Jeremy Paxman at Law Soc: Unafraid of saying exactly what he was thinking

Shane Kenneally reports on Paxman’s visit to Law Soc last Friday afternoon


The GMB’s peach interior walls began to bulge from the size of the crowd prior to Jeremy Paxman’s talk delivered to the Law Society last Friday, November 4. There was a peculiar uncertainty emerging in idle chatter overheard in snippets and spills. The same questions were being asked over and over again. “What he going to talk about?’, “is this just about University Challenge?”, “are you also here for University Challenge?”.

Paxman’s career, varied, lengthy and hard to summarise, ranged from his presenting of BBC’s Newsnight to the aforementioned University Challenge. One thing which can definitely be said is that he is an individual who for over 40 years has been a constant presence in all facets of the British media.

“He was a man who comfortably commanded the attention of the space; his voice so powerful, and clear it rendered the microphones obsolete.”

This fact which became strikingly clear the moment Paxman strode into the room; shirt wrinkled and tie elsewhere. He was a man who comfortably commanded the attention of the space; his voice so powerful, and clear it rendered the microphones obsolete. His nature was casual and at ease. His wit seemed beyond his own control, as though his mind cannot seem to help itself. The various committee members of the Law-Soc who sat front row subjected themselves to such acerbic comments as he remarked on them wearing “the most ill fitted ties he’s ever seen”.

His next victim was the very award he was there to accept, the Praeses Elit award, presented for his outstanding contribution to journalism. Paxman was decidedly underwhelmed. Paxman found much humour in the body of the email which described the award he had been bestowed as “extremely rare”. He then proceeded to happily recite the names of the previous five recipients, all of whom were announced in the last year.

“He was unafraid of saying exactly what he was thinking.”

Joking and jibbing aside Paxman was conversely a speaker capable of strikingly thoughtful and frank discussion. His comments on the fate and decline of the British Press bore a particular weight given his deep rooted connections within the industry. He was unafraid of saying exactly what he was thinking.

Paxman voiced that “[the BBC is] one of the worst run organisations in Britain” and that he believed Hillary Clinton to be a “terrible candidate”.

Paxman was far from cynical but he was perhaps a tad dismissive. He welcomed questions about the much loved University Challenge, and referred to a recent programme of his for Channel 4 as being on the “warm bath end of television.”

And as the ceremony drew to a close, one got the impression that Paxman could have spoken for hours more, that perhaps he actually enjoyed being there, then again, he’d never admit it.