Jeremy Paxman would have 'done better' had he fought in the WW1 trenches

The Newsnight presenter's interview technique could have been even tougher, he says, had be have served in the Armed Forces

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The Independent Online

It’s tough to imagine a steelier technique than the hardline approach Jeremy Paxman takes when faced with a difficult interviewee.

But, the Newsnight presenter says, he could have been even harder, had he not been part of a generation that have "had it pretty easy" and had served in the Armed Forces instead.

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"I’d have done better for having time in uniform," he told the Radio Times. "The more we see of other members of our society, we realise we’re all human beings with the same hopes and fears.

"I’m not arguing in favour of National Service, but I feel in awe of my parents’ generation who had to do that, and a bit guilty having such a privileged life. We’ve had it pretty easy and never been tested."

National Service was officially ended in 1960, when Paxman was just 10 years old.

"Obviously I’m not wishing war on anyone," he continued. "But it might have been better for all of us if we’d been obliged to do something rather than choosing for ourselves.

"It’s difficult to comprehend today a society where people were expected to do things other than gratify themselves."

Paxman, 63, whose own father served in the North Atlantic convoys during World War 2, was speaking ahead of the launch of his new TV series Britain’s Great War, which will kick off the BBC’s four-year commemoration of the First World War centenary next week.

"It’s such an imaginative leap from our cosseted, indulged lives to something other than the achievement of personal pleasure," he reflected. "That’s really why people find it so hard to come to terms with the War."

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The present spoke about Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman, who was sentenced to life for killing a wounded Taliban insurgent in 2011.

"It’s not attractive seeing people who have never been in extremis passing judgment on others who have," he said. "Who knows how we’d behave? Imagine seeing your best friend blown to pieces, unable even to retrieve the body for burial.

"You might have heard him dying, eaten by rats. None of us has had to live through this, and we should respect those who have."

He also touched on his public row with Education Secretary Michael Gove over Blackadder. Gove said he felt the sitcom made World War One out to be a "misbegotten shambles" and perpetuated "myth". Paxman had criticised Gove for misquoting an academic on the subject.

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But speaking to the Radio Times, he agreed with Gove, at least in that the TV series should not be taught to children as straight "fact".

"It’s a brilliant comedy, which I enjoy, but the problem comes when it’s taught as fact. Generals were often far from the action, but it would have been worse if they had been closer.

"When armchair generals glibly criticise them for continuing to mount attacks on enemy trenches, we have to ask, ‘Why did they continue?’ They did so because no one knew of any alternative."

The first episode of Britain's Great War will be broadcast at 9pm on Monday 27 January 2014 on BBC1.