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BBC Universe: Professor Brian Cox’s The IT Crowd actor friend who taught him how to act like Jeremy Paxman in TV interviews

Going onto Newsnight would be terrifying for anyone, even if you’re as respected and admired on your expert topic as Professor Brian Cox is.

But unlike most people, if you’re in showbiz you’ve probably got a few high-flying friends.
That’s exactly who came to Brian’s help before he went on the late night BBC current affairs show, doing so well it helped convince the BBC to give him his own series.

The presenter of Universe, which sees Brian journey across the vastness of time and space revealing epic moments of sheer drama that changed the universe forever, was invited on Newsnight back in 2008 when it was presented by Jeremy Paxman.

Brian, who is professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester and The Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science, had only presented a few episodes of Horizon at this point and he was invited on to talk about the Large Hadron Collider, which had just been switched on.

As is the way with these shows, Brian was up against someone who wasn’t in favour of the Large Hardon Collider so he had something up his sleeve to give him the upper hand in the debate.

It was The IT Crowd star and satirical comedy legend Chris Morris, an old friend of Brian’s, who had the clever advice for him.

While developing his comedy presenting shows such as Brass Eye and The Day Today, Morris studied news presenters thoroughly.

Chris Morris is much-loved for Brass Eye, which lampooned celebrities while focusing on themes such as crime and drugs.

He told Brian that all he had to do when he wanted to get a word in was “start thrashing and flailing his arms” about.

Then the camera would find him.

Brian added: “Chris told me: ‘Paxman does it all the time!’ So when you want to deliver that killer blow…”

Off the back of the debate, Cox was given his own series – Wonders of the Solar System.

He explained: “They thought, he has some attitude.”

He’s currently presenting Universe on BBC Two on Wednesday nights.

Although many may know him as the BBC’s science programme presenter, others might know him as the heartthrob keyboard player for the band D:Ream in the 1990s.

D:Ream had the huge No 1. hit ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ in 1994 and it went on to become a Labour Party election anthem.

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