Amol Rajan leads race to succeed Jeremy Paxman as University Challenge host

·4-min read
Amol Rajan Jeremy Paxman - Murray Sanders/Daily Mail/Rachel Joseph/ITV Studios
Amol Rajan Jeremy Paxman - Murray Sanders/Daily Mail/Rachel Joseph/ITV Studios

Amol Rajan has emerged as the frontrunner to succeed Jeremy Paxman as the new University Challenge host, following the latter’s announcement that he was leaving after 28 years.

The 72-year-old, who disclosed in May 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, said that he had “had a blast” as the show’s presenter.

He said that University Challenge had enabled him to meet “the swottier brains” in the UK and given him “hope for the future”.

In stepping down from the role, Paxman has ended his reign as the longest-serving quizmaster on British television on a programme that first aired in 1962. Bamber Gascoigne, University Challenge’s only other presenter, died in February.

The BBC paid tribute to Paxman, saying that he would be “sorely missed by generations of students” and insisted that “today is not the day to talk about his replacement”.

However, the corporation will announce his successor later this week with Rajan, the BBC’s media editor and one of the presenters on Radio 4’s Today programme, as the leading candidate to take over.

Bamber Gascoigne - ITV/Shutterstock
Bamber Gascoigne - ITV/Shutterstock

The 39-year-old once appeared on a celebrity edition of University Challenge as captain of a University of Cambridge Downing College alumni team and acquitted himself well.

Paxman had terrified politicians he grilled as chief presenter of Newsnight for 25 years until stepping down in 2014, and had alarmed students with his occasionally harrying manner while in charge of University Challenge.

Rajan, should he get the job, is likely to be a more empathetic host.

Bookmakers had Fiona Bruce as odds-on favourite to succeed Paxman despite sources telling The Telegraph the role had gone to a male presenter.

Samira Ahmed, who won an equal pay lawsuit against the broadcaster, posted on Twitter her disappointment at not being given the job.

In a series of tweets, the BBC journalist said she that had “rehearsed” the role, spent time as a “standby” for Paxman and even had the “encouragement” of Gascoigne prior to his death:

Paxman has hosted the quiz since 1994, when it was revived by the BBC after the original series ended in 1987. He will film his final episode this autumn.

His final series will air on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer from Aug 29 through to next year.

Paxman said: “I’ve had a blast hosting this wonderful series for nearly 29 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing team and to meet some of the swottier brains in the country. It gives me hope for the future.”

Kate Phillips, the BBC’s director of Unscripted, said: “Since the BBC revived University Challenge in 1994, Jeremy has been at the front and centre of the show’s success and is without doubt one of the world’s finest, and most formidable quizmasters.

“We are hugely grateful to Jeremy for his dedication to the programme for an incredible 28 years, he will be much missed by us all and the show’s millions of viewers.”

Fiona Bruce - Richard Lewisohn/BBC
Fiona Bruce - Richard Lewisohn/BBC

Peter Gwyn, the executive producer of University Challenge, said: “Jeremy has been our presenter, colleague and friend for 28 years, and everyone on the University Challenge production team will miss him greatly.

“He’ll be sorely missed too by both our audience and by the generations of students who’ve relished the chance to pit themselves against him in more than a thousand matches.”

Paxman announced in May 2021 that he was being treated for Parkinson’s but said at the time his symptoms were “currently mild”.

Earlier this month, ITV announced a documentary in which Paxman will reflect on his diagnosis and meet those at the forefront of research.

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s former technology correspondent, tweeted his praise: “End of an era – Jeremy is a broadcasting legend and has handled his Parkinson’s diagnosis with courage and grace.”