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Jeremy Paxman

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Jeremy Paxman hosting BBC Newsnight
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Jeremy Paxman hosting BBC Newsnight

Jeremy Paxman (born 11 May 1950 in Leeds, West Yorkshire) is a BBC journalist, news presenter and author. He is most famous for his abrasive and forthright style of interviewing on the BBC's Newsnight programme. Paxman is a well-known public figure, nicknamed "Paxo", which is both a contraction of his surname and a jocular reference to a popular brand of British stuffing mix. Any kind of tough questioning is routinely described as Paxmanesque in recognition of his style.

Journalistic career

Paxman was educated at Malvern College and read English at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where he edited the student newspaper Varsity. His career began on local radio before he moved to Belfast as an investigative journalist. In 1977 Paxman moved to London to work on the BBC television programme Tonight. Two years later he transferred to Panorama. After seven years on that programme, working from locations as diverse as Beirut, Uganda and Central America, he accepted a job presenting the Six O'Clock News. In 1989 he moved to his current job as presenter of Newsnight. Whilst maintaining his spot fronting that show, his career has diversified into the presentation of a number of television programmes, such as the quiz programme University Challenge and You Decide.

When interviewing, Paxman's line of questioning is often criticised as offensive and irrelevant. However, this is exactly what fans find entertaining, particularly if they themselves do not respect the interviewee. Paxman is occasionally characterised as 'anti-establishment' due to the lack of deference that he shows his interviewees.

On one famous Newsnight occasion (first broadcast 13 May 1997), in an attempt to extract a truthful answer, he put the same question ("Did you threaten to overrule him?") twelve times to Michael Howard, who until 13 days earlier had been Home Secretary, relating to the sacking of the Head of the Prison Service following a well-publicised jail-break (see below for link to video). Howard evaded the question each time ("I did not overrule him") and never gave a straight answer. This was later revealed to be a stalling strategy by Paxman on being told that the studio was having technical trouble with one of the articles later on in the programme. In 2004 Paxman broached the subject with Howard - now Conservative leader - again; Howard laughed the question off, but did say he "didn't" threaten to overrule the Head of the Prison Service. The 1997 exchange has been voted the best Newsnight moment ever by members of the show's production team.

In recognition of Paxman's tough reputation, when in 2003 Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to make the case for the Iraq war directly to the public, he chose Paxman as the presenter of a TV special question-and-answer session with a public studio audience.

Paxman attracted attention to his robust interviewing of party political leaders during the 2005 United Kingdom general elections. The BBC received complaints from some viewers that in the interviews Paxman was rude and insufficiently deferential.

Paxman's role on the 2005 election night, interviewing candidates drew some attention particularly after a 5am interview with George Galloway. His persistent questioning focusing on the race and sex of the defeated candidate, Oona King has been criticised by some including Ms. King herself.

Author

Paxman is also an author of non-fiction books. His first book arose out of a Panorama programme that he worked on with Robert Harris on biological and chemical warfare. Together they wrote A Higher Form of Killing (1982) exploring its history; a revised edition completed in late 2001 includes a chapter asserting that Iraq possesses both chemical and biological weapons. Working on his own he wrote Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain? (1991) which investigated the labyrinthine connections between those in power in early 1990s Britain. A study of the English nation entitled The English: A Portrait of a People followed in 1998 to considerable critical acclaim. His most recent work is The Political Animal (2002), which discusses the character traits of those that enter into politics.

Other

Paxman became a focus of media attention in his own right in October 2000 when the stolen Enigma machine which had been taken from Bletchley Park Museum was inexplicably sent to him in the mail. He had it returned to its rightful location.

Paxman has also presented the BBC quiz programme University Challenge since 1994, bringing to the job his trademark sardonic manner as well as a propensity for mispronouncing words.

Paxman is sometimes assumed to be Jewish, but this is not in fact the case.

Paxman has also unknowingly lent his name to England-based beat combo Jeremy and the Paxmen.

Paxman was made an honorary graduate of the University of Bradford in December 1999.

References

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