NO ONE does crushing contempt as brilliantly as Jeremy Paxman.
For an amazing 28 years, Paxo has been popping the questions on television’s University Challenge as generations of academically smart students discovered they weren’t quite as smart as they thought they were.
A year after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Paxman has announced that he is leaving the show.
He will be filming his final series this fall, which will air next year.
University Challenge without Paxman becomes like Top Of The Pops without The Hairy Cornflake.
Doctor Who without an old white guy driving the Tardis.
After nearly three decades hosting the program, Paxman made it his own.
And it wasn’t originally his own — super-nerd Bamber Gascoigne hosted The Ultimate Quiz Show from 1962 to 1987, and Jeremy was drafted into the 1994 reboot.
Under Paxman’s keen eye, University Challenge once again established itself as one of the BBC’s great bastions.
In fact, Paxman’s University Challenge fulfilled the BBC’s mandate – to inform and entertain – better than any other programme.
Like all major BBC shows – Match Of The Day, Top Of The Pops, Strictly, anything starring David Attenborough – Paxman’s University Challenge defied all boundaries of class, age, race, gender and even smarts.
This appetizer for ten made everyone the same.
Four years into Paxman’s tenure, I appeared on the show as part of a team of tabloids, including The Sun’s Jane Moore.
We were up against a team of broadsheet journalists led by a 34-year-old Daily Telegraph hacker with a self-promotion genius named Boris Johnson.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to see the great man at work.
Paxman, I mean, not Boris.
He was strict but fair
In this University Challenge special, Bojo barely stopped talking but accomplished very little – the story of his life.
Our tabloid team stuffed those broadsheet swells from 210 to 165.
“Clearly beat up,” explained Paxman – one of the highlights of my career.
A whole generation of BBC broadcasters have completely misunderstood Jeremy Paxman’s legacy.
When they yell, rant and constantly interrupt an unhappy politician on BBC Newsnight or Radio 4’s Today show, they think they are doing what Jeremy Paxman did. They are expressly not.
Paxo is not a cuddly kitten, even in the relaxed confines of a green room with a drink in hand.
I found him firm but fair, he never had to raise his voice, and even in his most bitter form he always has a twinkle in his eye.
Humour, warmth and humanity. Even when he disembowels someone, he does so with a kind of frozen politeness.
On this Fleet Street special, Boris was unabashedly attention-seeking like a three-year-old on a sugar rush, almost out of control, until Paxman slammed him with a few scathing words.
“He was an innkeeper!” Boris babbled, answering a question about Rahab’s job in the Bible.
“No,” Jeremy sniffed, taking that killer Paxo pause.
“SHE . . . was . . . a . . . prostitute.”
University Challenge found you. Paxman found you out.
It wasn’t enough if you went to Eton and Oxford like Bojo, you were steeped in the classics, you were a posho destined to one day be ‘king of the world’.
‘Nerves of Steel’
So what? It didn’t matter in Paxman’s University Challenge.
You had to be smart, be quick on the buzzer and have nerves of steel.
You had to be right – and you had to be right before anyone else. It was incredibly discouraging.
Not least because by the time you buzzed dry-mouthed and Paxman looked you in the eye, you knew better.
There are other scary shows.
Mastermind is really terrifying because you sit alone in the dark while the dirge theme blares.
Pointless is weirdly annoying because it can get pear-shaped so quickly and you can be on your way home while your mom is still putting the kettle on.
And of course, squeaky butts are as much a Strictly trait as fake tans.
But Paxman’s presence made University Challenge uniquely nerve-wracking.
Here, BBC Two’s great interrogator is reinvented as a quiz show host.
He brought his behavior as a hanging judge with him.
In an infamous Newsnight waterboarding in 1997, Paxo asked former Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question 12 times.
He wasn’t expected to make it easy with a bunch of spotty, selfish students. And he didn’t.
As is well known, the University Challenge showed the stars of tomorrow.
Miriam Margolyes in 1963. The late Clive James in 1968. Stephen Fry in 1980. Kwasi Kwarteng in 1995.
But the biggest star of all was always Jeremy Paxman, even when young Boris Johnson screamed “me, me, me” in 1998.
Paxman was one of the big stars of television because, like Michael Parkinson, like Clive James, he considered himself a journalist and not a speaker.
TV TEST TO TRY
1.What English term for a time of day ultimately derives from the Latin phrase meaning the ninth hour after sunrise calculated by the Roman method?
2. Which of the following US states has a total area closest to that of the UK? Texas, Michigan, Alaska, Rhode Island?
3. Nenagh, Clonmel and Cashel are towns in which Irish landlocked county bordering Galway and Cork?
4. Which four letter word is this? A Buddhist teaching says that it is in the heart of a person who inwardly despises his father and despises his mother. Shelley says it’s like London. John-Paul Sartre says it’s other people.
5. In which 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film does Farley Granger play tennis star Guy Haines, who is involved in a murder plot?
6. “In the darkening twilight I saw a lone star hovering like a gem over the bay.” This was the last diary entry of which discoverer, written on January 5, 1922 at Grytviken in South Georgia?
7. By which English artist is “Whistlejacket”, a life-size portrait of the Marquess of Rockingham’s racehorse, on display at the National Gallery?
8. Which of the following countries is NOT a permanent member of the UN Security Council – Germany, China, Russia or France?
9. What is hydrated magnesium silicate called when used in a bathroom?
10. The novels Midnight’s Children, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy all begin with which of these words – When, Stop, I or Want?
ANSWERS: 1. Noon; 2.Michigan; 3. Tipperary; 4. hell; 5. Strangers on a train; 6.Ernest Shackleton; 7.George Stubbs; 8. Germany; 9. talc; 10. i.
“Don’t say anything stupid”
I found the man is a diamond. Paxman was the first to champion my novel Man And Boy and was stunning when he admitted it made him cry.
He interviewed me for his podcast, The Lock In, last year, and despite his friendly demeanor, I felt the same as I did that special edition of the University Challenge a quarter of a century ago.
Don’t say anything stupid! It’s Jeremy Paxman!
The rise and rise of Strictly following Bruce Forsyth’s retirement proves that all major TV shows have a life of their own.
And yet it’s hard to resist the feeling that the University Challenge will lose some of its soul, skepticism and intellectual rigor when Paxman signs off for the last time.
Paxman’s abilities, essentially a total intolerance to any form of ignorance, don’t feel like they belong in these woke times.
It’s hard to resist the feeling that a bossy old white chap like Jeremy might struggle to have a glittering career in today’s BBC.
Like every Englishman in their seventies, Paxman is an unsentimental type.
I can imagine he balks at the heartfelt tributes that will come his way.
“I had a great time,” he said when announcing his retirement.
And so do we, especially if we got a question or two right.
Which all leaves the burning question.
Finger on the bell – your starter for ten – I’ve got to hurry you up. . . Who can replace Jeremy in the University Challenge?
Bzzzzzzz. No one.
“I LOVED HIS PUT-DOWNS”
From Martin Roberts, Houses under the Hammer
I grew up watching University Challenge with Mom and Dad, so I was delighted to represent my old university, Bradford, in last year’s Christmas episodes.
Jeremy didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a famous face.
But his wonderfully sarcastic aggression was always in such a style that you couldn’t help but laugh.
He was so brilliant, it was a joy to be crushed by him.
Being able to do this without causing offense is a great ability.
The questions were so difficult and Jeremy didn’t pull any punches.
Luckily we had a few talented people on our team who were knowledgeable about ancient history, Greek mythology and Renaissance art.
It’s sad that Jeremy is retiring.
He has achieved extraordinary things under personally challenging circumstances.
Getting a hard time from the great Jeremy Paxman is like being yelled at by Anne Robinson — a beautiful rite of television passage.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6021977/university-challenge-jeremy-paxman-contestants/ I competed in the University Challenge and beat Boris Johnson – there’s a reason Paxman inspires godliness in the contestants