The presenter studied English at St Catharine's CollegeChatham House / Wikimedia Commons

The veteran BBC broadcasted Jeremy Paxman attempted to join the secret service during his time at Cambridge but was dissuaded by his college tutor, a rumoured MI6 recruiter.

After being turned down by every job he applied for during his degree, the former Varsity editor went to his tutor at St Catharine’s College, Paxman wrote in Saga Magazine.

“Towards the end of my last term at university I was summoned to my tutor’s rooms,” Paxman wrote.

“When the professor asked what sort of thing I was looking for, I decided to chance my luck,” he said.

“I think something with a bit of foreign travel. Somewhere I could serve my country. Somewhere I could maybe use my intelligence,” he told his tutor.

Jeremy Paxman (front, centre) during his tenure as Varsity editor in the 1970sVarsity Archives

His tutor replied: “Oh, like MI6? [...] I don’t think so, Mr Paxman.”

Paxman claimed his tutor, Augustus Caesar, was rumoured to be an MI6 recruiting officer at the university.


Mountain View

How to get recruited by MI6

The BBC veteran reflected: “While the principle behind both a spy and a journalist might be similar – both want to find things out – it seems vital that a spy keeps what they know to themselves. A journalist, on the other hand, wants to share the little they know with as many people as possible.”

“I have lived my life in pursuit of experiences; even those that I would blush to recall publicly have had an influence, and for that I am grateful,” he said.

Paxman went on to have a successful career as a BBC Newsnight presenter and interviewer, as well as the longest serving quizmaster on British TV for University Challenge from 1994 to 2023.