CRIMINAL; Nick Ross axed from Crimewatch ..because BBC think he's TOO OLD at 59.
CRIMEWATCH host Nick Ross blasted the BBC yesterday as he quit in another ageism row.
Ross, 59 - who has fronted the show throughout its 23 years - walked out after learning his contract was not being renewed.
He admitted his age played a major role, weeks after BBC newsreader Moira Stuart, 55, was dropped.
He said: "Of course it did - and it's a hugely patronising view to say young people only want to watch young presenters."
Ross said he was forced to quit after producers secretly planned a "radical" revamp. Bosses asked him to stay until the end of the year but he declined.
He told the Mirror: "I feel I have been edged out. When it became apparent that my contract wasn't going to be renewed, it seemed to me the writing was on the wall.
"I do think they wanted to get rid of me at some stage - whether in six months or nine months or a year I don't know but I didn't want to hang around to find out."
Ross, who signs off every show with: "Don't have nightmares, do sleep well", will host his final Crimewatch on July 2. He said he decided to quit after a meeting with BBC1 controller Peter Fincham, who is desperate to stem the loss of younger viewers to satellite channels.
He said: "It was clear he was thinking about some pretty radical changes.
"And then it became clear. Normally my contract is just renewed but this didn't happen and I was told it wasn't going to automatically happen.
"I've had a rollover contract with the BBC for over 30 years and then suddenly I didn't. It was clear there wasn't a commitment to me.
"They were very embarrassed and didn't want to put me in an awkward position but I didn't want to put them in an awkward position either so I decided it was time to go."
He added: "Once it was clear they didn't have a commitment to me, it was very hard to have a long term commitment to the programme."
Ross, who began reporting for the BBC in 1971, was always deeply involved in the editorial process of the show but had been sidelined in recent months.
He said: "I have become much more marginally involved. I didn't know they were even having a review."
His only "bad memory" was the death of co-host Jill Dando, shot on her doorstep in 1999 by Barry George.
He added: "I thought I would feel gutted when I left but absolutely not.
"In a way it's like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders because we've been building up to this." Within two hours of his departure becoming public Ross was contacted by two agents and a producer for talks over new projects.
The BBC has not decided whether to replace him. Co-host Fiona Bruce will continue to present the show but TV sources said her position was not safe.
A BBC insider said: "They have wanted to make major changes for some time and one producer even wanted to get rid of Fiona.
"They're changing things all the time and Nick didn't agree with that."
The BBC said: "Every long-running strand needs to be constantly refreshed.
Nick's contract was coming to an end and it was an opportunity to make changes." Peter Fincham said Ross had made a "gigantic contribution - the BBC is in his debt, as are countless victims of crime."
Charities Ross has worked with paid tribute. Missing People said: "Nick has been an admirable supporter."
Martin Buczkiewicz, of young people's charity Tacade, of which Ross is president, said: "We are very grateful."
Paul Fawcett, of Victim Support, where he is on the advisory board, said: "Nick has championed our work publicly and privately."
NICKED BY ROSS
CRIMEWATCH, fronted by Nick Ross, was first commissioned for just four shows.
IT has featured 3,500 cases and solved 750.
THEY include the murder of James Bulger, the killing of Lin and Megan Russell, the murder of Julie Dart and the Stephanie Slater kidnap
THE first show included three murders, a stamp theft and forged car documents.
IT was based on German programme Aktenzeichen XY Ungelost, which translates as File XY Unsolved.
THEN: With co-host Sue Cook in 1989; OUT: Nick with co-host Fiona. Her job could also be at risk; OUT: Moira was dropped