Jeremy Paxman in brusque-speech shocker! Frankly, it’s as surprising as finding a supermarket beefburger that’s all beef. On a day when care of our elderly has been found to be appallingly sub-standard, and education policy is revealed – again – to be riddled with bad practice, did we really need to feel outraged by Jeremy Paxman’s retort to a student who answered a question wrongly on University Challenge?
I have watched UC being recorded (an anniversary present from a husband who accepts my crowing over any even slightly right answer with forbearance. Happy Valentine’s Day, darling). The host’s demeanour is as much part of the show as that bouncy theme music and the illusion of a double-decker row of desks.
Just as nobody goes on to The Jeremy Kyle Show expecting to lie on a leather couch while a Jungian expert talks them gently through the trauma of their wife’s adultery, you don’t go in front of Paxo expecting to be mollycoddled. It’s who he is, and who he has been for decades. If anything, he might have mellowed very slightly in his interactions with the bright young things. (Let’s not even start on whether the questions have got easier…)
His predecessor, Bamber Gascoigne, a charming host in his own, different way, never went further than proclaiming: “I’ll have to hurry you.” Where’s the fun in that?
I am sorry if the student – who did not seem to be as robust as he was brainy – took a while to recover his composure after being told in those bracing, nasal tones that the monarch he had suggested was “out by about 600 years or so”. But Tom Tyszczuk Smith is a third-year medical student – what does he think is going to happen the first time he comes across a furious patient who’s sat in the A&E waiting room for too long; or when he has to break the news of terminal cancer to a sobbing young man?
More startling is the speed and voracity of the concocted rage, and the much bandied use of the word “bullying”. Bullying is a terrible business and it ruins lives. Bullies deserve to be called out, and named and shamed on Twitter, blogs and anywhere else you care to mention. But when a famously acerbic TV personality appears on TV being acerbic, we need to have a long, hard think before we construct our 140 characters of fury. If Fiona Bruce barked at a pensioner on Antiques Roadshow “Come on, dear, any fool can see that vase is made of plastic!” then that might be worthy of a call to the BBC.
Paxman, meanwhile, is honing his put-downs for the final, I assume.