NEWS
19/09/2019 00:01 BST | Updated 19/09/2019 14:26 BST

John Humphrys Retires From The Today Programme – Here Are His Highlights And Controversies

He has presented the show for 32 years and 260 days.

John Humphrys retired from the Today programme on Thursday, stepping down as the longest serving presenter in the show’s history.

When the show finished, a total of 32 years and 260 days had passed since Humphrys first sat in front of the Today microphone on January 2 1987.

No other presenter has come close to matching his record, PA Media reports.

PA Graphics
Today

While many listeners see Humphrys as the voice of Today and praise his interrogation of politicians, some critics have claimed that he has exhibited a tactless approach in some conversations over the course of his long tenure at BBC radio.

These are some choice moments – and controversies – from the presenter’s long career.

Aberfan

Humphrys attended Cardiff High School, at that time a grammar school, and left aged 15 to join the Penarth Times as a cub reporter.

Later, he joined the larger Western Mail, and after a stint at Welsh TV channel TWW moved to the BBC in 1966, where he was the first reporter on the scene of the fatal Aberfan disaster in his native Wales, which killed 144 people.

PA Archive/PA Images
144 people died in 1966 when a landslide buried parts of the coal town of Aberfan.

He described it as a “scene from hell” and said that nothing else during his entire career “has ever compared to the tragedy of Aberfan”.

He spent his first years at the BBC in the 70s as a foreign correspondent in the US and South Africa. He covered President Richard Nixon’s fall, and the birth of Zimbabwe.

Humphrys grew tired of life on the road, missing his wife Edna and their children Christopher and Catherine.

He returned to London in 1980 to become a diplomatic correspondent and a year later was promoted to main presenter of the now defunct Nine O’Clock News.

The Moira Stuart Lip-Reading Gaffe

One of Humphrys’ earliest gaffes came back to haunt him in spectacular fashion in 2016.

A ‘Happy Birthday’ post in the Daily Mail for veteran presenter Moira Stuart contained an embarrassing anecdote about an incident from the 80s.

Fellow host Nick Robinson highlighted it towards the end of the segment saying: “And we say happy birthday to Moira Stuart who’s 67 and in the Mail, John, it has an interesting story about something that was said to her...”

Humphrys interrupted: “I think we’re out of time Nick actually er, it’s ten past six and...”

Robinson protested: “I won’t read it all because it’s far too early in the morning but a certain J Humphrys apparently after a news recording said ‘you’re the most sensationally sexy...’”

Once again he was cut off by Humphrys: “This was a conversation a long time ago...”

The full exchange is here...

The Today Programme

Humphrys joined the BBC Radio 4 programme Today in 1987, and it was his role as a relentless interrogator on BBC Radio 4’s early-morning current affairs show that made his reputation and legacy.

The veteran Radio 4 broadcaster was revealed to have earned between £600,000 and £649,000 when details of high BBC salaries were made public.

A conversation between Humphrys and Jon Sopel made headlines when the pair were recorded discussing pay imbalances between men and women at the broadcaster, following a controversy over Carrie Gracie’s pay disparity.

Humphrys later took a voluntary pay cut, to around £290,000, saying “I’m not exactly on the breadline.”

And in recent years he has attracted criticism for a number of incidents on air.

Johanna Konta

In 2017 he received a volley of abuse after questioning the “Britishness” of Johanna Konta during a “horrible” interview about her playing into the history books at Wimbledon. 

Konta’s family history – she was born in Australia to Hungarian parents and moved to England age 14, becoming a British citizen in 2012 – led to Humphrys’ most controversial and inaccurate line of questioning. 

He said: “You talk about moving continents... that’s the thing, we talk about you being British, but you were born in Hungary, Australian citizenship, and I seem to remember the Australian High Commissioner, when you were in the quarter finals, saying, ‘great to see an Aussie win’, and we were saying, ‘great to see a Brit win’... so what are you?”

Konta then walked Humphrys thorough her lineage, pointing out that she had “spent half my life” living in the UK, before detailing her pride at representing Great Britain: “I’m a British citizen and I’m incredibly proud to represent Great Britain and I have so officially since 2012, but I have personally since 2005, when I moved here. I’ve also represented GB at the Olympics, so I’m definitely a British athlete.”

Westminster Sex Harassment

Also in 2017, Humphrys caused outrage by asking if male politicians could soon be unable to date because of the Westminster sexual harassment scandal.

Interviewing William Hague, he asked about the “very topical issue” of sexual harassment and assault in politics and if MPs were worse behaved than anyone else. Then, as Hague gave a cautious answer saying he did not know and that some accusations could be untrue, Humphrys asked if it was a “witch hunt”.

Humphrys then asked: “Is there a danger we could go too far in the other direction and people will be afraid to ask somebody else out for the evening or indeed ask them out for a proper date or maybe eventually ask them to marry them?”

He added: “Or something. I mean, there are risks in this aren’t there?”

“I don’t think we’ve reached that point,” Hague said.

But Humphrys was insistent: “We’re heading in that direction where MPs would be terribly nervous... an unmarried MP asking an unmarried assistant for a date?” 

The Triple-Whammy

More recently, this August Humphrys managed a triple-whammy of controversy after clashing with guests over gender stereotypes, “daft” university courses and the perils of scuba-diving in a sea full of salmon shit.

A full rundown of the episode in question is available here, but here’s a flavour of it via the medium of Twitter outrage.

 The Punch

Also last month, Humprys and David Davis were criticised after sharing a “joke” about a man assaulting his wife before a tango contest.

The two men, aged 70 and 76, were live on Radio 4 and appeared to be mocking the alleged domestic violence incident at the World Tango Championships, in Buenos Aires, when a Russian man – part of a husband and wife duo – was disqualified for punching his partner.   

Ex-Brexit secretary Davis was about to be interviewed on the programme when he turned to Humphrys, the show’s presenter, and said “I guess this is our last tango”. 

Humphrys, whose conduct as the show’s host has been frequently criticised in recent years, replied: ″It is indeed, but I promise not to punch you if you don’t punch me.” 

Davis and Humphrys even returned to the joke at the conclusion of the interview with the host chuckling as Davis said: “Our last tango was very pleasant and neither of us punched each other.” 

And In Other Roles...

On screen, the broadcaster hosts Mastermind, and has stood in for former host David Dimbleby on Question Time.

His prominence in the sphere of British politics and broadcasting has also led to a number of cameo roles.

The presenter appeared alongside Hollywood star Eric Bana in the thriller Closed Circuit, playing himself. He also has credits on Ali G Indahouse, and the hit BBC drama Bodyguard.

Humphrys has also written several books, including In God We Doubt, and Lost For Words, as well as his memoirs.

The broadcaster has been divorced twice and has a third child, a son, with his second wife, Valerie Sanderson, a newsreader for Spotlight and BBC News 24.