Book review – Jeremy Paxman: A Life in Questions

Santa kindly got me this book. I have just finished it – which for me counts as “speed reading”. (I once spent an entire year reading “To kill a mocking bird“).

Jeremy Paxman’s memoirs, “A Life in Questions” is an excellent read – it presents a journalist of great integrity, an interesting life story which is, in turns, fascinating, gripping and, sometimes, hilarious.

The book is essentially topped and tailed with Paxman’s rather unusual relationship with his father, who seems distant and enigmatic. Although Paxman’s upbringing was comparatively middle class, it was by no means orthodox.

I found the stories of Jeremy Paxman’s earliest years in journalism very gripping. He gives a valuable insight into the Northern Irish “Troubles” through his experience as a BBC journalist there for three years. The book alone is worth its cover price just for that chapter.

What comes across is that Paxman has done the “hard yards” as a journalist and broadcaster (across the world) – the picture he paints of life at the BBC is by no means glamourous. It seems that his respected integrity comes from this experienced background.

He relates all his famous interview and other encounters and incidents – the infamous Michael Howard “Did you threaten to overrule him?” is told with due hilarity – the questions to Charles Kennedy about drinking, the Newsnight episodes about reporting or not reporting on paedophilia stories etc etc. He also gives an interesting insight into his passion for fly fishing. There are lots of hilarious incidents – perhaps the stuff about his encounters with Russell Brand were the most funny. He relates an interview following Brand’s launch of “My Booky Wook”:

His book was about his ferocious desire to be famous. This ambition to be recognised, but not necessarily for any particular skill – as a great scientist, gymnast, philsopher or manaufacturer, for example – is one of the most noticeable aspects of contemporary life.

Where, I asked, did he think the obsession had come from?

His reply – ‘I suppose it’s an idea that deeply permeates because it’s omnipresent’ – didn’t take us very far. Things did not get much more precise after that.

– Well, it tickled me. Interestingly, one of Paxman’s interviews with Brand has so far received 11,466,477 hits on YouTube and is perhaps the most watched of any interview which Paxman has done with anyone. It is worth watching, if only for the look of incredulity on Paxman’s face throughout some of the interview.

Paxman rounds up the book with some very wise reflections on the BBC, journalism and life in general.

I think he has just become one of my heroes.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Steve Trevethan 12th Jan '17 - 7:08pm

    What was Mr Paxman doing in the run up to the last attack on and still continuing war/conflict in Iraq?
    Why did he not check out Colin Powell who already had “form” in his handling of the My Lai massacre?

  • Adrian Collett 13th Jan '17 - 10:50am

    No-one, in my opinion, has done more to undermine people’s confidence in their democracy than Jeremy Paxman. Every politician was portrayed as likely to be a lying cheat and rarely was anyone, of any persuasion, allowed to explain any complicated issue or point of view without constant interruption or hectoring. Maybe the book will prove me wrong, but I am no admirer of Mr P’s approach.

  • Simon Banks 13th Jan '17 - 1:43pm

    It would be interesting if only because I saw Paxman’s “Who do you think you are?” programme and found him extraordinarily spiky when anything approached his emotions. “What a stupid question!” he snapped at a perfectly reasonable question which sought to explore his emotional reaction to something.

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