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Spilt words

A Life in Questions

A quickish sort of review today... mainly because, while I enjoy them very much, I always find biographical, memoir type books hard to review.

Anyway, A Life in Questions by Jeremy Paxman.

Jeremy Paxman, or 'Paxo' as he's more commonly referred to here, is a household name in the UK. Not only is he famous for his rather forthright interviewing of famous politicians but he's also the question master on University Challenge, a quiz show for students which is immensely popular. Add to that quite a few excellent TV documentary series on subjects such as the Victorians and their art, World War One, The EU, The British Empire (I can recommend all of these) and you have a long and varied career.

Firstly, the author's childhood is charted at - what he refers to - as a minor public school, Malvern College, then his years at St. Catharine's college, Cambridge and thus onto his first job at the BBC in 1972. He worked in Northern Ireland during The Troubles... in fact he was all over the world in various trouble spots such as The Middle East and The Balkans, until he finally decided enough was enough and went on to do various news presenting jobs... landing a position on Newsnight in 1989.

This book made for very interesting and entertaining reading. Paxman is hugely self-deprecating throughout, laughing at himself and admitting that much of his success is down to being in the right place at the right time. I've watched, probably, every one of his documentaries and read four or five of his highly entertaining books (I particularly recommend, On Royalty, The Political Animal and The English). So I suppose you could call me a bit of a fan. I like not only his irreverant writing style but also his irreverent attitude to the powers that be and people in high places who proclaim themselves to be better than the hoi polloi and then turn out not to be. I also like his intelligence and the fact that he's a very keen reader.

A Life in Questions is written in a very readable, but intelligent way. Paxman makes his readers laugh with his way with words and sense of humour and I'm a real sucker for that. This is, necessarily, quite an opinionated book. I don't always agree with him but he always states his case clearly and concisely and always make me think... which for me is one of the reasons I like reading this kind of thing. It's also quite fascinating to hear behind the scenes anecdotes about his experiences with some of the people he's met or worked with. Some he has a lot of respect for, others not so much. I'm still wondering who 'the news bunny' is. And Sylvia Nailvarnish...

Now of course I want to read the couple of books I have of his which I've not yet read, The Victorians and Empire both based on documentaries I've watched. I also need to get his book on World War One. Highly recommend this one to anyone interested in the lives of political journalists... I realise there probably aren't that many of us. LOL!


I'd love it if Paxman inherited one of the Question Times from a Dimbleby, I miss him and I think politics is all the poorer for the lack of a Paxman or a Robin Day. This book sounds interesting and I'll look out for it. Thanks very much for the rec!
Funnily enough there is a bit about David Dimbleby in the book. Seems that every time an election arrives the powers that be expect him not to want to do it any more. But each time he wants to carry on. Jeremy had it sort of hinted to him that he would get the job when Dimbleby retires from it... but he never does! In the end Paxo went to C4 for the last election. I think politics is the poorer for a Paxman or a Robin Day too (nice to see someone else remembers 'him').
Although I'm not familiar with his broadcast documentaries or his books, it's very rare for a public figure to give any of the credit for his successes to "being in the right place at the right time." So kudos to him for lack of egoism, for a start!
Kudos indeed. This is one very level headed guy.