Could Amol Rajan be the next University Challenge host? BBC’s republican media editor who sparked a complaint from the royals after his controversial documentary is tipped to succeed Jeremy Paxman
- BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, 38, is thought to be the favourite to replace stalwart BBC quiz host
- Paxman, 72, who has presented University Challenge since 1994, will film his final episode this autumn
- He said it had ‘been a blast’ and getting to meet ‘some of the swottier brains in the country… gives me hope’
- New presenter will be announced next week, as University Challenge prepares to mark 60-year anniversary
- Rajan, an ex-editor of the left-wing Independent, who has shared republican views, considered frontrunner
BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Jeremy Paxman as the host of University Challenge.
The BBC Radio 4 Today presenter, 38, is thought to be the favourite to replace the stalwart BBC quiz show host – who is stepping down after almost three decades.
The announcement of Paxman’s departure from the show comes a year after the tough-talking journalist, 72, revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Yesterday, Antiques Roadshow and Question Time host Fiona Bruce, was declared the bookie’s favourite with Betfair pricing her at 2/1.
Richard Osman, who earlier this year quit BBC quiz show Pointless after 13 years to focus on writing fiction, also appeared among the bookie’s frontrunners, alongside Mastermind host Clive Myrie and physicist and presenter Professor Brian Cox.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is leaving Downing Street later this year, also appeared among the bookie’s list as an outside favourite – due to his previous involvement on the show and passion for Classics.
But Rajan, who attended Cambridge University and who once appeared on the celebrity version of the show, is now believed to be the frontrunner for the role, according to The Telegraph.
Currently a host of BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today programme, Rajan has been front and centre of some of the broadcaster’s biggest – and most controversial – documentaries and interviews in recent years.
Rajan, who has in the past written openly about his republican views, sparked anger from the Royal Family over a documentary about Prince William and Harry and their relationship with the media last year.
BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan (pictured left) has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Jeremy Paxman (pictured right) as the host of University Challenge, according to reports. The BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, 38, is thought to be the favourite to replace the stalwart BBC quiz show University Challenge after almost three decades. The announcement of Paxman’s departure from the famous quiz show comes a year after the tough-talking journalist, 72, revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
Richard Osman (pictured), who earlier this year quit BBC quiz show Pointless after 13 years to focus on writing fiction, also appeared among the bookie’s frontrunners, alongside Mastermind host Clive Myrie, physicist and presenter Professor Brian Cox
Yesterday, Antiques Roadshow and Question Time host Fiona Bruce (pictured), was declared the bookie’s favourite with Betfair pricing her at 2/1
In an unprecedented move following the airing of the documentary, named The Princes and the Press, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Clarence House, released a joint statement criticising the BBC for ‘giving credibility’ to ‘overblown and unfounded claims from unnamed sources’.
However the BBC defended the documentary at the time, saying: ‘The documentary included interviews with a range of print and broadcast reporters who follow the royals closely and heard their views on the relationship the press has with the royal family and what influences the stories that are published.’
The BBC was also faced a complaint from The Duchess of Sussex following a segment of a podcast – Harry, Meghan And The Media – to accompany the BBC2 documentary, in which it said Meghan Markle had apologised for ‘misleading’ the High Court.
‘This clan is full of fools’: Rantings of Amol Rajan
On William and Kate
Urged them to ‘renounce the luxuries of royal patronage and aristocracy’
Described their public role as a ‘total fraud’, adding: ‘Neither of you have a special claim on the glorious city of Cambridge so quit pretending you do’
Said that rather than a ‘vast palace’ they should raise their family in a ‘decent suburban townhouse’ and send their child to a ‘normal school’
On Prince Philip
A ‘racist buffoon’
On Prince Charles
On the Diamond Jubilee
A ‘celebration of mediocrity’
On the Royal Family
‘Aside from the Queen – whose public image is crafted by an ever-expanding team of propagandists – this clan is unusually full of fools’
The broadcaster said the Duchess of Sussex had asked it to ‘clarify’ that she had, in fact, apologised for ‘not remembering’ asking her former PR chief to help with the controversial royal biography Finding Freedom.
She had previously denied co-operating with the project. The BBC said she had ‘no intention to mislead the court on this’.
Rajan, a former editor of left-wing publication The Independent who is regarded as a rising star at the BBC, was also forced to apologise after making incendiary remarks in articles written in 2012 for the newspaper.
He apologised after describing the public role of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a ‘total fraud’ and called Prince Philip a ‘racist buffoon’.
After the remarks resurfaced, following the airing of the documentary, he tweeted: ‘In reference to very reasonable questions about some foolish commentary from a former life, I want to say I deeply regret it.
‘I wrote things that were rude and immature and I look back on them now with real embarrassment, and ask myself what I was thinking, frankly…’
Even before the controversial documentary aired the BBC faced a ‘bias’ row over selecting Rajan for the role, after it emerged he once called the idea of monarchy ‘absurd’.
He wrote: ‘When it comes to our absurd monarchy, journalists are so bamboozled by aristocratic wealth that they can only portray a confected picture to their audience.
”Mrs Wales – spare us from the ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ – is a beautiful lady, and does noble work. But like the rest of us she is prone to bad moods and bad breath, and doesn’t look her best on a hangover.
‘You wouldn’t know that from media coverage of her. What you get is an idol, not a person. I have absolutely nothing against Prince Harry, or Prince William, or Catherine Middleton, or the Queen.
‘Other royals, particularly Prince Philip and the scientifically illiterate Prince Charles, who champions policies that would lead to the murder by starvation of millions of Africans, I dislike.’
Rajan has also been involved in other controversies at the BBC. Earlier this year his ‘world exclusive’ interview with tennis star Novak Djokovic faced criticism for airing the Serbian ace’s anti-vax views.
The tennis star discussed the chaos around the cancellation of his Australian visa ahead of the Australian Open in January due to his vaccination status.
But it was claimed at the time of the interview that insiders at the corporation were concerned by the interview, including Rajan’s apparent ‘chumminess’ with Djokovic.
Rajan apologised after describing the public role of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (pictured) as a ‘total fraud’ and called Prince Philip a ‘racist buffoon’.
Amol Rajan – the BBC journalist who presented The Princes And The Press – today apologised for his old comments
Rajan has also been involved in other controversies at the BBC. Earlier this year his ‘world exclusive’ interview with tennis star Novak Djokovic (pictured) faced criticism for airing the Serbian ace’s anti-vax views. The tennis star discussed the chaos around the cancellation of his Australian visa ahead of the Australian Open in January due to his vaccination status. But it was claimed at the time of the interview that insiders at the corporation were concerned by the interview, including Rajan’s apparent ‘chumminess’ with Djokovic
The BBC said it received complaints from some viewers who felt the interview was given too much prominence and that it was ‘irresponsible’ to amplify his views on the vaccine.
However, responding to the complaints, a BBC spokesperson said: ‘The BBC’s exclusive interview is the first time Novak Djokovic has spoken about his position himself, and our news editors judged that the interview was of genuine significance and was of interest to our audience, particularly in light of what unfolded in the build-up of the Australian Open in January.
‘We appreciate that not everyone will agree with our choice of story running orders, but we consider that this has been a big ongoing news story which also encompasses key issues such as mandatory vaccination and international travel restrictions.
‘There are still many people who choose not to be vaccinated and we think it is important to hear from all sides of the discussion.
‘However the BBC has always made clear the scientific and medical consensus on vaccination and its effectiveness, and we have done so throughout our coverage of this story.’
It comes after it was announced yesterday that Paxman is stepping down as the host of University Challenge after 28 years – ending his reign as the longest-serving current quizmaster on UK TV.
The 72-year-old, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year, has presented the show since it was revived by the BBC in 1994.
He will film his last episode this autumn and his final series will air on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer from Monday August 29 through to summer 2023. A new presenter will be announced later this week.
The journalist and broadcaster 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.’
In June 2014, Mr Paxman left BBC current affairs programme Newsnight after 25 years as its presenter.
He revealed in May last year that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He said his doctor had him tested for the incurable condition after seeing him on University Challenge during lockdown.
The veteran presenter said he suffered regular falls, including one that left him with ‘black eyes’, and admitted it was ‘very hard to know you’re not going to get better’.
Mr Paxman had a 34-year relationship with Elizabeth Clough, who is the mother of his three children, but left her for book editor Jillian Taylor in 2017.
His departure today prompted speculation about who could replace him as University Challenge presenter, with Fiona Bruce leading the odds at 2/1 followed by Richard Osman on 3/1, according to Betfair.
Jeremy Paxman, who has presented University Challenge since 1994, will film his last episode this autumn, while his final series will air on BBC Two from August 29 through to summer next year
The broadcaster became the face of the revived University Challenge when it returned after a hiatus
Paxman with his partner Jillian Taylor in 2019 at a performance of The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ the Musical. She is in her early forties
*Odds supplied by Betfair unless stated otherwise*
Fiona Bruce – 2/1: Bruce, 58, has presented a raft of flagship BBC shows, including BBC News at Six, Crimewatch, Real Story, Antiques Roadshow, and Fake or Fortune. She’s hosted Question Time since 2019.
Sandi Toksvig – 2/1 (Ladbrokes): The 64-year-old Danish-born broadcaster and comedian is the frontrunner to step into Paxman’s shoes, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes, which is offering her odds of 2/1. Toksvig has ample experience hosting quiz shows after fronting QI since 2016, and became a fan favourite hosting the Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding.
Richard Osman – 3/1: Earlier this year, the 51-year-old announced he was leaving Pointless after 13 years to focus on writing fiction. He will continue to appear on the show’s celebrity specials.
Victoria Coren Mitchell – 7/2: A writer, presenter and professional poker player, the 49-year-old writes weekly columns for The Telegraph and has hosted the BBC television quiz show Only Connect since 2008.
Clive Myrie – 5/1: Aged 57, Myrie has spent most of his BBC career in current affairs and in 2019 began presenting News at Six and News at Ten. But recently he has made a turn towards entertainment and now presents Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind.
Professor Brian Cox – 6/1: The professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester is best known to the public as the presenter of science programmes. Aged 54, he’d bring both academic credentials and presenting flair to the role.
Warwick Davis – 6/1 (Ladbrokes): The actor, best known for roles in the Star Wars and Harry Potter film series, is being given odds of 6/1 by Ladbrokes to take over as University Challenge presenter. The 52-year-old has previous experience in the hosting chair, having presented ITV game shows Celebrity Squares and Tenable as well as appearing as a guest host on Have I Got News For You.
Victoria Derbyshire – 8/1: A BBC veteran, she has done stints at Newsnight, Panorama and BBC Five Live. Her Bafta-winning BBC2 show, Victoria Derbyshire, was axed in 2020 and the 53-year-old journalist has now been one of the leading BBC News Channel presenters since.
Mishal Husain – 8/1: The journalist, 49, has a wealth of BBC experience, but her current affairs focus may hold her back. She is the main Sunday presenter of the BBC News at Ten and BBC Weekend News and one of the main presenters of BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Richard Ayoade – 9/1: An actor, comedian, broadcaster and filmmaker, he is best known for his role as socially awkward IT technician Maurice Moss in Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd. Ayoade, 45, frequently appears on panel shows, including The Big Fat Quiz of the Year.
Dara O’Briain – 9/1: The stand-up comedian and TV presenter is best known in the UK for hosting Mock the Week, Blockbusters and Robot Wars. Mock the Week was cancelled earlier this year after 17 years to ‘create room for new shows’.
June Sarpong– 12/1: The 45-year-old was a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women and is currently a panellist on the Sky News programme The Pledge. In November 2019, Sarpong was appointed as the BBC’s first Director of Creative Diversity.
Kirsty Wark – 12/1: The broadcaster, 67, took over from Mr Paxman for a University Challenge special for Children In Need last year. She has had a long career at the BBC and currently co-presenters Newsnight.
Boris Johnson – 25/1: Currently whiling out his last days as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson appeared in a special edition of University Challenge in 1999 – captaining a team of broadsheet journalists to a loss against their tabloid counterparts. While the Oxford-educated Classicist is expected to remain as an MP after he leaves No10, he will still be able to take on paid roles.
Today, mathematician Bobby Seagull said he was ‘sad’ to see Mr Paxman step down as the host of University Challenge after 28 years.
Seagull, who found fame as a contestant on University Challenge in 2017, said on BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I’m, like many other fans, sad to see the end of the time of the great and formidable Jeremy Paxman.
‘He has just become an institution. Many quiz fans every Monday night we have a routine, the pinnacle of the quiz night is University Challenge, Paxman since 1994 has been the centre piece of that.
‘Jeremy Paxman, he generally really respects the idea of a programme where young people and older students can demonstrate there knowledge, it shows value of knowledge.
‘University Challenge is the epitome of that. There are gimmicky game shows that are fun, University Challenge is all about the knowledge and that is something that is really prized in the 21st century.’
Seagull, who thinks Richard Osman or Kirsty Wark could fill the role, added: ‘There was an element of sneering but I think it is that fearsome nature which made it such a tough show. University Challenge is unashamedly a very challenging quiz show… it is meant to make people feel under immense pressure, it is definitely meant to be the most terrifying quiz show out there.’
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.’
University Challenge’s executive producer Peter Gwyn 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.’
The new presenter of the programme, which pits students against teams of four at rival universities and colleges with questions including ‘starters for 10’, will be announced later this week, the BBC said.
Born in Leeds, Mr Paxman started his career in 1972 on the BBC’s graduate trainee programme, working in local radio and reporting on the Troubles in Belfast.
Shortly after moving to London in 1977, he transferred from Tonight to investigative flagship programme Panorama, before stints on the Six O’Clock News and BBC One’s Breakfast Time.
He became a presenter of Newsnight in 1989, a position he would hold until June 2014 during which time he interviewed high-profile figures from politics and culture.
Bowing out after 25 years, Mr Paxman presented a Newsnight programme including an interview with then-London mayor Boris Johnson, while they both rode a tandem bicycle.
University Challenge first aired in 1962 hosted by Bamber Gascoigne and this year celebrates its 60th anniversary as the Britain’s longest running TV quiz show.
To mark the occasion, a special documentary will air on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on Monday August 29 at 9pm.
Mr Paxman announced in May 2021 he was being treated for Parkinson’s but said his symptoms were ‘currently mild’.
Earlier this month, ITV announced a documentary in which Mr Paxman will reflect on his diagnosis and meet those at the forefront of research.
Mr Paxman opened up about his Parkinson’s diagnosis last year in a newspaper interview.
The presenter told The Sunday Times Magazine he kept falling and hurting himself and would end up with cuts, bruises and black eyes and ‘blood everywhere.’
However, he admitted to the newspaper that he didn’t think he had Parkinson’s, because he thought the disease only manifested through body tremors.
He explained: ‘I kept falling over, I blamed the dog getting under my feet, but after the last time I went down, straight on my face, it was a real mess – black eyes, cuts and blood everywhere – and I thought, ‘This isn’t right’, he said.
The doctor said, ‘You’ve got Parkinson’s.’ It had never occurred to me. I thought, ‘Parkinson’s what?’,’ he added.
Mr Paxman in 2009 with a team from Corpus Christi, Oxford, including (from left), Sam Kay, Lauren Schwartzman, Gail Trimble and James Marsden
Mr Paxman revealed in May last year that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He said his doctor ordered some tests after seeing him on University Challenge during lockdown, pictured
The host with the 2013 University Of Manchester team. Pictured left to right: David Brice, Adam Barr, Richard Gilbert, and Deborah Brown
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.
It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are mild when they first appear, and they gradually worsen.
While involuntary tremors are the symptoms most people associate the condition with, it also manifests itself through slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles, according to the NHS.
Speaking of his diagnosis, Paxman, who wrote a new book, Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain during lockdown, said the only thing people could do was to ‘adapt,’ but admitted he struggles with how unpredictable the disease is.
‘Sometimes you feel awake, sometimes you feel asleep, and how you are today is no guide to how you will be tomorrow.
‘It’s really annoying,’ he said, adding he felt tired most of the time.
‘Parkinson’s is incurable, so you’re stuck with it. And that is hard. Very hard to know you’re not going to get better. You hope you will, but you don’t,’ he added.
But the presenter, who has three grown-up children with ex partner Elizabeth Clough, said he refused to be ‘beaten down’ by the condition and said he hoped it would not totally incapacitate him.
He added that the diagnosis made him feel depressed, but that he didn’t feel it was a series of symptoms.
The presenter also said he didn’t want to join a support group because he was suspicious of them.
But he did say he would donate his brain to Parkinson’s UK after his death to help their research into the condition.
Mr Paxman walks with the aid of a walking stick in Manchester last year, shortly before he revealed his diagnosis
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