Sunday, September 14, 2008 by Jack Kibble-White
With Deal Or No Deal still providing the television master a conduit for some of his greater presentational grandiosities, Are You Smarter Than a Ten-Year-Old? doing likewise on Sky One – and countless bits of Noel column inches about cosmic ordering and the BBC licence fee keeping our man in the public eye – one of television’s most self-confident exponents is currently firing on all cylinders.
But yet, as much as he might protest to the contrary, you sense his own personal journey back from the wilderness will not conclude until he is once more at the helm of a fuck-off massive light entertainment behemoth (preferably on the BBC). Back in 2006, we had Everyone’s a Winner! a one-off Lottery good causes Saturday night show, and now we have this – Noel’s HQ: Edmonds’ next attempt to re-establish himself as the grandmaster of live entertainment television.
But of course, this Sky One extravaganza was more than just 90-minutes of good, clean light entertainment. The title itself was a coded message to “Noel fans”, specifying how today’s Noel Edmonds is both the same and different to the one that hosted Noel’s House Party as recently as nine years ago. The message is that Noel’s HQ takes our man into new territory. His increasingly queasy Christmas specials are perhaps his most obvious precedent, but even they, with their mawkish sentimentality, are distinct from this latest project, merely by virtue of the fact their entire premise didn’t hinge around one basic assumption.
Noel’s HQ was destined to divide opinion, right from the outset because it presumes the viewers share the programme’s central thesis – that red tape (and by extension political correctness), is suffocating this great country. Clearly, whether you agree with this assertion or not probably largely determined what you made of this show. Noel’s HQ is a kind of hybrid of Noel’s Christmas Presents, Challenge Anneka, That’s Life! and Hughie Green’s infamous “Stand up and be counted” rant. It’s a live show in which members of the audience are singled out by Noel, who then goes on to tell us their story – usually a tale of honest citizens trying to make a difference. All of this is fair game of course, if rather uninspiring television.
What is less palatable however are the sequences in which Noel, from behind a news desk, brings us stories of local councils enforcing ridiculous laws, such as removing fly posters advertising a children’s charity. Each news item is followed up by a quick comment by – of all people – Carole Malone, stood atop a soap box, decrying Britain’s obsession with “red tape”. The section ends with Noel proclaiming we are living in “Bonkers Britain”, and then – get this – loads of people run on stage dressed in silly outfits, dancing around to a supposedly wacky jingle proclaiming the state of the nation as being “bonkers”. Even Keith Chegwin (who Noel refers to rather pleasingly as “Cheggers”) makes an appearance.
Throughout the show, Noel’s “common sense” assertions grow increasingly tiresome and irritating – television is never more annoying than when it assumes it’s reflecting your opinion, and item after item of Noel’s HQ provides Britain’s legion of white van drivers with further (metaphorical) fuel. Watch out Britain’s radio phone-in shows. For the viewer tuning in looking for a bit of balanced social commentary, or even just a fix of heart-warm, Noel’s HQ’s fist-shaking posturing is not what’s required.
All of this is irritating enough, but for me – someone who genuinely thinks Noel is a great television professional – what particularly galls is that this is 90 minutes of live television where Noel completely fails to innovate or pull any televisual tricks out of the bag. This, remember, is the man who gave us NTV and a whole litany of fantastic light entertainment concepts during the 1980s and 90s. You would have thought at last being given his own live format to play with once again, Noel would have made some attempt to show the younger generation there is still life in the old Edmonds.
Yet, aside from one unscripted riff in which Noel uses a technical problem with the Sky One website as a way to make a comment about viewers’ general distrust of television, this is simply a telly anchoring job, and something you would have thought quite beneath his manifest talents.