UK Politics

Paxman's most memorable Newsnight encounters

Jeremy Paxman in a 2002 edition

In his 25 years in the Newsnight hot seat, Jeremy Paxman has earned a reputation as one of the most fearless and feared interviewers in the game.

His status is such that the phrase to be "paxoed" has entered the media lexicon, meaning a journalistic "going over" to be avoided by hapless politicians.

However, many of Westminster's toughest and wiliest operators have succumbed.

The journalist has been no respecter of standing or affiliation, giving an equally rough ride to interviewees, whether they were Conservative or Labour, prime ministers, masters of the universe or junior officials.

Some hardened politicians reportedly refused to appear on the programme when he was presenting while others donned their tin hats and became regular sparring partners.

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Media captionOne of Paxman's most famous grillings was when he interviewed Michael Howard in 1997

Perhaps more than any other, Michael Howard's appearance on Newsnight in 1997 has entered broadcasting and political folklore.

In the middle of a Tory leadership contest, Mr Howard was asked about his relationship with the former head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis, whom he had sacked in 1995 after a series of escapes by IRA prisoners.

The Newsnight host famously put the same question 12 times to the former home secretary without appearing to get a satisfactory answer.

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Media captionChloe Smith struggled to appear on top of her brief on Newsnight in 2012

He later played down what many immediately hailed as a moment of journalistic genius, suggesting that he could not think of anything else to ask him as the interview progressed.

'Praying together'

The BBC had well-documented run-ins with the Labour government in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with much probing about the relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush.

In a 2003 edition, Jeremy Paxman took a different tack and appeared to take the prime minister genuinely by surprise when he asked him whether he and the US president had prayed together.

The same question has been posed several times since then but it was Paxman who asked it first.

Like Mr Blair, William Hague is regarded as one of the most talented media performers of his generation but that did not protect him when he was put on the spot in 2009 about Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's tax status.

As before, the Newsnight host deployed the tactic of asking the same question, or variations on the same question, on multiple occasions and the then shadow foreign secretary seemed taken aback by this.

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Media captionConrad Black's appearance on Newsnight was a robust encounter

Some politicians have literally had their careers made or broken by their appearances on Newsnight.

Junior Treasury minister and rising Conservative star Chloe Smith was dispatched to appear on the programme in 2012 to talk about a proposed delay to a rise in fuel duty.

What followed was painful to watch as the minister struggled to appear on top of her brief and give the appearance that she was privy to what was going on in the upper echelons of her department.

Chancellor George Osborne was criticised for not going on the programme himself and allowing Ms Smith to take the fire.

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Media captionRussell Brand mused on God, identity and voting in his clash with Paxman

Although remaining magnanimous about the encounter, Ms Smith was moved to another job in a reshuffle that year and has since left the government.

'English fool'

The Newsnight host has not always had it his own way, of course, and some of his most memorable encounters have taken place when his subjects have fought back.

Media magnate Conrad Black famously chided Jeremy Paxman as a "gullible, priggish, English fool" when questioned about his (Black's) conviction for fraud and subsequent imprisonment.

And many felt the legendary interviewer finally met his match when he came up against Russell Brand last year.

His joust with the comedian and provocateur, in which Russell Brand mused on the point of voting and the need for a popular revolution, became an instant hit on social media.

The Newsnight host took his interviewee to task for not being "arsed" to vote but had to admit afterwards that he had also failed to do so on one recent occasion.

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