It was a lovely sunny July afternoon, so perhaps one can forgive Paxman for confessing that he would rather have been fly fishing on the Dove. Indeed he joked that the chance to do some fishing later that evening had been the reason for him agreeing to come to the Buxton literary festival.
Peter Hennessy was in the chair and had the tricky and at times uncomfortable task of conducting an interview with one of the Grand Masters of the trade, and from the body language it was evident that Paxman was not comfortable sitting on the other side of the Table. The interview, like the book he was there to promote ‘A Life in Questions.’ gave little of substance away.
Nevertheless, a packed marque was treated to a vintage Paxman performance, perhaps tempered slightly by the venue and a grudging respect for the audience. He has never suffered fools gladly but he has a dry humour that smooths over some of his caustic remarks.
The feeling through out the hour was of a man who genuinely does not believe that he has achieved anything special with his broadcast career. Peter Hennessy intimated that perhaps the books that he had written were an attempt to leave some more lasting legacy, but Paxman referred to them as extended essays, as if this somehow diminished their worth.
He has written nine books, mainly about power and the establishment. He admitted that while researching his book on Royalty he found that he had changed his opinion and came to the conclusion that a Constitutional Monarchy was probably the best of a bad bunch of political systems. That was as close to a revelation as we were going to get.
He has of course had a significant impact on broadcasting and politics. His style of interviewing helped challenge the deference society, challenging politicians, allowing them no comfortable bolt hole in which to hide, and often dismissing them with a withering glare when they failed to communicate a credible case.
Some would say that he has in part been responsible for the collapse in respect for politicians. You might also say though that they have not needed any help but have achieved this through their own efforts.
I wanted to ask him if he regretted coming back to do the leadership ‘debates’? But the mood of the room was more of a ‘Sunday supplement life in the day of feature, with a who would you most liked to have interviewed from history’ style of questioning. (Henry VIII since you ask)
It was an entertaining hour, and well worth going to, but I was left with a slight feeling that something had been missed, perhaps being held back even? There was unfinished business. He was asked to stand for Kensington as a Conservative in 2014, and approached as a possible candidate for Mayor of London, Both these offers were dismissed. Would he consider entering Parliament? The answer he gave was clear and unambiguous. No. And Hennessy’s suggestion that he might become a Lord got the withering look.
We shall see.