Jeremy Paxman has been accused of insulting millions of people after he branded pensioners “virtual corpses” riddled with “incontinence and idiocy”.
The former Newsnight presenter, who is 66 himself, has become embroiled in a dispute with Mature Times, a newspaper aimed at the over-50s, after he launched a scathing attack on the publication.
Its publisher, Andrew Silk, hit back by claiming Paxman was clearly in denial about his age and likened him to Jeremy Clarkson, without the charisma.
In a column for the Financial Times, Paxman wrote: “At the reception desk of a hotel to which I checked in this week was a pile of free copies of Mature Times, which calls itself ‘the voice of our generation’. Oh God, I thought, the cheeky bastards are including me. Back off.
“For this must be the most unfashionable publication in Britain. Who wants to be called ‘mature’, like an old cheese? We all know that ‘mature’ means on the verge of incontinence, idiocy and peevish valetudinarianism. They might as well have named it the ‘Surgical Stocking Sentinel’ or ‘Winceyette Weekly’.
“The paper is adorned with advertisements for hearing aids, recliner chairs, copper insoles, stairlifts, devices to help you in and out of the bath, and Your Life After Death, a book written by someone called ‘Joseph’ who, apparently, is dead.
“I should rather be keeping company with Joseph than looking forward to any of these products: why do people who run these dreary publications assume that, apart from a cruise somewhere in the company of other virtual corpses, this sort of stuff is all we want?”
Paxman went on to accuse the elderly of being humourless and said there was a strong case to restrict their ability to vote in polls such as the EU referendum. “It’s simply not fair to allow people to vote for a future they won’t live to enjoy or endure. The case for curtailing the franchise is undeniable,” he said.
He added that politicians were too frightened to confront the “whiffy vested interest” of old people. “They have every reason to laugh at the way government after government has skewed things in their favour. Yet the most striking thing about rooms full of old people is how very little you see them laughing.”
Silk then wrote a rebuttal in Mature Times in which he took issue with Paxman’s “massive ego”.
Silk wrote: “He is 66, so he obviously does not see himself as one of the people he wants to poke fun at, which is irrational. This could be his Gerald Ratner moment.
“I see similarities between him and Jeremy Clarkson. He could be Clarkson without the money – Clarkson has made a living from being offensive. Paxman tries to be the intellectual one but he’s lacking the charisma of Clarkson.
“I suspect that with the high media profile enjoyed by Mr Paxman, comes a massive ego as well – but perhaps it’s time for that ego to contemplate a little.
“Mr Paxman, you have just insulted over 21 million people (yes that’s how many over 50s there are in the UK), you have called them ‘cheesy and on the verge of incontinence’ and I’m sure, on reflection you may regret such a statement.”
He added: “Now, I’m all open for criticism, and I’m happy to accept this where it’s due – but what I really, really do object to is being referred to as a ‘cheeky bastard’ – in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s downright insulting and unprofessional for a man of Mr Paxman’s standing to use such language in such a way. I also object to the degrading and demeaning language that he used towards our readers.”
Silk asked Paxman to apologise and consider contributing a more reasoned article to the next edition of Mature Times about how the over 50s contribute to society. “I must say, I’m not holding my breath – but the invitation is there – let’s see if you’re man enough – or should I say ‘Mature’ enough to take me up on it!” he said.