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Jeremy Paxman's Newsnight quiz

Jeremy Paxman's Know Your Newsnight Quiz

There are various things about Newsnight which ought forever to remain secret. Not the least of them being the occasional tears, fist-fights, and typewriters through windows which marked the early days. Still, here are a few things you might admit to knowing. Or perhaps not.

Jeremy Paxman on the Newsnight set

1.) Come again?

Which presenter complained that they were having a difficult time on air, because "I've got Ian Smith coming in my ear"?

Live red light showing during a broadcast
  1. Peter Snow
  2. Charles Wheeler
  3. Kirsty Wark

2.) Lethal invitation

Which Nazi survived the Allied liberation of Berlin, only to die when invited to London for a Newsnight discussion about the legacy of his party?

Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler, Arno Breker
  1. Albert Speer
  2. Arno Breker
  3. Klaus Barbie

3.) The better half?

In the days when the programme had two presenters each night, who observed that the secondary role, dealing with the arts and so on, was "like being the programme wife"?

  1. Joan Bakewell
    Joan Bakewell pictured in 1979
  2. Olenka Frenkiel
    Olenka Frenkiel
  3. Fran Morrison
    Fran Morrison pictured in 1980

4.) I'm not ready for your close up

Which foreign secretary left crucial international negotiations to take part in a Newsnight interview, only to discover that there was not only no camera or studio, but not even a slot in the schedules, either?

An empty Newsnight studio in 1980
  1. Malcolm Rifkind
  2. Lord Carrington
  3. Jack Straw

5.) Squirming in front of the cameras

In what context was Tony Blair asked about Skinny and Wriggly?

Tony Blair
  1. Hazel Blears' parliamentary tap-dancing team
  2. His party accepting money from a pornography publisher
  3. The government's 2002 Garden Worm Initiative

6.) Name that composer

Our theme tune's composer shares his original surname with a 20th Century chancellor of the exchequer famously likened to a dead sheep. What is his professional name?

Music manuscript
  1. Michael Nyman
  2. George Fenton
  3. John Williams

7.) Briefing the presenter

In the early days, explanatory pieces, especially about the more recondite aspects of Kremlinology, were named after one of the presenters. What were they called?

Early Newsnight graphics
  1. Tusorials
  2. Snow reports
  3. Bakewell recipes

8.) Lost in translation

What question caused an expression of utter bafflement to pass across Colonel Gaddafi's face during a live interview from his tent in the desert?

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
  1. What about the UN?
  2. Isn't that rather pie in the sky, Colonel?
  3. Have you met the IRA?

9.) One step better than the inner circle

Before the 1997 election, which Tory cabinet minister (no oil painting himself) sniggered and cried "You said it!" when a cack-handed presenter turned to Margaret Beckett with the words "Let's get it from the horse's mouth"?

  1. David Mellor
    David Mellor pictured in 1992
  2. Francis Maude
    Francis Maude pictured in 2000
  3. Stephen Dorrell
    Stephen Dorrell

10.) Intelligence failure

Which Top Secret item spent a couple of weeks in a corner of the Newsnight office while the nation's police forces hunted for it?

Top secret graphic
  1. A GCHQ log
  2. An Enigma machine
  3. A Foreign Office access-all-areas pass

11.) Starter course

Whose first answer in a live Newsnight interview was a long pause, followed by "can we start again?"

  1. Music mogul Simon Cowell
    Simon Cowell
  2. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood
    Vivienne Westwood
  3. Movie director Spike Lee
    Spike Lee

12.) Steely eyed

Which thriller writer once delivered a piece to camera under the quizzical gaze of Margaret Thatcher?

Margaret Thatcher
  1. Gavin Esler
  2. Michael Crick
  3. Robert Harris

13.) In memoriam

A tombstone marking the death of a Newsnight device still lies in the office under a chair somewhere. It reads: Here lies the GorDaq. Died 25th August 2006 at 103. It hardly ...?

  1. ... mattered
  2. ... moved
  3. ... mumbled

14.) Simplify and then exaggerate

Which political reporter married a misfit, and made such a name for himself by being a nuisance at by-elections that he was given a role reporting the results of the contest at Dunny-on-the-Wold in Blackadder III?

A scene from Blackadder the Third
  1. Vincent Hanna
  2. Mark Mardell
  3. Martha Kearney

15.) It's the pits

What became of the Newsnight sandpit for the Falklands War?

A bucket and spade on the beach
  1. It was used to put out a studio fire
  2. It was buried in the foundations of the BBC Media Centre
  3. It was retired to the Imperial War Museum

16.) Sixth sense

In the early 1990s, which economics editor was filmed consulting a Blackpool clairvoyant for insights about the state of the national finances?

Fortune teller
  1. Evan Davis
  2. Graham Ingham
  3. Stephanie Flanders

17.) Without a cluedo

After yet another British sporting disaster, which board game character appeared in discussion to illustrate that there were some sports we were still good at?

Jeremy Paxman and the giant Cluedo board
  1. Colonel Mustard
  2. Professor Plum
  3. Mrs Peacock

18.) On the home front

Which Home Office minister was once a Newsnight producer?

The Home Office
  1. Fiona Mactaggart
  2. George Howarth
  3. Phil Woolas

19.) Dairy queen

Name the cow brought into the Newsnight studio for an interview with Peter Snow about the causes and effects of the 1990s BSE crisis?

  1. Buttercup
  2. Dolly
  3. Ermintrude

20.) Where are they now?

What happened to the editors responsible for the cow, an artificial rainforest in White City, and a studio discussion inside a fake football dugout?

Newsnight logo
  1. They are still at the BBC
  2. They were sacked
  3. They moved into politics


  1. It was the late, great Charles Wheeler who used to cite this as an example of why he was much better on the road than in the studio. For the avoidance of doubt, he was talking about interference on sound in his earpiece. Ian Smith - another good reporter - tragically died after a skiing accident.
  2. It was Albert Speer (left) - Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich and Hitler's chief architect - who in 1981 was flown to London for Newsnight but dropped dead at his hotel.
  3. It was the sainted Joan Bakewell, who has spent most of her life (even as a grandmother) labouring under Frank Muir's sobriquet of "The Thinking Man's Crumpet".
  4. It was Lord Carrington and the incident took place during the 1979 Lancaster House negotiations to pave the way for Zimbabwean independence. Newsnight should have been on the air, but was not being broadcast due to an industrial dispute. The editor insisted that the production team turn up each day to a grungy room where they pretended they were on the air. Some especially over-caffeinated producer had booked Lord Carrington for an interview, without telling him the whole thing was an exercise in fantasy television. When finally delivered to the aforementioned Black Hole by his personal staff, security detail and associated flunkeys, Carrington failed to see the joke, exploding he had better things to do than give "a fictitious interview for a fictitious programme".
  5. Tony Blair was asked how he reconciled his Christian beliefs with accepting political donations from the publisher of pornographic magazines, whose titles included Skinny and Wriggly, Horny Housewives and Mega Boobs.
  6. It was George Howe - better known by his pseudonym, George Fenton. Although our theme is obviously his most distinguished and best-loved work, his other work includes scores for Gandhi, Cry Freedom, The History Boys and - no rude comments please - Groundhog Day.
  7. They were called Tusorials, after John Tusa, one of the original presenters of Newsnight.
  8. It was "Isn't that rather pie in the sky, Colonel?" - the phrase seemed to have no ready Arabic translation.
  9. It was David Mellor. Margaret Beckett shrugged it off, saying: "Don't worry about him."
  10. In 2000, a rare Enigma encoding machine was stolen from Bletchley Park and held for ransom. The thief subsequently posted the thing to Newsnight, where it sat in a cardboard box in the corner of the office for ages. Had reporter David Sells not complained about repeatedly stubbing his toe on it, it would probably still be there.
  11. It was Vivienne Westwood who had been invited on to the programme to talk about the death of haute couture. Her PA sent a note the next day saying how much Dame Vivienne had enjoyed the interview.
  12. It was Robert Harris, the Newsnight reporter turned best selling author. The list of Newsnight authors is a lengthy one, but it is fair to say that any of us would have given our writing arms for Robert's worldwide sales figures.
  13. It reads "it hardly moved". The GorDaq was Newsnight's fictional stock index which used media analysis, political, economic and public opinion to assess Gordon Brown's chances of succeeding Tony Blair as prime minister. Having started (as all indexes do) at 100, it died at 103.
  14. Vincent Hanna married Joan Fitt, one of The Miss-Fitts - the five daughters of Gerry Fitt - who formed the heart of the SDLP leader's West Belfast political machine. Hanna was also a legendary luncher, whose motto for political reporting was "simplify and then exaggerate".
  15. It was retired to the Imperial War Museum. Peter Snow's sandpit - on which the military moves of the day would be played out - became a popular feature with sandpits being used for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Falklands and Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
  16. It was Graham Ingham, who subsequently became a senior official at the IMF in Washington. Stunts were especially popular as attempts to make the dismal science of economics interesting. Graham appeared as everything from a croupier to a supermarket check-out operative. For a couple of years I offered a prize of a magnum of champagne for the producer who could get him to utter the silliest piece to camera. If I recall correctly it was won by a now senior BBC figure who had him deliver one dressed from head to toe in white in a "clean room". All you could see was his eyes.
  17. It was the world Cluedo champion, dressed as Colonel Mustard who was interviewed for the programme in 1995. Sadly, no-one had been able to find a length of lead piping before he reached the studio.
  18. It was Phil Woolas, who, after being chewed up and spat out by Joanne Lumley, makes frequent appearances on the programme to reassure the nation that the government has immigration under super-tight control.
  19. She was called Dolly. One TV critic later astutely described the encounter as demonstrating emphatically that "Peter Snow does not seem to be one of nature's farmers".
  20. It is a trick question! So, if you were marked WRONG award yourself an extra point. They have all had plastic surgery and are living under assumed names in Uruguay, I hope.

So, how did you get on?

0 - 8 : The TV works better if you actually turn it on

9 - 15 : Better, but still showing an unhealthy interest

16 - 20 : Get a life!

As Newsnight celebrates its 30th birthday this week, presenter Jeremy Paxman puts you through your paces, testing how much you remember of three decades of the current affairs programme.

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