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Jeremy Paxman closes final University Challenge episode on a kinder note

Famously acerbic broadcaster swapped his merciless put-downs for warmth and praise in his final show, saying he is ‘looking forward to watching’ it at home

Ellie Harrison
Tuesday 30 May 2023 07:54 BST
Jeremy Paxman's best tussles ahead of final University Challenge

Jeremy Paxman has hosted his last ever episode of University Challenge after 29 years on the show, saying he is looking “forward to watching it” along with fans at home.

The 73-year-old veteran broadcaster and former Newsnight presenter has hosted the series since the BBC revived it in 1994, with his final episode airing on Monday 29 May.

Paxman announced he was stepping down from the student quiz show after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2021.

He received his diagnosis after suffering a bad fall while walking his dog, Derek. Paxman’s doctor had also spotted the slower and lowered facial reactions of what is known in neurology as a “Parkinsonian mask”, while observing Paxman on University Challenge.

He will be replaced by broadcaster and former editor of The Independent Amol Rajan, who is the third host of the programme in its 61-year history. The show was first launched by Bamber Gascoigne in 1962.

In Monday night’s episode, Paxman swapped his signature merciless put-downs – he was known for delivering barbs such as “I’m afraid that is a completely useless answer” over his decades-long tenure – for a more warm and gentle approach.

“It’s amazing what they know!” he said at one point, marvelling at the contestants.

Signing off for the last time, Paxman said: “It remains for me to thank Jung Chang for presenting the trophy, all the teams who have entertained us over the past months, and you for watching.

University Challenge returns later in the year and I look forward to watching it with you. So it’s good night for me. Good night.”

In Paxman’s final episode, Durham University became the 2022-2023 University Challenge champions and received rapturous applause as Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China author Jung Chang handed over a stainless steel book award to the winners.

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Chang said: “I’m really pleased to be invited here to present the trophy because University Challenge was the most prestigious programme to me when I first arrived in Britain in 1978.

“I grew up in Cultural Revolution China, when schools and the universities were all closed, (Chairman) Mao said: ‘The more books you read, the more stupid you become.’

“And (the) books were burned across China and so tonight, I watched these brilliant minds at work, and I want to congratulate them for their brilliant brains, and I do hope that they would use their brains to make our world a better place.”

Paxman with a team of student contestants (PA)

Opening the quiz, Paxman told the two teams: “Well you’re all old hands at this now, so just get on with it.”

Born in Leeds, Paxman began his broadcasting career on the BBC’s graduate trainee programme in 1972.

He worked in local radio and reported on the Troubles in Belfast and shortly after moving to London in 1977, he transferred from Tonight to investigative flagship programme Panorama.

He also had stints on the Six O’Clock News and BBC One’s Breakfast Time.

In 1989, he became a presenter of Newsnight where he interviewed high-profile figures from politics and culture until June 2014.

He was known for his combative interviewing style on the programme – a particularly memorable moment was the infamous 1997 grilling of future Tory leader Michael Howard, who he asked exactly the same question 12 times.

Bowing out after 25 years, Paxman presented a Newsnight programme including an interview with then-London mayor Boris Johnson, while they both rode a tandem bicycle.

University Challenge is due to return this summer with both a new title sequence and batch of students.

The BBC recently released first look images of the modernised set of University Challenge with Rajan but the well-known title music and peerless voice of Roger Tilling will remain.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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