Jeremy Paxman, the esteemed 73-year-old broadcaster and former Newsnight presenter, has bid farewell to his long-standing role as the host of University Challenge after a remarkable 29 years on the show. However, instead of bidding a solemn farewell, Paxman expressed his excitement to watch the show with fans from the comfort of his own home.
Paxman’s tenure as the host of University Challenge began in 1994 when the BBC revived the series, and he has continued to captivate audiences with his wit and knowledge ever since. Sadly, Paxman made the difficult decision to step down from the student quiz show after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 2021.
His diagnosis came in the wake of a severe fall while walking his beloved dog, Derek. It was during the filming of University Challenge that Paxman’s doctor observed the characteristic symptoms of a “Parkinsonian mask” in his facial reactions, prompting further investigation and leading to his diagnosis.
Paxman’s departure marks the end of an era for the show, but it also paves the way for a new chapter. Amol Rajan, a prominent broadcaster and former editor of The Independent, will be taking over as the host of University Challenge, becoming the third host in the show’s 61-year history. The distinguished journalist Bamber Gascoigne originally launched the show in 1962.
In his final episode, Paxman surprised viewers with a departure from his trademark merciless put-downs, which included infamous remarks such as “I’m afraid that is a completely useless answer.” Instead, he adopted a warmer and more gentle approach. At one point, he expressed amazement at the contestants’ extensive knowledge, exclaiming, “It’s amazing what they know!”
As he bid farewell for the last time, Paxman expressed his gratitude to Jung Chang for presenting the trophy, acknowledged the teams for their entertaining performances throughout the months, and thanked the viewers for their loyal support. He concluded by expressing his anticipation for future episodes and voiced his excitement to watch the show together with the audience.
In Paxman’s final episode, Durham University emerged as the champions of the 2022-2023 University Challenge, receiving thunderous applause as they were awarded a stainless steel book trophy by Jung Chang, the renowned author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China.
Chang, reflecting on the significance of University Challenge, shared her joy at being invited to present the trophy, describing the show as the epitome of prestige when she first arrived in Britain in 1978. Recollecting her upbringing in Cultural Revolution China, where education was suppressed and books were burned, Chang admired the brilliance of the talented minds showcased on the show and encouraged the winners to utilize their intelligence to make the world a better place.
At the beginning of the quiz, Paxman, with his characteristic dry humor, urged the teams to simply get on with the challenge, teasing them as “old hands” who were well-versed in the intricacies of the competition.
Jeremy Paxman’s illustrious broadcasting career began in 1972 as part of the BBC’s esteemed graduate trainee programme. He gained experience in local radio and reported on the tumultuous Troubles in Belfast. Following his move to London in 1977, he transitioned from the Tonight program to the investigative flagship show Panorama. Paxman subsequently made appearances on the Six O’Clock News and BBC One’s Breakfast Time.
In 1989, Paxman became a notable presenter on Newsnight, where his combative interviewing style and piercing questions made him a force to be reckoned with in the realm of political and cultural interviews. One particularly memorable moment was the infamous 1997 interview with future Tory leader Michael Howard, during which Paxman asked him the same question a staggering 12 times.
As he bids farewell after 25 years of hosting Newsnight, Paxman concluded his final program with an interview with the then-London mayor Boris Johnson, riding a tandem bicycle together through the night.
University Challenge is set to return this summer with a revamped set and a new cohort of students. While the appearance of the show may change, the familiar title music and the iconic voice of Roger Tilling will remain a constant presence.
Additional reporting by the Press Association