Jeremy Paxman to step down as University Challenge host

Presenter was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year and has hosted the show for 28 years

Jeremy Paxman is stepping down as the presenter of University Challenge after 28 years.

He has presented the quizshow since 1994 and will film his last series this autumn, with viewers seeing the final episodes next summer.

Paxman, 72, announced last year that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and he has spoken openly about how he has balanced his work life with treatment for the illness. At the time of the announcement, he said he planned to “continue broadcasting and writing for as long as they’ll have me”.

The BBC has already decided on Paxman’s replacement, and the new host will be announced later this week.

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.”

The decision means one of the UK’s most prominent journalists will be without a regular presenting job for the first time in decades, after a career that has incorporated a stint as a journalist in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, presenting breakfast television, and most famously a 25-year run as host of Newsnight.

University Challenge has been his longest role, reaching a mass audience who enjoyed his caustic approach – and occasional expressions of disgust if a student couldn’t answer what he considered an easy question.

He took over as chair of the show when it was revived by the BBC after several years off air. That year’s winning student team included the future Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng, who is tipped to become chancellor next month if Liz Truss becomes prime minister.

Since then Paxman has presided over more than 1,000 episodes, with the regular series accompanied by many spin-off celebrity editions – featuring teams who often performed substantially worse than the students.

During this time the show has retained it status as a cultural touchstone, with headline-grabbing disqualifications, scandals over the sexist abuse of female contestants, and debates over perpetuating elitism by allowing Oxbridge colleges to enter their own teams.

University Challenge remains a ratings winner for BBC Two, regularly attracting more than 2 million viewers in its Monday night slot – a strong performance in an era when live television audiences are in decline.

The new host will have a hard act to follow. Paxman was only the second host in the quiz show’s 60-year history, and spent longer in the chair than his predecessor, Bamber Gascoigne.

Kate Phillips, the BBC’s director of unscripted, said: “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.”

In recent years Paxman has had to adjust to his Parkinson’s diagnosis and has been open about living with the disease.

He is working on an ITV documentary about the illness, with a camera crew following his life as he reflects on how Parkinson’s is affecting him. The programme’s makers say he will meet scientific experts and try potential therapies – such as a dance class organised by the English National Ballet, and playing lawn bowls.

Paxman had already promised to donate his brain for research into Parkinson’s disease, a pledge he made more than a decade before being diagnosed with the illness.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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