Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Paxman, Jeremy (1950-)

Presenter, Newscaster, Political Interviewer

Main image of Paxman, Jeremy (1950-)

Alongside John Humphrys of Radio 4's Today programme, Jeremy Paxman is the best examplar of the sea change in television's treatment of politicians since the 1950s, from deference to a more critical engagement and, occasionally, something close to contempt.

Paxman was born in Leeds on 11 May 1950, and educated in Worcestershire and at St Catherine's College, Cambridge. After an apprenticeship in local radio, he spent three years as a reporter in Northern Ireland, before returning to London in 1977 and joining the BBC's Tonight programme (1975-79) and subsequently Panorama (BBC, 1953), as a reporter, in which role he travelled extensively in Europe, Central America, Africa and the Middle East.

In 1984 he became anchor of the BBC's new 6 O'Clock News, and the following year moved to Breakfast News. But it is as anchor of Newsnight (BBC, 1980-) from 1989 that he has become best known, attracting acclaim - and several awards - for his tough, even savage, approach to interviews ("I am always asking myself," he famously said, "why is this lying bastard lying to me?"). Some, however, liken him to a swaggering playground bully, and worry that the result of such an aggressive approach to politicians is a national cynicism which has debased Britain's political life.

His style is perhaps best represented by the now legendary interview with Michael Howard, in which he asked the then Conservative Home Secretary the same question - whether or not he had overruled the director general of the prison service - 14 times in an attempt to solicit a straight answer. Paxman later claimed that he simply couldn't think of another question, but the confrontation proved riveting viewing, and it's a technique the interviewer has used since, though never to the same extreme.

Despite his detractors, and the widely reported anxieties of former BBC Director General John Birt (who supposedly complained of his 'sneering'), Paxman remains at Newsnight, and is still probably Britain's favourite political interviewer (he has been named the Royal Television Society's Interview/Presenter of the Year three times, in 1997, 1998 and 2001, and won Variety Club's Personality of the Year award in 1999). For all the talent of his co-presenters, who include Gavin Esler and Kirsty Wark, it seems a slightly tamer programme when Paxman isn't on.

He has shown a less fierce aspect as presenter of the relaunched University Challenge (BBC) since 1994, while eyebrows were raised when he took over the chair of Radio 4's cultural discussion programme Start the Week from Melvyn Bragg in 1998. However, Paxman proved himself well suited to the role - erudite, well-informed and measured but, characteristically, unafraid to confront some of his guests' more contentious claims. The inner rottweiler occasionally surfaced - he infuriated the notorious former US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger when he suggested that he might feel ashamed to have been the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Kissinger swiftly left the studio. Paxman left the programme in 2002, to be replaced by Andrew Marr.

He is the author of several books, including A Higher Form of Killing (with Robert Harris, 1982), a history of biochemical warfare; Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain? (1990); Fish, Fishing and The Meaning of Life (1994), expounding his interest in angling; The English (1998), a bestselling analysis of national identity; and, most recently, The Political Animal: An Anatomy (2002).

Mark Duguid

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of University Challenge (1962-87, 1994-)University Challenge (1962-87, 1994-)

TV's smartest quiz show for nearly half a century

Related collections

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Day, Robin (1923-2000)Day, Robin (1923-2000)

Journalist, Presenter