Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys clash over University Challenge

 

Two of the most fearsome interrogators in the media clashed today, as Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman submitted himself to an interview by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme's John Humphrys.

The chat was on the light-hearted subject of the 50th anniversary of BBC2's University Challenge, which Paxman presents, but that did not stop the pair deploying their arsenal of tough-talking tactics.

There were repeated interruptions and gasps of exasperation as well as accusations of badly chosen questions, poor research and failure to pay attention, as Paxman and Humphrys talked over each other and exchanged jibes about their age and drinking, while the Today presenter repeatedly mentioned his own TV quiz show Mastermind.

Confronted with Paxman's scorn at some of the questions, Humphrys was at one point reduced to saying: "What would you like me to ask you?"

But there was also a lot of laughter and Humphrys ended the interview on a generous note, wishing Paxman "another 17 years" as quizmaster on the show which pits teams of students against each other in what is probably TV's most high-brow test of general knowledge.

The exchange got off on a bad footing when Humphrys started by referring to Paxman's long stint at the helm of University Challenge, which he began presenting in 1994.

"Seventeen years," said Humphrys.

After a long pause, a puzzled Paxman responded: "No, it's been on the air 50 years, hasn't it. I thought that was the anniversary."

Humphrys replied: "No, you haven't been paying attention. The programme's been on for 50 years. You've been on for 17, haven't you?"

Paxman: "Is it that long? I hadn't realised."

Humphrys: "Time flies when you're having fun."

After the University Challenge presenter voiced his "love" for the enthusiasm of the students on his show and the amazing things they know, he was immediately riled by Humphrys' follow-up.

"Here's the big question for you then," said the Today presenter. "Are they getting brighter, on the evidence of University Challenge, or are they getting dumber?"

Paxman exploded: "Oh, come on, John! You have got to do better than that. This is a canard that has been trotted out by dreary columnists in the Daily Express and other similar papers."

Humphrys: "I'm paid to ask questions. That's what we do on our programme."

Paxman: "Yeah? Well, ask some more interesting ones."

University Challenge had deliberately made questions more difficult over the years and had found that competitors knew increasing amounts about subjects like science, computing and culture, said Paxman. But he acknowledged that in some areas, contestants knew less than their counterparts from the programme's early years, citing a recent edition when the students were unable to identify three hymn tunes, including The Lord Is My Shepherd.

Humphrys denied he had been branding students "dumb", telling Paxman: "I wasn't actually making an assertion, I was asking you for your opinion, and now I'm very grateful to you because you have given it to me."

Paxman replied: "Well, I've given it to you now. I just think you should ask a better question."

Humphrys: "What would you like me to ask you?"

Paxman: "You go ahead, whatever you like."

The Today presenter then brought up Paxman's own attempt to become a contestant on University Challenge in his student years: "You tried to do it yourself - you wanted to go on University Challenge."

Paxman: "I failed as a student."

Humphrys: "You failed?"

Paxman: "It was after dinner. Someone thought it would be quite a laugh to go along."

Humphrys: "I see, drink had been taken. What happened to you?"

Paxman: "I got nowhere near qualifying. There were people who knew a great deal more than me, of course."

Humphrys: "Didn't you have another go?"

Paxman: "No."

Humphrys: "That was it?"

Paxman: "No, I'm afraid you are misinformed there as well."

Humphrys: "No, I'm saying, 'Did you have another go?'. I'm not making comments."

Paxman tried a different tack, pointing out that the students in their teens and 20s who take part in his show might find it easier to retrieve and deliver answers than older people who could know more.

"You must find this too, as you get to your very advanced age," said 62-year-old Paxman.

Humphrys, 69, hit back: "My hearing's probably better than yours, but go on."

The interview ended on a note of unity as the pair agreed there would probably be a place on TV for shows like University Challenge and Mastermind for many years to come.

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

PPC Manager

£30,000 - £35,000: Sauce Recruitment: PPC Manager urgently required for indepe...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor