Entertainment

Sunday 22 September 2019

John Humphrys’ critics are ageist, says Today programme co-host

Humphrys is quitting the Today programme after 32 years.

John Humphrys is leaving the Today programme (Jonathan Brady/PA)
John Humphrys is leaving the Today programme (Jonathan Brady/PA)

By Sherna Noah, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent

Today programme host John Humphrys used to throw objects at work but “they usually missed and he always said sorry”, his co-presenter has revealed.

Humphrys, 76, is quitting the Today programme after 32 years fronting the high-profile, early-morning Radio 4 show.

Co-host Justin Webb, 58, paid tribute to Humphrys as he prepares to sign off from the BBC programme for the last time this autumn.

He said many of Humphrys’ most vociferous critics are ageist.

Webb told Radio Times magazine: “There are plenty who don’t like him, who think he’s gone on too long, who want him ‘pensioned off’ or ‘put out of his misery’ or whatever the phrase is they use to suggest that being a man in his 70s on air is somehow an affront.

“Most of these folks would see themselves as impeccable anti-sexists and anti-racists, but ageism is alive and well and apparently deeply acceptable in the anti-John movement.”

He also gave an insight into working alongside Humphrys, many years ago, before Webb also became a Today presenter.

The broadcaster defied the norm when he spoke to Webb, then a young reporter, at a time when “the stars and the plebs never chatted”.

“When John arrived (at Today)….  he would talk to anyone. Shout at them, too. Throw things, even,” Webb said.

“But they usually missed, and he always said sorry.”

He also told the magazine: “John doesn’t give a stuff what you think of him. He is bemused when Jon Snow of Channel 4 News talks of his ‘followers’ online.

“Why would John want followers? John wants enemies, or at least for respect, when it is paid, to be paid only grudgingly.”

There are only a couple of journalists who have had an enormous effect on me, and he’s one of them Former Today presenter Sarah Montague on John Humphrys

Webb said broadcasters, concerned with diversity, were often neglecting to bring working-class talent – Humphrys left school at 15 –  into studios.

“In an age of prissy concern about ‘identity’ – with broadcasting bosses frantically ticking boxes to make sure ‘diversity’ is achieved – there is a risk that this aspect of diversity, which really makes a difference, is completely ignored.

“It’s the mouthy, white working-class kids with attitude who don’t get attracted to our trade, because too often we don’t see it as a trade,” he said.

Broadcaster James Naughtie also paid tribute to Humphrys, while admitting he can be “testing” before 4.15am.

Today co-host Nick Robinson told of the presenter shouting “get your own f****** milk to some poor producer from The World At One” – but said “his most annoying trait is that he’s always right”.

And former Today presenter Sarah Montague said: “I will miss his humanity, the personality at the centre of it. There’s a warmth as well, and unbelievable energy.

“He doesn’t suffer fools gladly — there are some producers who really suffered at his hands, and we’ve all had a go at him about that.

“But there are only a couple of journalists who have had an enormous effect on me, and he’s one of them.”

Humphrys took a pay cut as part of the controversy over the gender pay row at the BBC, a fall of £110,000 to around £290,000.

The BBC said it could not confirm the date Humphrys will present Today for the final time.

PA Media

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