Paxman reduced to tears by journey into his past

Ciar Byrne Media Correspondent
Thursday 08 December 2005 01:00 GMT

It is a sight few people would have expected to see on television - Jeremy Paxman, that most ferocious of political interviewers, reduced to tears.

The emotional outburst from the Newsnight presenter was not provoked by an irate politician or by a useless contestant on University Challenge, which he hosts, but by delving into his own family history.

Mr Paxman is one of six well-known faces who have taken part in the second series of the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? to be shown on BBC2 in early 2006.

The presenter, who is renowned for his cynicism and tenacious style - he notoriously asked Michael Howard the same question 12 times - is shown in a very different light when he traces his family tree.

His journey takes him to Scotland, where in one clip he is seen reading his great, great-great-grandmother's death certificate. He learns she was a charwoman who died from "TB and exhaustion" in her 30s; his eyes moisten and he lifts his arm to wipe them. With emotion in his voice, Mr Paxman says: "I don't know these people, I wouldn't recognise them if I fell on them, but I'm connected to them."

Richard Klein, the BBC commissioning editor for documentaries said: "What's particularly interesting is watching a man like Jeremy begin in a very sceptical frame of mind on a journey that was very surprising and quite shocking. It's a very emotional journey. I'm sure it's had a huge impact."

Stephen Fry, Julian Clary, Jane Horrocks, Sheila Hancock and the film director Gurinder Chadha also research their family history in the series.

Roly Keating, the BBC2 controller, yesterday unveiled a line-up for 2006 that draws on recent political history for inspiration.

In one of the most sensitive operations by a broadcaster, BBC2 persuaded Archbishop Desmond Tutu to oversee six meetings between victims and perpetrators in the Northern Ireland conflict.

In Coup!, a one-off film, Robert Bathurst stars as Sir Mark Thatcher, who was fined £265,000 by a South African court, after admitting to having "unwittingly" financed the plot to seize the oil-rich state of Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

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