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‘Bulldog’ BBC presenter who tore into politicians quits

world Updated: Jun 19, 2014 10:50 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times

Jeremy Paxman, who believed in American writer H L Mencken’s idea that the relationship between journalists and politicians should be akin to that of the dog and the lamp-post, quit on Wednesday after grilling prime ministers and others for 25 years on BBC.

Feared and criticised by politicians, yet popular among viewers for holding those in office to account and asking uncomfortable questions with his often sneering demeanour, Paxman, 63, said he was resigning because he wanted to “go to bed at much the same time as most people”.

One of Paxman’s most famous encounters was with Michael Howard, who was the Home secretary in 1997, when Paxman asked him a question 12 times as Howard uncomfortably waffled and responded with vague replies on the ‘Newsnight’ programme.

On Paxman’s final appearance on Wednesday night, Howard was in the studio, and was asked again, ‘Did you?’ He replied good-humouredly: "No Jeremy, I didn't, but feel free to ask another 11 times."

The last edition of ‘Newsnight’ included Paxman interviewing London mayor Boris Johnson while on a tandem bicycle. The two have often sparred during interviews. Paxman's interviews often left top politicians discombobulated on live television.

George Galloway, who angrily cut his interview short in 2005 when Paxman asked how he felt defeating a non-white candidate in the election, said Paxman was “fearless and evenhanded”, and added: “He had a languid disdain for the political class, and some people thought that bred cynicism among the public, but politicians mostly deserve the disdain”.

Cambridge-educated Paxman joined BBC’s graduate trainee programme in 1972 and rose through the ranks as a foreign correspondent and presenter of various programmes, including ‘University Challenge’ which, he said, he would continue to present.

BBC director-general Tony Hall described Paxman as "a rare and dazzling talent", while the corporation's head of news, James Harding, said he had become the "great lion of BBC journalism" who "never failed to ask the difficult questions".