The famous right eyebrow soared heavenwards, the incredulous voice faltered and a look of panic crossed his face. The tables had been turned.
In the red(ish) corner was the Ayatollah of Spin, Alastair John Campbell, while opposite in the blue corner was the BBC's master rottweiler and inquisitor-in-chief, Jeremy Dickson Paxman.
The clash was staged as a "friendly" fund-raiser for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund at the Savoy in London. But the fighting was dirty. Mr Campbell's starter threw his opponent. "Who is the President of Tajikistan?" he asked. "Er ... I haven't a clue," replied Mr Paxman.
The Prime Minister's former press secretary switched his attack to ask whether public- service broadcasters ought to be allowed to profit from their fame. "Is it right that for presenting a programme that attracts just under a million people, you are paid more than the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and me combined?" he asked.
A flustered Mr Paxman resisted his usual reply of "Yeeeessss" that he reserves for his own television duels and instead simply looked sheepish. Campbell went on. "Is it true you get £10,000 for after- dinner speeches?"
"Er ... I don't do them that often" said Mr Paxman.
Then it was back to the Afghan rabbit punches.
"Who is the president of Uzbekistan?" No reply. "Who's the Foreign Minister of Pakistan?" Silence. "Come on, you must have interviewed him."
"I have ... but I've forgotten his name," Mr Paxman replied, temporarily rallying. "Just as I've forgotten the name of most of your ministers."
Under the pressure of further interrogation, Mr Paxman was forced even to concede that television was a "trivialising medium", which did not convey facts very well.
Mr Campbell's final question was, however, the knock-out blow. "The next time your agent asks you to give an after-dinner speech, can I get your assurance you will donate the money to this charity?"
"Yes," replied a decidedly groggy Mr Paxman.
So, the seemingly impossible had happened.
Mr Campbell proved it is indeed possible to love the spinner while still hating the spin. Paxo, on the other hand, had been well and truly stuffed.Reuse content