JEREMY Paxman, one of the BBC’s biggest stars and arguably its most feared interviewer, is to quit his long-running role as the presenter of Newsnight after 24 years.
The 63-year-old will present his last edition of the show next month, as he declared: “I should rather like to go to bed at much the same time as most people.”
The BBC said Paxman, who will continue to present University Challenge, made the decision to go last summer but agreed to stay on to help the show recover from its much-publicised difficulties – scrapping an investigation into the Jimmy Savile scandal and wrongly pointing to Lord McAlpine as a sex abuser.
Paxman admitted in October that he had “seriously considered” quitting Newsnight over its handling of Savile and Lord McAlpine and the damage done to the reputation of the current affairs show.
However, he said at the time: “In the end, I decided that there were several bad decisions – they were individual bad decisions – and I felt that loyalty commanded that I stayed.”
Details of his departure have emerged less than a month after Paxman revealed he would be staging a one-man show at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
He said at the time: “Some fool said you only regret the things in life that you don’t do, but I’m regretting this already.”
Paxman is believed to be one of the BBC’s highest earners, on a reported salary of around £800,000 for both programmes.
He started his career in broadcasting “making the tea” at Radio Brighton, and cutting his journalistic teeth covering the Northern Ireland Troubles for three years.
He was a reporter on the Tonight programme, then Panorama, before presenting the BBC’s Six O’Clock News and the Breakfast Time programme, joining Newsnight in 1989.
The BBC statement announcing Paxman’s departure said he had agreed to stay with the programme following the appointment of a replacement editor to help its new team “bed down” after “a difficult period for Newsnight”.
Newsnight executives were heavily criticised for deciding to scrap an investigation into Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes – ITV’s rival current affairs show Exposure eventually broke the story – and for running a separate piece that led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse. The bungles cost then-director general George Entwistle his job just weeks after being appointed.
The BBC’s current director general, Tony Hall, last night hailed Paxman as “a rare and dazzling talent”.
He added: “He has a unique ability to create moments of real discomfort for politicians and memorable delight for audiences. For that cussed brilliance and much more besides, the BBC and our audiences will always be in his debt.”
In a statement, Paxman said: “I have decided it is time to move on from Newsnight.
“After 25 years, I should rather like to go to bed at much the same time as most people. This was a decision
I reached – and informed the BBC of – last July. I shall work out the remainder of my contract and will not seek another.
“It’s been fun. I have had the pleasure of working with lots of clever, creative and amusing people. I think I’ve been lucky and wish the programme well.”
Newsnight’s editor Ian Katz said: “It’s been a huge privilege to work with Jeremy for the last eight months. I’m deeply grateful to him for delaying his departure to help renew the programme, and for the extraordinary support and generosity he has shown.
“We – and the viewers – will miss him greatly, but he leaves the show in good health and with a formidable new team in place.”
Paxman’s appearance in genealogy TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? caused a stir when he broke down in tears after learning that his great-grandmother, from Glasgow, had her poor relief withdrawn when she had an illegitimate child, but moved her family of 11 children into a one-room tenement and then emigrated to Canada.