Let me first explain to the non-British amongst you. Last night saw the broadcast of a supposed ‘documentary’ about Parkinson’s. So far so good. However this shed little light on the condition itself and rather more light on the presenter Jeremy Paxman, recently diagnosed with PD. Jeremy Paxman for those of you unaware of him, is a British news and current affairs sort of person renowned (if that is the word) for his aggressive combative interview style. Not everybody’s cup of tea then. Some of his interviews are legendary such as those in which he sought albeit unsuccessfully to bring then Home Secretary Michael Howard to account (https://youtu.be/Uwlsd8RAoqI?t=244). He has also hosted many episodes of University challenge (that’s Paxman not Howard) with a style as abrasive as Bamber Gascoigne was adulatory.
Paxman has of course, one imagines, rather cultivated this reputation and it’s probably the case that politicians generally deserve this kind of treatment more than in times of yore. Times change, politics change, our respect for them changes. In some ways we created Jeremy Paxman.
Okay enough of the preamble. Let’s get to the point. Parkinson’s is a cruel condition yet some people are somehow elevated by their Parkinson’s (Tom Isaacs springs to mind, Perry Cohen too), spurred on to great deeds, and able to somehow improve the lot of others not just themselves. Many others are, not surprisingly diminished by the condition, defeated even. Paxman is one of those, a man with little to say of the condition but an hour of prime-time television in which to do so.
Sure, complain about the condition and its many vicissitudes but to package a series of unrelated visual anecdotes into an hour ‘documentary’ about Paxman’s tribulations with Parkinson’s fell a little short of the mark. Did we really need to see him picking up faeces from his dog? And what was that entirely unprovoked outburst “Brian Blessed is a wanker” about? From what dark recess of Paxman’s mind did that emerge? More so, why was it left in by the editor? One moment we see Paxman surrounded by many books, a byword for scholarship, Renaissance man even. The next he is the pub bore, desperate for a laugh, or at least a reaction.
The program ultimately was a mishmash of separate little vignettes about Parkinson’s which ultimately did much less to illuminate the condition than one might have hoped. There were tantalising glimpses of a future both positive and negative punctuated largely by profanities from Paxman. I’m sorry Jeremy but I think you have diminished yourself in many people’s eyes. But at least the program wasn’t entirely irredeemable – we did get to hear about Joy Milne and her remarkable ability to detect Parkinson’s with her nose. Now there was real hope.