British broadcaster Jeremy Paxman, known for his aggressive inquisitions of the powerful, is to step down as presenter of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight after 25 years, the show announced on Wednesday.
“Jeremy Paxman has decided to step down as the presenter of Newsnight, a position he has held with great distinction for 25 years,” said a BBC statement.
The presenter told BBC Director General Tony Hall of his decision last summer, but agreed to stay on to help implement sweeping changes brought about by its disastrous handling of a child sex abuse story.
“The BBC is immensely grateful for this gesture, which is entirely in keeping with his outstanding contribution to both Newsnight and, over four decades, the BBC itself,” said the statement.
Hall called it “a particularly poignant moment”.
“I have known Jeremy and relished working with him, since the day I joined the BBC in 1973, and I am therefore better placed than most to know what a remarkable job he has done at Newsnight,” he added.
He will continue to host BBC Two’s highbrow quiz University Challenge.
Many establishment figures have been cut down to size by Paxman’s withering sarcasm and relentless grillings during his quarter-century tenure.
In 1997 he famously asked then home secretary Michael Howard the same question 12 times without receiving the “yes” or “no” answer he demanded.
More recently, he tore into junior treasury minister, 30-year-old Chloe Smith, after she was sent by current finance minster George Osborne to explain budget U-turns.
“You can’t even tell me when you were told what the change of policy was,” he told the visibly shaken Smith.
“You were told some time today clearly, was it before lunch or after lunch?” he asked.
BBC boss Hall celebrated Paxman’s “rare and dazzling talent,” saying he had “a unique ability to create moments of real discomfort for politicians and memorable delight for audiences.”
A recent interview with Russell Brand, in which the British actor and comedian called for a revolution, soon went viral and has gathered over 10 million views on YouTube.
Brand later tweeted: “Paxman come back! This is not the revolution we intended.”
His style has been imitated and lampooned in equal measures. Malcolm Tucker, chief protagonist of BBC satire The Thick of It memorably described Paxman as a “big rubbery horse face of mock incredulity”.
Newsnight is looking to rebuild its reputation following its mishandling of a item on sexual assault commissioned in the wake of abuse claims against late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile.
A police investigation concluded that Savile was a predatory sex offender who abused youngsters as young as eight over more than 50 years.
The revelations sparked a crisis at the BBC, both over how he was able to carry out such attacks and about the broadcaster’s failure to report the claims against him when they were first raised in the weeks after his death aged 84.
The flagship show compounded the crisis by airing a report that wrongly accused former Conservative politician Lord McAlpine of being a paedophile.
The scandal led to the resignation of then director general George Entwistle.