You ask the questions

(Such as: Jeremy Paxman, does raising that eyebrow come naturally, or did you have to practise in front of the mirror?)
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The Independent Culture
JEREMY PAXMAN, 49, born in Leeds and brought up in Worcestershire, studied English at St Catharine's College, Cambridge. He started his career covering the troubles in Northern Ireland, El Salvador and Nicaragua for television. He then joined the BBC in 1978 working as a reporter on Tonight and Panorama. He has been the anchorman of Newsnight since 1989 and has presented University Challenge since 1994. Paxman has written five books. His latest, The English: A Portrait of a People, will be available in paperback from 30 September (Penguin, pounds 7.99). His hobbies include "fishing and mountains".

Who is your greatest professional rival?

L T Johnson, by e-mail

You tell me.

Have the years of University Challenge made you a trivial pursuits predator?

Fiona Brigson, Canterbury

I don't think I've ever played Trivial Pursuit. And anyway, I've got a typical journalist's mind - good for remembering the national debt of Ecuador tonight, and excellent for completely forgetting it by tomorrow.

What exactly is the appeal of fishing? (And what's the biggest fish you've ever caught?)

J Godfrey, London N4

If you can't imagine it, it's really pretty pointless trying to explain. Let's just say that during the days spent on the riverbank this summer I saw deer, kingfishers, an otter, buzzards, black-throated divers and an eagle. The biggest fish I ever caught was a marlin off Kenya, but that does not really count, so it would have to be a 25lb salmon last year.

Your worst moment on TV?

K Hodges, London W8

Interviewing a man under the impression that he was a schizophrenic in care in the community when in fact he was an engineer who'd come on to talk about the M25 was one. But the funny thing is that it's when things go wrong that you feel most alive in a television studio. It's great: you feel you're flying. The night we went live from outside Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto, and a torrential thunderstorm broke 30 seconds before we went on air, shorting the electrics, was pretty good fun too.

Do politicians change their behaviour the minute the cameras stop rolling?

Sheila Lord, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

What do you think?

What sort of fan mail do you get?

TH Berry, Leeds

It's mostly from grannies. But my favourite recent letter (not from a granny) begins: "You sneering, longnosed Bolshevik. Why don't you get off our screens? PS Please send me a signed photograph so I can tear it up and burn it." I sent him two, one to tear up and one to burn.

Are you satisfied with what you've achieved so far in your life? What goals have you set yourself for later life?

P Harrison, Reading

I'm not really aware of having goals. And I can think of thousands of more worthwhile jobs than mine, from teaching to rat-catching.

When was the last time you complained about something?

Karen Neading, Portsmouth

About two minutes ago. You should see the BBC tea bar at eight thirty at night: it's a disgrace.

Does raising that eyebrow come naturally, or did you have to practise in front of the mirror?

Daniel Hipkin, Bromley

I didn't know I did it until someone told me. So no, I don't practise it, you impertinent git.

How would you define the English temperament? Do we still have a stiff upper lip?

Keith Hadwell, Waresley, Cambridgeshire

God, it took me an entire book to begin to get to grips with the English character. But I do think there's still a strain of stoicism in the English. Think how many times you hear people replying to the question: "How are you?" with "Oh, not so bad".

Has your older brother always been the conventional, "establishment" achiever of the family? What is your relationship with him like?

Jill Jarvis, W8

I don't have an older brother. The sensible ones are younger than me.

What were you thinking during that famous moment when Michael Howard refused to answer your question?

P Muirhead, Tunbridge Wells

The truth is, that the next piece of tape wasn't cut and I got a message in my earpiece telling me to continue with the interview for a while. But I couldn't think of anything else to ask him. I just kept thinking to myself: "Well, he still hasn't answered it, so I guess I'll just ask him again."

Does it bother you that some people perceive you as sneering and condescending?

Robert Knapp, London SE12

Well, you could wish for a better image, I suppose. But if that's how some people see me, I'll just have to live with it.

Are you as tough on your friends as you are on your Newsnight guests?

Colin Woodham, by e-mail

You'd have to ask them.

On University Challenge, if you didn't have the answers

in front of you, would you be able to answer the questions?

Helen Rogers, Felixstowe

It's against the rules of the Quizmasters' Union to discuss such things.

Which guest would you most like to have on Newsnight?

Liz Davies, London W10

The Pope would be fun, so would Boris Yeltsin (before lunch).

Who was the last person to turn you down for the programme?

Greg Britton, Chester

By the time this appears, my answer will be out of date: we get turned down every day.

Loyalty seems to be an anachronistic virtue at today's BBC. Would you ever consider transferring to the other side?

Angela West, Skegness

I've been approached on a few occasions. But I like both Newsnight and Start The Week. Most of all though, I like my colleagues.

Do you think students are getting more stupid?

Cecil O'Brien, Banbury, Oxon

Speaking as someone who didn't even make it into his own University Challenge team when I was a student, I don't think I can make that claim. Like flies and flypaper, as you get older, knowledge tends to stick to you, which can give that impression. I'm genuinely impressed by how much the best of the students know. And at some of their areas of ignorance.

Have you ever reduced an interview subject to tears?

W Barrow, Newcastle

That's pretty implausible. The people who get a good grilling are the spokesmen for vested interests and the like. And I have a rule that you should never use someone's unfamiliarity with the medium to their disadvantage.

Are you aware that you are more lenient towards the female contestants on University Challenge than towards their male counterparts?

Alad M Jones, Cardiff

Am I?

I'd like to become President of the Oxford Union. Any tips?

Alad M Jones, Cardiff

Save yourself before it's too late.