Paxman: Modern society 'cosseted'

Times Series: Jeremy Paxman said he would "have done better for having time in uniform" Jeremy Paxman said he would "have done better for having time in uniform"

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has said that modern society has become "cosseted" and people are expected to do nothing but "gratify themselves".

The broadcaster, 63, said that while he was "not arguing in favour of national service", he would "have done better for having time in uniform".

He told the Radio Times that "I love this country and very often we don't know how lucky we are", but said that it was difficult to imagine a society where people lived not just for personal pleasure.

Paxman, who wrote Great Britain's Great War and is presenting an accompanying BBC1 series, said: "Can you imagine living in a trench in this weather? Crikey. Soldiers rouged their cheeks so they didn't look white with terror.

"It's such an imaginative leap from our cosseted, indulged lives to something other than the achievement of personal pleasure. That's really why people find it so hard to come to terms with the war."

Paxman said that he had become "annoyed" by the "assumptions" made about the First World War, that it was a " pointless sacrifice".

He added: " We don't need the right-on prejudices of a generation far removed from what happened. ... It ill behoves those of us accustomed to going abroad for pleasure and living our lives for self-fulfilment to imagine how and why these people responded."

He said of his own life: "I'd have done better for having time in uniform. The more we see of other members of our society, we realise we're all human beings with the same hopes and fears.

"I'm not arguing in favour of national service, but I feel in awe of my parents' generation who had to do that, and a bit guilty having such a privileged life. We've had it pretty easy and never been tested.

"Obviously I'm not wishing war on anyone, but it might have been better for all of us if we'd been obliged to do something rather than choosing for ourselves.

"It's difficult to comprehend today a society where people were expected to do things other than gratify themselves."

Paxman dismissed criticism that Newsnight, featuring an appearance from Russell Brand and on Halloween Kirsty Wark dancing to Thriller, had dumbed down, saying: "Do you honestly think I'm going to react to tripe like that?"

He denied that he was bored with the BBC2 current affairs show, saying "I can't help my face. It's long, and I can do nothing about it", but admitted that he would sometimes like to tell viewers: "Not much happened today".

He said: "News is not easily predicted and a certain amount of time has to be filled. I'd often like to see the presenter say, 'Not much happened today, so I'd go to bed if I were you'.

"I've often felt like that on Newsnight. I wouldn't do it, because it's disloyal to colleagues who have slaved long and hard to make bricks without straw. That's the nature of journalism."

He criticised the "green-bench pantomime at Westminster" but said that apathy was not the answer.

"If you don't take part, you'd better belt up and not grumble... There should be a place on the ballot paper for 'None of the above', and if enough people filled that in, the system might start to change," he told the magazine.

"But we're stuck with what we have and I can't think of a better one, although I find the whole green-bench pantomime at Westminster a bit silly. You and I don't have to stand on our hind legs and make speeches. We can have a civilised discussion."

Paxman said that he did not regret staying with Newsnight following its aborted investigation into Jimmy Savile and false accusations against Lord McAlpine, who died on Friday.

"I nearly did resign. But it's staffed by young people who work very hard in spite of resources being cut and cut," he said.

"I love them like a family. Any programme is bigger than an individual - which is why I don't believe in presenter-editors. They become monsters. I thought it was my duty to stay and do what little I could to steady the ship. I don't regret it."

He admitted that he had expressed himself "clumsily" when he criticised the Prime Minister for comments he made on how Britain will mark the centenary of the First World War.

Asked about reports that the Prime Minister once allegedly said that if he wanted to be shouted at by "an overpaid prima donna" he would join a Premier League football club (rather than appear on Newsnight), Paxman said that being criticised was part of his job as a broadcaster and he did not take it personally.

"I'm not sure he said that, but there we are. It's a rough old game and you have to put up with that sort of stuff. You can't care about it," he added.

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