So who will be the next University Challenge host? BBC bosses will reveal presenter to replace Jeremy Paxman later this week with Fiona Brice, Richard Osman and Victoria Coren Mitchell among the favourites
- The 72-year-old, who has presented University Challenge since 1994, will film his final episode this autumn
- He said it had ‘been a blast’ and getting to meet ‘some of the swottier brains in the country… gives me hope’
- New presenter will be announced next week, as University Challenge prepares to mark 60-year anniversary
- A round-up of betting odds suggests Fiona Bruce and Sandi Toksvig are joint favourites to replace him
Jeremy Paxman is stepping down as the host of University Challenge after 28 years, the BBC announced today – prompting a rash of speculation about who will replace him.
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, making him the longest-serving current quizmaster on British TV.
With the BBC set to announce his replacement later this week, a round-up of betting odds from Betfair and Ladbrokes suggests newsreader Fiona Bruce and comedian Sandi Toksvig are joint favourites on 2/1, followed by former Pointless host Richard Osman on 3/1.
Other mooted contenders are Only Connect host Victoria Coren-Mitchell (7/2), newsman Clive Myrie (5/1), and academic turned documentary presenter Professor Brian Cox (6/1).
Kirsty Wark has been tipped by former University Challenge star Bobby Seagull, but the bookies are less confident, with Betfair putting her on 12/1.
Way down the list on 25/1 is Boris Johnson, with the departing Prime Minister seen as a remote possibility due to his previous involvement on the show and passion for Classics.
Mr Paxman 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.
With the BBC set to announce Mr Paxman’s replacement later this week, a round-up of betting odds from Betfair and Ladbrokes suggests newsreader Fiona Bruce and comedian Sandi Toksvig are joint favourites on 2/1, followed by former Pointless host Richard Osman on 3/1
Former Pointless host Richard Osman (left) is on 3/1, while other mooted contenders are Only Connect host Victoria Coren-Mitchell (7/2)
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
*Odds supplied by Betfair unless stated otherwise*
Fiona Bruce – 2/1: Bruce, 58, has presented a raft of flagship BBC shows, including BBC News at Six, Crimewatch, Real Story, Antiques Roadshow, and Fake or Fortune. She’s hosted Question Time since 2019.
Sandi Toksvig – 2/1 (Ladbrokes): The 64-year-old Danish-born broadcaster and comedian is the frontrunner to step into Paxman’s shoes, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes, which is offering her odds of 2/1. Toksvig has ample experience hosting quiz shows after fronting QI since 2016, and became a fan favourite hosting the Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding.
Richard Osman – 3/1: Earlier this year, the 51-year-old announced he was leaving Pointless after 13 years to focus on writing fiction. He will continue to appear on the show’s celebrity specials.
Victoria Coren Mitchell – 7/2: A writer, presenter and professional poker player, the 49-year-old writes weekly columns for The Telegraph and has hosted the BBC television quiz show Only Connect since 2008.
Clive Myrie – 5/1: Aged 57, Myrie has spent most of his BBC career in current affairs and in 2019 began presenting News at Six and News at Ten. But recently he has made a turn towards entertainment and now presents Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind.
Professor Brian Cox – 6/1: The professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester is best known to the public as the presenter of science programmes. Aged 54, he’d bring both academic credentials and presenting flair to the role.
Warwick Davis – 6/1 (Ladbrokes): The actor, best known for roles in the Star Wars and Harry Potter film series, is being given odds of 6/1 by Ladbrokes to take over as University Challenge presenter. The 52-year-old has previous experience in the hosting chair, having presented ITV game shows Celebrity Squares and Tenable as well as appearing as a guest host on Have I Got News For You.
Victoria Derbyshire – 8/1: A BBC veteran, she has done stints at Newsnight, Panorama and BBC Five Live. Her Bafta-winning BBC2 show, Victoria Derbyshire, was axed in 2020 and the 53-year-old journalist has now been one of the leading BBC News Channel presenters since.
Mishal Husain – 8/1: The journalist, 49, has a wealth of BBC experience, but her current affairs focus may hold her back. She is the main Sunday presenter of the BBC News at Ten and BBC Weekend News and one of the main presenters of BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Richard Ayoade – 9/1: An actor, comedian, broadcaster and filmmaker, he is best known for his role as socially awkward IT technician Maurice Moss in Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd. Ayoade, 45, frequently appears on panel shows, including The Big Fat Quiz of the Year.
Dara O’Briain – 9/1: The stand-up comedian and TV presenter is best known in the UK for hosting Mock the Week, Blockbusters and Robot Wars. Mock the Week was cancelled earlier this year after 17 years to ‘create room for new shows’.
June Sarpong– 12/1: The 45-year-old was a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women and is currently a panellist on the Sky News programme The Pledge. In November 2019, Sarpong was appointed as the BBC’s first Director of Creative Diversity.
Kirsty Wark – 12/1: The broadcaster, 67, took over from Mr Paxman for a University Challenge special for Children In Need last year. She has had a long career at the BBC and currently co-presenters Newsnight.
Boris Johnson – 25/1: Currently whiling out his last days as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson appeared in a special edition of University Challenge in 1999 – captaining a team of broadsheet journalists to a loss against their tabloid counterparts. While the Oxford-educated Classicist is expected to remain as an MP after he leaves No10, he will still be able to take on paid roles.
Today, mathematician Bobby Seagull said he was ‘sad’ to see Mr Paxman step down as the host of University Challenge after 28 years.
Seagull, who found fame as a contestant on University Challenge in 2017, said on BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I’m, like many other fans, sad to see the end of the time of the great and formidable Jeremy Paxman.
‘He has just become an institution. Many quiz fans every Monday night we have a routine, the pinnacle of the quiz night is University Challenge, Paxman since 1994 has been the centre piece of that.
‘Jeremy Paxman, he generally really respects the idea of a programme where young people and older students can demonstrate there knowledge, it shows value of knowledge.
‘University Challenge is the epitome of that. There are gimmicky game shows that are fun, University Challenge is all about the knowledge and that is something that is really prized in the 21st century.’
Seagull, who thinks Richard Osman or Kirsty Wark could fill the role, added: ‘There was an element of sneering but I think it is that fearsome nature which made it such a tough show. University Challenge is unashamedly a very challenging quiz show… it is meant to make people feel under immense pressure, it is definitely meant to be the most terrifying quiz show out there.’
Kate Phillips, the BBC’s director of unscripted, said: ‘Since the BBC revived University Challenge in 1994 Jeremy has been at the front and centre of the show’s success and is without doubt one of the world’s finest, and most formidable quizmasters.
‘We are hugely grateful to Jeremy for his dedication to the programme for an incredible 28 years, he will be much missed by us all and the show’s millions of viewers.’
University Challenge’s executive producer Peter Gwyn said: ‘Jeremy has been our presenter, colleague and friend for 28 years, and everyone on the University Challenge production team will miss him greatly.
‘He’ll be sorely missed too by both our audience and by the generations of students who’ve relished the chance to pit themselves against him in more than a thousand matches.’
The new presenter of the programme, which pits students against teams of four at rival universities and colleges with questions including ‘starters for 10’, will be announced later this week, the BBC said.
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.
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.
The doctor said, ‘You’ve got Parkinson’s.’ It had never occurred to me. I thought, ‘Parkinson’s what?’,’ he added.
Mr Paxman in 2009 with a team from Corpus Christi, Oxford, including (from left), Sam Kay, Lauren Schwartzman, Gail Trimble and James Marsden
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
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.
It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.
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
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