Jeremy Paxman bows out as host of University Challenge

Jeremy Paxman’s stint as the longest serving current quizmaster on British television will come to an end on Monday night when he presents his final edition of University Challenge.

The 73-year-old former Newsnight presenter is bowing out from the show after revealing he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Monday’s show, this season’s final between the universities of Durham and Bristol, will be Paxman’s 967th and last appearance on the show.

It will also bring to an end Paxman’s 51-year career at the BBC. Paxman, who earned a combative reputation for challenging politicians on Newsnight, began presenting the quiz in 1994 when it was revived by the BBC.

He brought some of his Newsnight approach to the quiz, but with students instead of ministers being subjected to withering put-downs and disapproving looks.

His occasional displays of exasperation at wrong answers were a contrast to the more gentle condescension of the show’s only other presenter, the late Bamber Gascoigne, who launched the programme on ITV in 1962.

The new quizmaster will be former newspaper editor and current Today programme host Amol Rajan.

Like both Rajan and Gascoigne, Paxman was educated at Cambridge University, in his case St Catharine’s College.

The BBC has resisted calls to change the show’s entry rules, which critics claim are elitist because they favour Oxbridge colleges. As well as a new presenter, the next series will have a new set and title sequence. But Oxford and Cambridge colleges will continue to be allowed to enter the contest separately, while other universities will still be limited to one entry each. The theme tune will also stay the same.

Paxman started his career in 1972 on the BBC’s graduate trainee programme, working in local radio and reporting on the Troubles in Belfast.

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Shortly after moving to London in 1977, he transferred from Tonight to the investigative programme Panorama, before stints presenting the Six O’Clock News and BBC One’s Breakfast Time.

He became the lead presenter on Newsnight in 1989, a position he held until June 2014. He is best known for an interview in 1997 in which he asked Michael Howard at least 12 times whether he had overruled the director of the prison service.

In May 2021 Paxman announced he was being treated for Parkinson’s but said his symptoms were “currently mild”. He co-presents a podcast about the disease called Movers and Shakers with fellow sufferers including former BBC news colleagues Rory Cellan-Jones and Mark Mardell.