying the thing outright. He's denying rumours that Keith Chegwin [who decades ago appeared with Edmonds in the children's show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop] would become controller of BBC4."

Noel Edmonds then appeared on a screen to fend off hostile comments from a perturbed looking Paxman. Rather than recognise the fact that Edmonds is one of the most successful broadcasters in the history of British television and knows the industry inside out, Paxman spoke to him as though he had been forced to interview Mr Blobby for Children in Need.

One irony of that is both Paxman and Edmonds started out in radio news but Edmonds has had a broader career. Perhaps Paxman's approach stemmed from defensiveness but it came across to me as reinforcing an elitist artificial split between 'high' and 'low' culture. I would argue that Newsnight and Question Time are entertainment programmes as much as they are sources of news.

Noel Edmonds remained calm amid a stream of barbed questions. He explained that the consortium he is part of - Project Reith - was established prior to allegations against Jimmy Savile breaking. Paxman pushed him to reveal the names of other members of the consortium but Edmonds would only say "Like-minded people - people who actually do not want to see Britain lose the BBC."

Paxman then said: "Yeah but who are they? With the greatest of respect, lots of blokes with beards who present afternoon television programmes?" To which Edmonds replied: "I'm obviously not going to talk about the components of this project in that kind of detail. There will be the right time to do that but we believe that the BBC is sleepwalking its way to destruction and the BBC will be lost to Britain."

At that point many journalists would have asked about the nature of the threat and what can be done to to avoid destruction. Instead Paxman said: "What is Mr Blobby the man to save it?" For readers who are unfamiliar with Mr Blobby, he was an inarticulate yellow-spotted pink figure who appeared on Edmonds' popular Saturday evening show Noel's House Party.

Shaking off the insult and appearing more Dragon's Den expert giving a damning evaluation than Mr Blobby, Edmonds then said: "This is a really serious situation where the BBC - because of its triple problems of the way in which it's been funded, historic baggage and the way in which it is used as a political football - its very future is in doubt."

The BBC has been beset with problems for many years. Competition from a myriad of channels and online content are among the most significant of these. A shadow cast over the corporation in the wake of the Savile abuse scandal persists and Newsnight itself has been widely criticised for spiking a report about Savile's abuse of children.

It may turn out that Noel Edmonds and his consortium are not the right people to save the BBC. Nevertheless, it doesn't look good when a flagship BBC news programme mocks someone for showing an interest in transforming the broadcaster for the better. Whether Paxman likes it or not, the BBC has to change. His sneering, complacent response to Noel Edmonds merely underlined that.