John Humphrys has hit out at the “nasty person” who leaked an off-air conversation he had joking about equal pay for women at the BBC, as he insisted it did not reflect his views.
Humphrys, the broadcaster’s highest paid news presenter, was recorded joking with colleague Jon Sopel about the issue off-air, after China editor Carrie Gracie had resigned over it.
The leaked transcript of the issue caused outrage, particularly as Humphrys was allowed to continue to broadcast when women who work at the BBC were barred from discussing the issue after expressing a view.
“Some nasty person decided that the world was entitled to hear it, and that one is not entitled to have private conversations,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“This is not something that’s going to dominate my existence. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over and done with.”
ITV News doorstepped Humphrys at his home on Friday evening and he told them that he and Sopel were “winding each other up” during the conversation, which he called a “joke”.
He added it was a “jocular exchange” and called it “complete rubbish” to suggest he opposed equal pay.
“We are in the habit, Jon and I, of winding each other up and the purpose of this jokey – emphasise jokey – exchange was a bit of mutual mickey-taking and that is all it was,” he said.
“If people took a different message from it, it could only be because they didn’t appreciate that it was a joke.”
Humphrys, who earns between £600,000 and £649,999, was speaking to Sopel, who earns between £200,000 and £249,999, off-air at around 4am before Monday’s edition of the Today programme.
He talked Sopel through the Gracie resignation and said: “She’s actually suggested that you should lose money.”
He told Sopel: “I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else.”
The full transcript:
HUMPHRYS: “The first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her and then a few comments about your other colleagues, like our Middle East Editor and the other men who are earning too much…”
SOPEL: “If we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say well, yes, Mr Humphrys, but…
HUMPHRYS: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me to be entirely just - something like that would do it?”
HUMPHRYS: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly have you?”
Humphrys’ continued presence on air came after bosses this week demanded those who have given support to the ‘#BBCWomen’ campaign to achieve equal pay stand down from reporting the topic.
That rule saw Gracie herself made to sit silently on Monday while Humphrys reported on her case.
Labour MP Stella Creasy told HuffPost UK that it was “unfair” some stars have been stopped from speaking while Humphrys continued to work.
She said: “This shows the BBC needs to ensure equal pay rather than using editorial guidelines to try to prevent presenters talking about this issue.
“It’s clear everyone has an opinion, so it is unfair to stop some speaking and not others.
“That some of those opinions appear rooted in the 19th century when it comes to why this matters only further underlines the importance of getting this right.”
Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey, who, alongside colleague Winifred Robinson, has been banned from reporting on pay disparity, described the corporation as “the Department of Mixed Messages”.
Miriam O’Reilly, who denied being the person who leaked the Humphrys/Sopel exchange, told Channel 4 News Humphrys should be taken off air during gender pay discussions.
Channel 4 News reported the BBC knew about the exchange for several days before it was leaked and chose not to take Humphrys off air as they deemed it a private conversation,
A BBC source previously told HuffPost that management were “deeply unimpressed” by the exchange.
And a corporation spokesperson said on Thursday evening: “This was an ill-advised off air conversation which the presenter regrets.
“The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay.
“PwC are working with us on this to ensure an objective external assessment of how we have set pay in the past, what we need to do differently going forward, and what further action we need to take immediately.
“We will publish that in the coming weeks.”