Amol Rajan has shared the words of reassurance he offered to Jeremy Paxman as he took over as the host of University Challenge.
Last year, journalist and broadcaster Rajan was announced as the new host of the BBC’s long-running academic quiz show following the departure of host Paxman after 29 years.
The veteran broadcaster presented his final show in May, two years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Appearing on The One Show ahead of his first episode on Monday (17 July) night, Rajan, 40, discussed his experience of taking the Univerity Challenge baton from Paxman.
Describing the former Newsnight presenter as a “giant of broadcasting”, British-Indian journalist Rajan said: “Talk about big shoes to fill… Such an enormous, heroic figure in our culture.
“Very sadly, he has Parkinson’s, people will know he has been dealing with that illness. I know people who have Parkinson’s and it has affected my family.”
Rajan continued: “I wanted to give him a call. Did it in the morning and I had two messages. I said, ‘Jeremy, I’m going to say two things. One is, thank you for passing the show on in such great condition. The ratings are great, the format’s as solid as ever. The other thing is I’ll try not to screw it up.’
“We had the sweetest conversation. What he said to me is, ‘Thank you for calling, I appreciate you calling, it’s the right thing to do.’”
Offering his own advice, Paxman told Rajan to “make the questions second nature for you. Really familiarise yourself, get to know them in advance”.
“Out of respect to him, I will make sure I do that,” Rajan, a former presenter of BBC 4’s flagship Today news programme, concluded.
The show returned on Monday with a new set and title sequence, with viewers quickly pointing out an awkward issue with the new set.
The quiz show format will remain the same, with contestants expected to buzz in and answer a range of academic questions on topics from aromatic compounds to philosopher Zeno of Citium.
Rajan is the third person to present the main series of the programme in its 61-year history, following on from Paxman and original presenter Bamber Gascoigne, who launched the quiz in 1962, before him.
In a five-star review of Rajan’s first episode, The Independent’s Sean O’Grady wrote: “Firstly, [Rajan] looks like he’s genuinely enjoying himself just as much as the contestants, and indeed the shows dedicated followers. Second, he has the demeanour of someone clever and knowledgeable (which he is), but doesn’t come across as a know-it-all (which he isn’t).
“We feel confident, then, that he knows a decent proportion of the answers, and so we join him in his display of quiet satisfaction that, say, the mystery artist is Caravaggio. Of course it is.”
University Challenge airs Mondays at 8.30pm on BBC Two.
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