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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s television

Paxman: supporting Parkinson’s disease

Evaluation: ****

make me prime minister

Evaluation: **

God in heaven, life plays cruel tricks. Imagine the reaction 20 years ago to Jeremy Paxman, bane of all politicians and TV’s rudest man, if you asked him to play with a pink ball for the camera.

This man could roast a junior director alive with the flames of his searing disdain. Yet there he was, on Paxman: Supporting Parkinson’s Disease (ITV), not only bouncing a ball, but also waving his arms during ballet class and pouting like a Kardashian.

All of these physical therapies are meant to ward off the worst symptoms of an illness that took him by surprise while walking his dog, Derek. One minute he was strolling the streets near his London home, the next he was waking up on a bench as worried passers-by waited with him for an ambulance.

He had fallen – although he couldn’t remember how. Although most of us recognize some of the signs of Parkinson’s disease, or what in Napoleonic times was called “tremor paralysis”, far fewer knew much about the disease until she knocks.

God in heaven, life plays cruel tricks. Imagine the reaction 20 years ago to Jeremy Paxman, bane of all politicians and TV’s rudest man, if you asked him to play with a pink ball for the camera

He has been candid about how Parkinson’s disease amplifies his lifelong bouts of depression. “I’m beaten and discouraged,” he told his physiotherapist. “Everything is dark and dark.”

His determination to be honest about all aspects meant a sad behind-the-scenes look at University Challenge, the trivia game he’s been hosting for 29 years.

It is due to tape its final episode on October 15. In the chair of the master of questions, he is incisive and absent-minded as ever.

But to see him dragging himself into the workshop, grabbing the arm of an assistant as he tackled a low step, and being helped with his shirt buttons is to realize just how much he hid from the public gaze.

University Challenge could have helped his diagnosis. After this fall, he was taken to A&E where a consulting neurologist recognized him and came. He wasn’t after a selfie. Instead, he said, “I think you have Parkinson’s disease.”

While watching the game show, this doctor had noticed that Paxman’s face was gradually becoming less expressive. It’s a condition known as Parkinson’s mask and facial exercises – like pouting like a reality TV star – can help, by strengthening and loosening the muscles.

His determination to be honest about all aspects meant a sad behind-the-scenes look at University Challenge, the trivia game he's been hosting for 29 years.

His determination to be honest about all aspects meant a sad behind-the-scenes look at University Challenge, the trivia game he’s been hosting for 29 years.

Paul “Sinnerman” Sinha of The Chase, another Quiz devotee and sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, encouraged him to pop his cheeks. Paxo complied, with a shrug that said he might as well laugh at himself – though he refuses to admit that he still feels happy. ‘Wry fun’ is as far as it will go.

His many friends want to rally around, including former Tory leader Lord Howard, who taunted him about that infamous Newsnight encounter where Paxman asked the same thing 12 times.

“You asked the question so many times only because the next guest didn’t show up,” said Lord H. “You only found out afterwards,” retorted Paxo.

Paxman would have no mercy on the ingenuous and Make Me Prime Minister (C4) enthusiasts. There’s the seed of a major TV format here, but first it has to decide what it’s trying to do: encourage people to get involved in Westminster, or mock the claims of show-offs desperate to a dose of television glory.

Several of the candidates, including this week’s team leaders Kelly and Holly, have real potential as MPs. One was a former beauty queen who cut her teeth in Scotland’s youth parliament, the other a professional footballer who captained Leicester’s women’s team.

Both seemed eligible. But as long as this show also features wrestling matches between twerps dressed as fast food cartons, it’s not worth taking seriously.

Extra scene of the week: Tying all his tangled loose ends in a flamboyant bow, writer Steven Moffat has deftly set up the next series of Inside Man (BBC1). No spoilers, if you haven’t seen the end credits coda – but what a very clever final twist.