Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

Paxman in September 2009
Born Jeremy Dickson Paxman
(1950-05-11) 11 May 1950
Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Residence Stonor, Oxfordshire, England
Nationality British
Education MA (St Catharine's College, Cambridge)
Alma mater Malvern College,
St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Occupation Broadcaster, journalist, author
Years active 1972–present
Employer BBC, Channel 4
Salary £1,040,000 (2006) per annum[1]
Television Newsnight (1989–2014)
University Challenge (1994–present)
Relatives Giles Paxman (brother)

Jeremy Dickson Paxman[2][3] (born 11 May 1950) is an English broadcaster, journalist and author. He has worked for the BBC since 1972 and is known for his forthright and abrasive interviewing style, particularly when interrogating politicians. His regular appearances on the BBC Two's Newsnight programme were sometimes criticised as aggressive, intimidating and condescending, yet also applauded as tough and incisive.[4] He is the question master of University Challenge, succeeding Bamber Gascoigne when the programme was revived in 1994.

At the end of April 2014, Paxman announced that he was to leave Newsnight in June after 25 years of presenting the programme.[5]

Early life and education

Malvern College

Paxman was born in Leeds, the son of Arthur Keith Paxman, who worked in industry, and Joan McKay (née Dickson; 1920–2009).[6][7] He is the eldest of four children: one of his brothers, Giles, was the British Ambassador to Spain (having previously been ambassador to Mexico), and the other, James, is the chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association.[8] His sister, Jenny, is a producer at BBC Radio.

He was brought up in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Peopleton, near Pershore in Worcestershire. In 1964, he went to Malvern College,[2][9] and later read English at St Catharine's College, Cambridge[10] where he edited the undergraduate newspaper Varsity.[3][11][12] While at Cambridge, Paxman was briefly a member of the Labour Club.[13]

In January 2006 Paxman was the subject of an episode of the BBC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?.[6] The documentary concluded that he was descended from Roger Packsman, a 14th-century politician from Suffolk who had changed his name to Paxman in order to impress the electorate (pax being Latin for 'peace'). His maternal grandmother was born in Glasgow, Scotland. The programme generated much publicity before its transmission by displaying Paxman with tears in his eyes on camera when informed that his impoverished great-grandmother Mary McKay's poor relief had been revoked because she had a child out of wedlock.[6][14]



Paxman joined the BBC's graduate trainee programme in 1972. He started in local radio, at BBC Radio Brighton. He moved to Belfast, where he reported the Troubles. He moved to London in 1977. Two years later he transferred from the Tonight programme to Panorama. After five years reporting from places such as Beirut, Uganda and Central America, he read the Six O'Clock News for two years, before moving to BBC1's Breakfast Time programme.


Paxman became a presenter of Newsnight in 1989.

On 13 May 1997 he interviewed Michael Howard, who had been Home Secretary until 13 days earlier after he had held a meeting with Derek Lewis, head of Her Majesty's Prison Service, about the possible dismissal of the governor of Parkhurst Prison, John Marriott. Howard was asked by Paxman the same question  "Did you threaten to overrule him [Lewis]?"   a total of twelve times in succession (fourteen, if the first two inquiries worded somewhat differently and some time before the succession of twelve are included, and once more on his last show).[15]

Later, during a 20th anniversary edition of Newsnight, Paxman told Howard that he had simply been trying to prolong the interview since the next item in the running order wasn't ready.[16]

In 1998, Denis Halliday, a United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, resigned his post in Iraq, describing the effects of his own organisation's sanctions as genocide.[17] Paxman asked Halliday in a Newsnight interview, "Aren't you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?"

In February 2003, Paxman was criticised by the Broadcasting Standards Commission over a Newsnight interview in which he questioned the then Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy about his drinking. The commission said that the questioning was "overly intrusive in nature and tone and had exceeded acceptable boundaries for broadcast".[18]

In 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair opted to make the case for the invasion of Iraq via questions from a TV studio audience, mediated by Paxman. The programme is chiefly remembered for the fact that Paxman asked Blair if he and U.S. President Bush prayed together. Blair replied, "No, Jeremy. We don't pray together." To which Paxman replied, "But why not?"[19][20]

During the 2005 general election some viewers complained to the BBC that Paxman's questioning of party leaders had been rude and aggressive.[21][22] He was criticised for his 5am interview with George Galloway after his election as the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow by the just defeated Oona King.[23] Paxman asked Galloway more than once whether he was proud of having got rid of "one of the very few black women in Parliament."[24] Galloway cut the interview short. King later said she "did not wish to be defined, by either my ethnicity or religious background."[23]

On 26 June 2012 he interviewed the Economic Secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith about Chancellor George Osborne's decision that day to delay plans to increase fuel duty.[25] Paxman questioned the apparent change in her views on fuel duty.[26] Senior politicians, including John Prescott and Nadine Dorries questioned Osborne's judgement for sending a junior minister onto the programme in place of himself.[25][27]

The BBC announced Paxman's departure from Newsnight at the end of April 2014.[5] He had told BBC Head of News James Harding and BBC Director General Tony Hall that he wished to leave in July 2013, but agreed to stay on Newsnight for another year after the programme had been damaged by the Savile and Lord McAlpine scandals.[5][28] In his statement Paxman commented: "After 25 years, I should rather like to go to bed at much the same time as most people."[28]

Paxman's brusque manner is not restricted to political interviews. When around 2005 Newsnight's editor decided to broadcast brief weather forecasts instead of financial reports he openly ridiculed the decision: "And for tonight's weather – it's April, what do you expect?".[29] The financial reports were re-introduced after a few weeks.

Paxman presented his last Newsnight on 18 June 2014 in an edition which included an interview with Peter Mandelson and one with London Mayor Boris Johnson, while they both rode a tandem bicycle, as well as a brief reappearance of Michael Howard who, following on from his 1997 interview, was simply asked: "Did you?". The closing theme was replaced with I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing by The New Seekers. The programme ended with a brief post-credits scene with Paxman standing in front of a weather map exclaiming "Tomorrow's weather: more of the same! I don't know why they make such a fuss about it" in reference to the 2005 weather forecasts.[30]

Other TV work

Paxman has presented the weekly TV programme review Did You See?, You Decide and, since 1994, University Challenge, bringing him the distinction of "longest-serving current quizmaster on British TV."[31] He presented on BBC America and BBC World a weekly compilation of highlights from the domestic edition of Newsnight from February 2008 until shortly after the 2008 U.S. election, when the American programme was cancelled. The programme is still aired on BBC World.[19][32]

In April 2006 The Sun claimed that Paxman earned £800,000 for his Newsnight job and £240,000 for presenting University Challenge, bringing his TV earnings to a yearly total of £1,040,000. This was one of a series of BBC salary leaks in the tabloid press that prompted an internal BBC investigation.[33]

Paxman appeared as himself in an episode of BBC comedy The Thick of It which aired in January 2007. He is seen grilling Junior Minister Ben Swain in a disastrous Newsnight interview.[34]

Beginning on 15 February 2009, his four-part documentary The Victorians was transmitted on BBC One. The series explores Victorian art and culture.[35] From 27 February until 26 March 2012, BBC One broadcast Paxman's series Empire, examining the history and legacy of the British Empire.

In 2014 Paxman presented Britain's Great War, an accompaniment to his 2013 book Great Britain's Great War.

On 26 March 2015 Paxman co-presented, with Kay Burley, David Cameron and Ed Miliband Live: The Battle for Number 10, in which he interviewed both British Prime Minister David Cameron and Opposition Leader Ed Miliband regarding their track record in politics and their plans if elected Prime Minister in the general election set for May of that year. He also hosted Channel 4's Alternative Election Night with David Mitchell.


Paxman's first book, A Higher Form of Killing (1982), written with then BBC colleague and friend Robert Harris, arose out of an edition of the Panorama programme they had made together on biological and chemical warfare. In a revised 2002 version they asserted that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons. In 1985, Paxman published Through the Volcanoes: A Central American Journey, an eyewitness account of people, places and politics. Friends in High Places: Who Runs Britain? (1991) was the result of numerous detailed interviews with the powerful or highly influential, what used to be called The Establishment. 1999 saw the publication of his The English: A Portrait of a People. The Political Animal: An Anatomy (2003), again based on extensive interviews, examines the motivations and methods of those who constitute the author's professional prey: Westminster politicians.

The otherwise-republican[36] Paxman's On Royalty, which entailed the cooperation of Britain's royal family, became by the time it was published in 2006 a defence of the country's constitutional monarchy. His recent books have been big sellers. His book, The Victorians: Britain through the Paintings of the Age, published in 2009, was accompanied by a BBC documentary series. In his introduction, Paxman acknowledged that the Irish writer Neil Hegarty had played a significant role in editing the book and bringing it to completion. Paxman stated that since all television is a "collaborative exercise", it was "rather silly for this book – which accompanies a television series – to appear with only one name on the cover."[37] Paxman's most recent book is a study of the British Empire, Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British.[38][39]

Paxman's memoir, A Life in Questions, was published in October 2016.[40]


Paxman presented the flagship BBC Radio 4 show Start the Week from 1998 to 2002.

Paxman and the BBC

While John Birt was Director General of the BBC, the British press from time to time reported Paxman's criticism of his boss. The former, suspected at first to be an outsider brought in by a hostile government to supervise the BBC's break-up and ultimate sell-off, in turn publicly questioned the confrontational approach, as he saw it, of certain TV and radio interviewers. This was seen at the time as coded criticism of Paxman himself and of his BBC colleague John Humphrys.[41][42]

On 24 August 2007 Paxman delivered the MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.[43] In it he was critical of much of contemporary TV in Britain. He expressed concern that as a consequence of recent production scandals the medium was rapidly losing public trust. Speaking of prime minister Tony Blair's criticism of the mass media at the time he left office, Paxman asserted that often press and broadcasting may be "oppositional" in relation to the government of the day this could only benefit democracy. Those Reithian goals, to "inform, educate and entertain," still remained valid. Paxman took the opportunity to dismiss as "inaccurate" the attribution to himself, which was, in fact, Louis Heren,[44] of the oft-quoted "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?" as the supposed dominant thought in his mind when interviewing senior politicians. He called on the television industry to rediscover a sense of purpose.

In November 2012, Paxman publicly defended George Entwistle after his resignation as Director-General of the BBC in connection with a Newsnight report which falsely implicated Lord McAlpine in the North Wales child abuse scandal. Paxman claimed Entwistle had been "brought low by cowards and incompetents" and criticised appointments of "biddable people" to the BBC in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, as well as cuts to BBC programme budgets and bloated BBC management.[45]

In August 2013 Paxman appeared on Newsnight with a beard, causing a Twitter trend when the broadcaster accused the BBC of pogonophobia.[46]

Awards and honours

In 1996 Paxman received BAFTA's Richard Dimbleby Award for "outstanding presenter in the factual arena." Two years later he won the Royal Television Society's Interviewer of the Year Award for his Newsnight interview (see above) with Michael Howard, as well as the Broadcasting Press Guild's award for best "non-acting" performer. He gained another Richard Dimbleby Award in 2000 and was nominated for the award in 2001 and 2002. In total, Paxman has won five Royal Television Society awards. He won the award for International Current Affairs in 1985, and TV journalism interviewer/presenter of the year four times (1997, 1998, 2001 and 2008).[47][48]

Paxman was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Leeds in the summer of 1999 and in December that year received an honorary degree from the University of Bradford.[49] In 2006 he received an honorary doctorate from the Open University. Among those at the ceremony were three members of the Open University's 1999 University Challenge team. Paxman is a Fellow by special election of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater, St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. In July 2016, Paxman was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Exeter for achievements in the field of broadcasting and journalism.

Personal life

Paxman in 2007

Paxman lives with his partner Elizabeth Ann Clough in Stonor, southeast Oxfordshire. They have three children.[50] He supports Leeds United and he also enjoys fly fishing in his leisure time.[51] He is vice-chairman of the Wild Trout Trust conservation charity. He is also a patron of the charity Sustrans and homeless charity Caritas Anchor House.[52]

When, in his twenties, Paxman unsuccessfully applied for the vacant editorship of the Labour-supporting weekly, the New Statesman, he said that in his youth he considered himself a socialist.[53][54] He had previously stood as a Communist candidate in his school elections.[54] More recently, he has been described as "the archetypal floating voter", and Jon Snow once said that Paxman's greatest strength was being "not very political".[54] Paxman himself has stated that he has no dominant political ideology:

I do understand we have to have a government, and I do firmly believe in democracy. So it's not true to say I'm not a political person. I am a political person. But I'm not a party political person. I don't believe there is a monopoly of wisdom in any one party. I suppose as one gets older – I would have described it at the age of 21 as the process of selling out, but another way of looking at it is to say, actually, the world is not a very simple place, and that as you get older simple-minded solutions seem less attractive.[54]

In June 2014 Paxman, speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival about his new book, Britain’s Great War, confirmed "what many had suspected about his political leanings", admitting he was a “one-nation Tory” and complained that Newsnight was made by idealistic “13-year-olds” who foolishly thought they could “change the world”:

“Look, Newsnight is made by 13-year-olds. It's perfectly normal when you're young that you want to change the world,” Mr Paxman said. “The older you get, the more you realise what a fools' errand much of that is and that the thing to do is to manage the best you can to the advantage of as many people as possible.” Speaking about his political views in general, he said he was “in favour of governments getting out of people's lives – particularly foreign government”, saying Europe had been “nothing but trouble for us”. He also joked that Belgium was a “pointless little country”. “The closer you can take decision-making to the people affected by those decisions, the better.”[55]


Paxman has been publicly criticised over his and his partner's home help arrangements. Having advertised on a Romanian website, they hired two people at below minimum wage without a written contract. While this is not illegal in the UK if employees live in, Paxman, known for grilling interviewees on workers' rights issues, was criticised when his employees went public, claiming to have been paid "the bare minimum".[56]

Paxman's controversial remarks about the Scots provoked anger at parliamentary level. Twenty Scottish members of parliament signed a House of Commons motion in March 2005 condemning him for comparing supposed Scottish dominance at Westminster to British rule in India: a "Scottish Raj" was running the UK, said Paxman. The row came right after a Cabinet minister had complained that the Newsnight host had been offensive about his Glasgow accent. Paxman's response served further to fan the flames.[57] In an introduction to a new edition of Chambers Dictionary in August 2008 Paxman labelled the work of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns as "sentimental doggerel".[58] Paxman himself is quarter-Scottish through his maternal grandmother, a fact which he stated has led to many of his comments being misunderstood as he regards the Scots "with affection".[6]

Paxman has been condemned as disrespectful when commenting on the possible exit of Greece from the Eurozone ("like bad kebab vomiting") on edition of 31 May 2012 of Newsnight. He received many angry messages from the audience on Twitter and other media accusing him of racist and inappropriate stereotypical analogies.[59]

In 2013 on University Challenge Tom Tyszczuk Smith answered a question incorrectly and was chastised by Paxman. This led to a series of articles claiming that Paxman bullied Tyszczuk Smith, and 47 viewers complained to the BBC about the incident.[60]

In November 2013, while being interviewed by Graham Norton, Paxman called Prime Minister David Cameron an idiot[61] and admitted that he had not voted in his last local election. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister later criticised his "sneering" attitude to politics and accused the Newsnight presenter of treating politicians as "rogues and charlatans". He said Paxman profited handsomely from politics through his television work but did not involve himself in the political process.[62]

John Pilger has flagged-up Paxman's membership of the British-American Project in the context of political biases of mainstream media.[63]

Paxman became a focus of media attention in his own right in October 2000 when an Enigma machine, which had been stolen from Bletchley Park Museum, was inexplicably sent to him in the post. He returned it to its rightful location.[64][65]



  1. Day, Julia (19 April 2006). "Paxman's pay revealed by BBC salary mole". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  2. 1 2 "PAXMAN, Jeremy Dickson". Who's Who 2009 (Online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. December 2008. Retrieved 19 April 2009. Subscription or UK public library membership required
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  4. Mosey, Roger (20 April 2005). "BBC and the 'Paxman Problem'". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Hannah Ellis-Petersen "Jeremy Paxman to quit Newsnight after 25 years",, 30 April 2014
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  8. Gammell, Caroline (10 August 2009). "Jeremy Paxman's brother launches battle against wind turbines". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  9. "Toffs at the top". Press Gazette. 16 June 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  10. Burrell, Ian (25 August 2007). "Jeremy Paxman: The outsider". The Independent. London. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  11. Akbar, Arifa (14 March 2005). "Now Paxman rails against the 'Scottish Raj'". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  12. Rayner, Jay (19 May 2002). "Hah!". Comment. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  13. "Britain's Great War: "I feel in awe of my parents' generation and guilty having a privileged life" says Jeremy Paxman". Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  14. Peek, Sitala (11 January 2006). "The Day Paxman Shed a Tear". Bucks Free Press. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  15. Horrocks, Peter (21 January 2005). "Paxman versus Howard". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  16. Paxman's explanation was that "by the time I'd asked the question five or six times... it was clear... that you [Howard] weren't going to answer it... at which point a voice came in my ear and said "The next piece of tape isn't cut, you'd better carry on with this for a while" and I'm afraid I couldn't think of anything else to ask you."
  17. "Former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday opposes U.N.'s sanctions". CNN. 16 January 2001. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  18. Born, Matt (27 February 2003). "Paxman carpeted over Kennedy interview". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  19. 1 2 Clarke, Steve (22 June 2007). "BBC America Banks on Brash Brit: Network Hopes Paxman is Next U.S. Hit". Variety. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  20. Assinder, Nick (14 May 2002). "Blair Tries to Shift Focus". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  21. Holder, Matt (19 April 2005). "Paxman Special Sparks Backlash". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  22. "I'm Only Human, Says Paxman". BBC News. 29 April 2005. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  23. 1 2 "Oona King – BBC Radio 4 Interview (RAM file)". 11 May 2005. Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
  24. "Paxman v Galloway". BBC News. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  25. 1 2 Quinn, Ben (27 June 2012). "George Osborne branded a coward after Tory minister's Newsnight disaster". The Guardian. London: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  26. "BBC Newsnight Interview". BBC. 26 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  27. "David Cameron denies George Osborne 'hid' after fuel U-turn". BBC News. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  28. 1 2 "Jeremy Paxman to quit BBC Two's Newsnight", BBC News, 30 April 2014
  29. "Paxo's Weather Report". The Daily Telegraph. London. 16 April 2005. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
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  36. "Jeremy Paxman: We'e all monarchists now – even me – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 June 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  37. Flood, Alison (20 March 2009). "Jeremy Paxman too busy to finish his own best-seller". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  38. Porter, Bernard (5 October 2011). "Jeremy Paxman's survey of British imperial rule is sharp and engaging". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  39. Moss, Stephen (9 October 2011). "Jeremy Paxman: 'I've always felt myself to be an outsider'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  40. Jeremy Paxman (1 October 2016). A Life in Questions. HarperCollins Publishers Limited. ISBN 978-0-00-820153-1.
  41. Walsh, John (9 February 1995). "DIARY: Fired by John Birt's Phillippic". The Independent. London. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  42. Mills, Merope (7 August 2000). "I don't snort". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  43. Paxman, Jeremy (24 August 2007). "MacTaggart Memorial Lecture: Never Mind the Scandals: What's It All For?" (PDF). The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
  44. "No disrespect". The Economist. 18 February 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  45. "Jeremy Paxman: George Entwistle brought low by "cowards and incompetents"". New Statesman. 10 November 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  46. Battersby, Matilda; Noah, Sherna (14 August 2013). "Is the BBC pogonophobic? Jeremy Paxman's beard raises a hairy issue". London: The Independent. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
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  52. "Our Supporters". Caritas Anchor House.
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  54. 1 2 3 4 Aitkenhead, Decca (9 February 2009). "Decca Aitkenhead meets Jeremy Paxman". The Guardian. London. p. 6. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  55. Johnston, Ian (26 June 2014). "Jeremy Paxman: I'm a one-nation Tory and 'Newsnight' is made by 13-year-olds". The Independent. London.
  56. Saner, Emine (12 February 2008). "Paxo's dirty laundry gets a very public airing". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  57. "Scots MPs slam Paxman 'Raj' jibe". BBC News. 15 August 2005. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  58. "Paxman slammed over Burns comment". BBC News. 14 August 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  59. Walker, Tim (1 June 2012). "BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman is condemned over 'offensive' Greece kebab remarks". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  60. Mark Blunden (13 February 2013). "Parents of student 'bullied' by Jeremy Paxman defend the University". Evening Standard.
  61. Shaikh, Thair (10 November 2013). "Downing Street demands apology after Jeremy Paxman calls David Cameron 'complete idiot'". The Independent. London. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  62. Saul, Heather (7 November 2013). "Nick Clegg condemns 'sneering' Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  63. Pilger, John (13 December 2007). "Tainted hands across the water". New Statesman. Retrieved 26 November 2012. The BAP rarely gets publicity, which may have something to do with the high proportion of journalists who are alumni. Prominent BAP journalists are David Lipsey, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and assorted Murdochites. The BBC is well represented. On the Today programme, James Naughtie, whose broadcasting has long reflected his own transatlantic interests, has been an alumnus since 1989. Today's newest voice, Evan Davis, formerly the BBC's zealous economics editor, is a member. And at the top of the BAP website home page is a photograph of Jeremy Paxman and his endorsement. "A marvellous way of meeting a varied cross-section of transatlantic friends," says he.
  64. "'No Ransom Paid' for Enigma Machine". BBC News. 18 October 2000. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  65. "Paxman Returns Enigma Machine". BBC News. 1 April 2002. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
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Media offices
Preceded by
Peter Snow
BBC's Newsnight presenter
with Gavin Esler, Emily Maitlis and Kirsty Wark
Succeeded by
Evan Davis
Preceded by
Bamber Gascoigne
University Challenge host
1994 – present
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