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The BBC’s meanest journalist is stepping down. Here’s his most notorious interview.

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Jeremy Paxman, a British journalist who became a household name for his abrasive style of interviewing guests, on Wednesday announced he will quit the show that made him famous, BBC's "Newsnight."

The news, which comes via the Guardian, might not mean a lot to American readers. But Paxman is seen by many of his fans as the quintessential British journalist, displaying a mixture of dry wit and clear distaste for his guests that made him equally loved and loathed across the British isle.

Paxman joined "Newsnight" in 1989, but his most famous moment is from 1997, when he interviewed Michael Howard, who had then been the home secretary of the United Kingdom until losing an election weeks earlier. The exact details of the interview aren't that important now (it involves whether Howard had threatened to overrule Derek Lewis, then the head of Her Majesty's Prison Service), but what matters is that Paxman keeps repeating the question.

In fact, he asks the same question 12 times: 14, if you include two variations on the wording. Howard dodges the question each time, and Paxman eventually ends up laughing at the former home secretary's evasion.

Paxman later revealed that he had been trying to stall as the next segment wasn't ready, but it didn't matter: The interview gave Paxman a reputation as the BBC's fiercest interviewer, and it may well have seriously hindered Howard's career.

Sadly, Paxman's final years at "Newsnight" may be overshadowed by last year's Jimmy Savile scandal, where the BBC's premier investigative news show was found to have abandoned an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Savile, another BBC star. It was a huge deal in Britain – perhaps best described as a British version of the Penn State and Jerry Sandusky situation, but maybe even bigger – and Paxman himself described the decision by "Newsnight" to not follow up on allegations against Savile as "pathetic."

According to the Guardian, Paxman tried to quit the show last year, but he agreed to stay on while a new team was brought in after the Savile scandal. The 63-year-old Paxman will host his last show in June, although he will continue to host "University Challenge," another BBC show he works on.

For a more other of Paxman's interviewing style, we've included an excerpt from a combative interview with Tony Blair in 2005 and a relatively friendly one with Russell Brand in 2013.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.



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