Jeremy Paxman: BBC is like a declining empire

Newsnight presenter also wants Foreign Office to disband – but says the Queen is “brilliant”

Jeremy Paxman has criticised the BBC’s decision to sell Television Centre, comparing the relocation of staff away from the iconic west London building to the actions of a declining empire.


In an interview for today’s new edition of Radio Times magazine, Paxman remarked: “They always said that the way you know if the British are going to de-colonise is when they start building massive government buildings – that was certainly the case in India. And the BBC’s much the same. What organisation – at a time when it has no money, allegedly – would move from cheap square footage in west London to Oxford Circus?”

The BBC is in the process of moving TV Centre-based staff either to new offices in Salford, or to Broadcasting House in central London – which the Corporation already owns, but which is being extensively refurbished in order to house BBC News and other major operations.

Paxman, whose documentary series Empire begins on Monday on BBC1 and who wrote about Britain’s imperial past for Radio Times last year, named the BBC as one of the legacies of Empire, alongside sport, religion and “the prevalence of the English language”. Asked by RT’s interviewer Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP and historian, whether he ever felt the last echoes of Empire at the BBC, Paxman replied: “No, they’re all far too politically correct, I’m afraid. I’ve tried!”

The University Challenge quizmaster also held forth on Britain’s relationships with other countries in the present day. “There’s a very strong case for getting rid of the whole of the Foreign Office, apart from trade missions and consular services,” he said. “We could spend the money on expanding the British Council, funding scholarships in Britain and developing the World Service of the BBC. That’s the way you spread influence in the modern world.” 

Discussing the Queen’s role as “the living expression of the State”, Paxman said he “used to be a republican” – but that he is now a big fan of the Queen. “She’s brilliant, isn’t she?”


Read the full interview in Radio Times, on sale today.