Bill Carmichael: New home needed for Paxman’s talents

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WHAT next for Yorkshire’s own (yes, he was born in Leeds) Jeremy Paxman who has announced he is quitting the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, after 25 years?

WHAT next for Yorkshire’s own (yes, he was born in Leeds) Jeremy Paxman who has announced he is quitting the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, after 25 years?

He is the sort of presenter who sharply divides opinion, with half the viewers wanting to hug the television, while the other half wants to throw something at it.

Admittedly the arrogant superiority, most evident in his sneering put-downs of undergraduates on University Challenge, can be nothing short of insufferable.

But he is also a brilliant broadcaster, both tenacious and courageous, and as far as holding the powerful to account he is the best the BBC has got.

His forensic skewering of pompous politicians and quangocrats was the main reason for staying up late to watch Newsnight (apparently viewing figures plummet when he is not on).

But there is no doubt that Paxman has been off form lately – appearing detached and more than slightly bored with the programme going on around him.

His interview with the disgraced former boss of the Co-Op Bank, Paul Flowers, was a recent low point.

Flowers, a former Bradford councillor with little business or banking experience, was catapulted to the top job because of his left wing political connections and promptly brought the poor old Co-Op to its knees.

Risibly, he attempted to portray himself as the victim, blaming everyone but himself for his downfall, and Paxman, his face a mask of sympathetic concern, let him get away with it.

The Paxman of old would have given the self-pitying old hypocrite both barrels.

Paxman has also seemed increasingly disillusioned with the BBC, recently labelling the Corporation as “smug” and criticising the Lottery-style pay offs to failed executives. He has certainly made himself unpopular with the “suits” that run the BBC.

Newsnight also is not the programme it was and its reputation for rigorous journalism has become badly tarnished. Recent catastrophic mistakes include the cancelling an exposé into the paedophile allegations against Jimmy Savile and, in an appallingly shoddy piece of reporting, falsely accusing the late Tory treasurer and grandee Lord McAlpine of child sex abuse.

Today it is packed full of partisan, left wing hacks, whose idea of original journalism is to read out stories from the Guardian. Paxman is better off out of it.

But where to next? Is University Challenge the limit for one of the finest broadcasters of his generation? Paxman is only 63 years of age and could have his very best years ahead of him.

If the BBC has any sense it will design a proper broadcasting vehicle to make the most of his undoubted talents.

How about a serious, prime time political interview show where Paxman gets a good 45 minutes to interrogate leading thinkers of the day?

I am thinking something along the lines of the old LWT show, Weekend World, superbly presented by the ex-Labour MP Brian Walden in the 1980s.

This would serve as an antidote to the trivia and the spin.

Politicians need have no fear of a “gotcha” moment because they would be given the time to expound in detail on their political philosophy. But with a rejuvenated Paxman challenging and probing, neither could they expect an easy ride.

Paxman always appears to do his homework on his guests with admirable thoroughness and is as sharp as a tack when it comes to inconsistencies and weaknesses in someone’s argument.

Imagine Paxman duelling with rising political stars such as Labour’s Stella Creasy or the Conservatives’ Priti Patel. It would be a must-watch for political junkies.

A few years ago, I was escorting a group of students through the Palace of Westminster and I told them to be on the lookout for politicians or journalists they might recognise off the telly.

Sure enough as we walked through St Stephen’s Hall en route to the Central Lobby I spotted the tall, unmistakeable figure of Paxman striding towards us.

One of the girls noticed him too. She stopped in her tracks and said in a voice loud enough for him to hear: “Wow! It’s Paxo!”

Anyone who gets that reaction from young people should be treasured by the BBC.