THE BBC is on its last legs according to one of its veteran broadcasters as he spoke in Hampshire last night.

John Simpson said he thinks the BBC is “in its last stages” as it faces funding cuts which he predicts are going to get even worse.

The world affairs editor, who has spent his entire working life at the BBC, was speaking as part of a high-profile appeal to refurbish Winchester Cathedral.

He told the audience: “Cuts that we have been seeing will be nothing to the cuts that we are going to see, because the government will ensure that the license fee is cut back massively and this ten years will be the last effective as we know it.

“To continue it will have to take advertising and other ways of funding itself.

He went on to tell the crowd that he believes British newspapers ‘have it in for’ the taxpayer-funded corporation with “story after story about the BBC’s waste of money”.

He said: “There’s a desire to see the end of the BBC.

“The people of this country would not agree with it, or the large numbers won’t, but there’s a desire to see the end of public service broadcasting paid for by the license fee.”

Recalling some memorable moments of his career, Mr Simpson told how on his first day as a reporter in the 1970s he was punched in the stomach by then-Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, after asking if he was about to call a general election. The veteran broadcaster has reported from more than 120 countries, interviewing scores of world leaders including Saddam Hussein, who he last night admitted he “rather liked”.

Mr Simpson also had the audience in fits of laughter after relaying an encounter with the Iraqi leader violently forcing an old man in the street to say he loved him.

Mr Simpson said: “We are not talking about a liberal democrat politician here. I know it’s an ugly story but it does show a sense of humour doesn’t it?”

The outspoken journalist also said he tries not to “have an agenda” and thinks the UK’s leaders are “useless”.

Some 250 people attended the talk, where Mr Simpson was interviewed by former director the Winchester Festival, John Miller.

The Very Revd James Atwell, Dean of Winchester, concluded the evening by thanking Mr Simpson for his “openness and honesty”.