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Jeremy Paxman (Pic: BBC)
Jeremy Paxman (Pic: BBC)
Jeremy Paxman (Pic: BBC)

Let’s not mince words: Americans love being told off by the Brits on TV. I don’t fully claim to understand the psychology, but I should imagine part of it is listening to the sneering contempt dripping from an upper crust (and it is always upper crust) British voice and feeling a) relief that you are not the person being spoken to b) a thrilling tingle of fear that doesn’t come from listening to angry men shouting and c) the impulse to tell the jumped-up windbag to BACK OFF, BUDDY and start making angry emotive noises. It’s a form of catharsis.

So, given that CNN has just got rid of Piers Morgan, a man with the ambition to be a scold, but not the bone-deep authority, surely a worthy replacement would be Jeremy Paxman? He announced his retirement from the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs show Newsnight yesterday, and he’s capable of reducing anyone—politicians, campaigners and celebrities alike—to a quivering mess, just by being a bit flinty, a lot superior and insisting that they answer the questions he has put to them.

Here’s a good example, an interview with Tony Blair in which one man is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, talking about the higher power that he feels he answers to, and the other man looks down from an even loftier plateau, if their respective non-verbal communications are anything to go by:

Then there’s Paxman vs. Boris Johnson, in which the putative mayor of London fails to answer a question directly for quite some time.

And his most celebrated dust-up — Paxman vs. Michael Howard, Home Secretary in 1997. You don’t even need to know the background details, just enjoy the fireworks:

Here’s his most recent stand-off. Paxman vs. Russell Brand on the topic of revolution:

Ironically, there’s some talk on Twitter about getting Piers Morgan to replace Jeremy on Newsnight, not least from, er, Piers Morgan. That would be an extraordinarily bad idea. For all that Paxman is a pantomime villain, more people seem to genuinely like him than the pugnacious and deliberately provocative Piers, which is partly where that authority comes from. Also, while Jeremy is clearly a bone-deep skeptic, it does not appear to come from an entrenched political standpoint. Everyone feels the scorn, whether left wing, right wing or centrist.

Granted, the rule of the Great British Scold has taken a hit recently, with Piers and Simon Cowell returning to the U.K., but that’s all the more reason to bring over the greatest and least patient huffpot of the lot. C’mon America, how about it?

See more:
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By Fraser McAlpine