Journalist and broadcaster Amol Rajan was today announced as the new host of University Challenge taking over from Jeremy Paxman.
The BBC Radio 4 Today presenter, 38, said replacing Paxman after three decades in the hot seat was ‘dream-come-true territory’.
He said: ‘I have watched University Challenge obsessively for years, addicted to its high standards, glorious title music, and inspirational contestants.
‘It’s the best possible antidote to cynicism about young people, allowing millions of us to test our wits against the best minds of a new generation, and annoy and impress our families by barking answers from the sofa.’
The announcement of Paxman’s departure from the show came a year after the tough-talking journalist, 72, revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Rajan, who attended Cambridge University and who once appeared on the celebrity version of the show, said he was ‘very conscious’ that he had ‘vast shoes to fill’.
BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan (pictured left) is replacing Jeremy Paxman (pictured right) as the host of University Challenge
‘With his immense intellect, authority, and respect from students and viewers alike, Jeremy hands over a format, and show, as strong as ever,’ he said.
“I won’t stop thinking today about my late, beloved Dad, whose devotion to Education brought him to England, whose love of Knowledge I imbibed as a kid, and whose belief in the noble challenge of university so shaped my life.
‘I’ll devote my first Starter for 10 to him – and to the millions of quiz fiends who, like me, love those rare occasions when they know the answer before the students do.”
Rajan has been front and centre of some of the broadcaster’s biggest – and most controversial – documentaries and interviews in recent years.
‘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’
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.
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.
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’
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.
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
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.
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.
Mr Paxman in 2009 with a team from Corpus Christi, Oxford, including (from left), Sam Kay, Lauren Schwartzman, Gail Trimble and James Marsden
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.
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
The doctor said, ‘You’ve got Parkinson’s.’ It had never occurred to me. I thought, ‘Parkinson’s what?’,’ he added.
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