Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Paxman: from new boy in Belfast to award winner

Jeremy Paxman, the grand inquisitor of Newsnight, is reflecting on the four years he spent learning his journalistic trade at Broadcasting House in Belfast.

And it is all down to Robin Walsh, who as BBC Northern Ireland news editor gave the 23-year-old Jeremy his first job 35 years ago when the Troubles were at their height.

Walsh, who went on to greater things in London with the Beeb and then returned home as BBC Northern Ireland controller, was a guest speaker at a swish affair in London when Paxman — just turned 59 — received the prestigious Media Society special award in recognition of his distinguished career which began in the province.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, impressionist Rory Bremner and former Home Secretary Michael Howard, who was famously asked the same question by Paxman 14 times, were also among those paying tribute to the Newsnight host.

“I was invited to speak about what the organisers called Jeremy's days in short trousers in Belfast,” explained Walsh.

“I pointed out that even from the day he was born Jeremy Paxman never ever wore short trousers.

”Walsh recalled that Jeremy was one of the first reporters on BBC NI's long-running current affairs programme Spotlight and told his audience that, when asked about his role on Spotlight, Paxman replied that “actually it was to cause trouble, really”.

And cause trouble he did, the assembly heard. A profile of a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason so infuriated the politician that he threatened the BBC over the licence fee.

Paxman was also the first television reporter to reveal in depth the existence of the Irish National Liberation Army in a programme that went to the highest levels of the BBC before transmission.

“He may have caused trouble, but it was the right sort of trouble,” observed Walsh.

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