Desmond John Humphrys
17 August 1943
|Education||Cardiff High School|
BBC Nine O'Clock News (1981–1986)
(m. 1964, divorced)
|Relatives||Bob Humphrys (brother)|
Desmond John Humphrys (born 17 August 1943) is a Welsh broadcaster. From 1981 to 1987 he was the main presenter for the Nine O'Clock News, the flagship BBC news television programme, and from 1987 until 2019 he presented on the BBC Radio 4 breakfast programme Today. Since 2003 he has been the host of the BBC Two television quiz show Mastermind.
Humphrys has a reputation as a tenacious and forthright interviewer; occasionally politicians have been very critical of his style after being subjected to a tough interview on live radio. In recent years, he has also attracted controversy for a series of alleged sexist remarks and attitudes throughout his broadcasting career.
Humphrys was born in Cardiff at 193 Pearl Street, Adamsdown, son of Winifred Mary (Matthews), a hairdresser, and Edward George Humphrys, a self-employed French polisher, he was one of five children. During early life Humphrys had a bout of whooping cough and concerned that he would be known as 'Dismal Desmond' his mother opted to use the name John, his parents encouraged him to do his homework and he passed the eleven plus exam. He became a pupil at Cardiff High School (then a grammar school), but he did not fit into the middle class environment there, he was an average pupil and left school at 15 to become a reporter on the Penarth Times. He later joined the Western Mail.
Humphrys joined TWW, a commercial television channel based in Wales, and was the first reporter on the scene of the Aberfan disaster in October 1966, he joined the BBC later that year as the district reporter for Liverpool and the Northwest, where he reported on the dock strikes of that time, sometimes for the national news. He then worked as a foreign correspondent, initially having to go abroad and leave his family for six to nine month periods at a time when his children were still young and growing up. Later he took his family with him to the United States and South Africa where he was sent to open a news bureau, he reported the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974 on television by satellite from the United States, the execution of Gary Gilmore in 1977, and later, when based in South Africa, he reported on the end of Rhodesia and the creation of the new nation of Zimbabwe.
Humphrys became disillusioned with living in hotels and life on-the-road as a foreign correspondent, and returned to London in 1980 to take up the post of BBC Diplomatic Correspondent. In 1981 he became the main presenter of the BBC's flagship Nine O'Clock News; this appointment marked a change in the BBC's approach to news broadcasting. With the appointment of Humphrys and John Simpson, the presenters of the news became part of the process of preparing the broadcast, rather than just reading a prepared script as with previous presenters. In addition to this, Humphrys also briefly read the midweek classified football results.
The job on Today was unexpectedly offered when John Timpson was about to retire at the end of 1986. Humphrys began presenting Today in January 1987, joining Brian Redhead, he still made occasional appearances fronting BBC TV news bulletins in the 1990s. During the 1991 Gulf War he was a volunteer presenter on the BBC Radio 4 News FM service. From 1993 he presented the weekly On The Record political TV show until its demise in 2002.
He made the headlines on 28 August 2004 for giving the yearly MacTaggart Lecture in which he made scathing criticism of the 'dumbing-down' of British television, he criticised reality shows such as Big Brother, as well as the increasing violence in British soap operas. He made these criticisms after five years with no television set, and in the context of re-acquainting himself with the medium after the prolonged gap. Humphrys is also the presenter of the revived version of Mastermind, and after his criticism of reality television, Humphrys appeared the following year in Art School, a show which followed a celebrity reality format.
Humphrys attracted further controversy in September 2005 when he allegedly branded all politicians as liars and made disrespectful comments about Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and John Prescott in an after-dinner speech which was subsequently leaked to The Times by Tim Allan, a former aide to the Prime Minister. On 6 September 2005, Humphrys was censured by the Corporation for his use of "inappropriate and misguided" language.
Humphrys has also presented Panorama, he has won many industry awards, including being named Journalist of the Year in February 2000 at an awards ceremony organised by The House Magazine and Channel 4; the Gold Sony Radio Award in 2003; and a silver platter for Crystal Clear Broadcasting from the Plain English Campaign.
Humphrys has written several books, including Lost for Words, in which he criticizes what he sees as the widespread misuse of the English language, plus Devil's Advocate, Beyond Words, The Great Food Gamble and In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist.
Humphrys is an agnostic, but has a curiosity to test his agnosticism and challenge established religions to see if they can restore his childhood belief in God. In 2006, he presented a BBC Radio 4 programme, titled Humphrys in Search of God where he spoke to leading British authorities on Christianity, Judaism and Islam to try to restore his faith.
On 3 January 2011, Humphrys announced that he had extended his contract to present the Today programme, but in doing so had agreed to a pay cut, his Today interview of BBC director general George Entwistle on 11 November 2012 during an interview on the Today programme was widely reported to have been a major factor in Entwistle's resignation later that day.
In a March 2014 interview with the Radio Times, Humphrys noted some of the biases at the BBC, describing it as "broadly liberal as opposed to broadly conservative", he highlighted failing in coverage of issues of Europe and immigration, stating: "We weren't sufficiently sceptical – that's the most accurate phrase – of the pro-European case. We bought into the European ideal. We weren't sufficiently sceptical about the pro-immigration argument. We didn't look at the potential negatives with sufficient rigour."
In March 2017, Humphrys disputed that Thomas Mair, who murdered MP Jo Cox was a terrorist despite him being prosecuted and described by the Crown Prosecution Service as one, claiming it "muddied the waters". Humphrys was criticised for his statement and listeners called on the BBC to correct him.
Humphreys propositioned fellow newsreader Moira Stuart in the 1980s when the microphones were off but the visuals were still on air, saying: "You're the most sensationally sexy lady I know; the best thing we can do is to make mad passionate love in the basement." This was during a broadcast for the deaf, in which Moira commented to Humphrys that many of the viewers could lip read. In 2009, he introduced newsreader (later co-host of the Today programme) Mishal Husain as a "newsreader and a very good-looking woman" on Celebrity Mastermind, before asking: "Are you doing your job only because you are good-looking?"
In March 1995 after being interviewed on Today the former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Aitken, accused him of "poisoning the well of democratic debate", although Aitken was not supported by his fellow Cabinet Ministers, Kenneth Clarke and Douglas Hurd when they were interviewed by Humphrys on the Today programme, on the following Monday. Humphrys denied interrupting Clarke 32 times in the interview, the source of the complaint. Aitken was subsequently jailed for perjury.
In June 2014, co-chair of the Conservative Party Lady Warsi accused Humphreys downplaying sexual violence over comments made on the Today programme to William Hague (He asked if Hague was "starstruck" by the presence of Angelina Jolie at a sexual violence in war summit in London). Warsi described Humphrey's comments as "everyday sexism", adding: "If there are men out there who believe women can't be beautiful and brainy maybe they should read the foreign secretary's speech in Washington last year when he said it is finally time for women to take their place at the important tables where decisions are made."
In 2016, when interviewing Labour MP Angela Eagle (who cried after leaving the shadow cabinet), Humphrys asked: "Do we want somebody who weeps in the face of this sort of thing confronting Putin, for instance?", later adding "Shouldn't you be able to control those emotions when you're under great stress?". Eagle replied that "being in touch with your emotions is quite an important thing", but Humphrys continued to criticise her." Responding to this line of questioning, Emma Kennedy tweeted "will John Humphreys tackle Obama on his occasional crying during office?", and leader of the Women's Equality Party Sophie Walker criticised Humphrey's line of questioning.
In July 2017 before the Wimbledon women's semi-finals, Humphrys was accused of sexism and xenophobia when he questioned Johanna Konta's national identity, saying: "We talk about you as being British but you were born in Hungary, Australian citizenship, and I seem to remember that the Australian High Commissioner when you won the quarter-final said 'Great to see an Aussie win' and we were saying 'Great to see a Brit win' – so what are you?" Konta responded, saying: "I was actually born in Australia to Hungarian parents but I've lived here for half my life now almost and I'm a British citizen and I'm incredibly proud to represent Great Britain... I've represented Britain in the Olympics so I'm definitely a British athlete".
In September, former editor of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman criticised Humphrys for "mansplaining" fashion to her in an interview. Humphrys questioned her about what he saw as the loss of the hourglass figures, rarely seeing "reasonably cosy, comfortably shaped women" on the magazine's cover and accused Vogue of promoting anorexia and eating disorders in impressionable girls. Shulman wrote in the Daily Mail: "Suddenly I was confronted by a grey-haired guy in chinos hectoring me on the business I had worked in for a quarter of a century and which he neither knew, nor cared, much about". Shulman said this was the same "banal conversation" that she had been subjected to before and said it was repetitive and limitied. Humphreys responded, "I did resent the idea that I was being painted as some sort of token, as a man – apparently I'd committed the sin as well of wearing chinos. I'm not sure what chinos are ... if I'd accused her of being, say, a grey-haired woman who wore whatever, that would have been sexist. But she was allowed to write that about me."
In October, an interview with the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders discussed a report released by the Crown Prosecution Service; the report said that a record number of people in England and Wales were prosecuted for sexual offences. Humphrys said in his interview with Saunders that "problem" with sexual assault cases (which he called "sex cases") is that the accused person is named publicly while alleged victims are provided with anonymity, he also said that there was "anecdotally" a rise in the number of false claims of rape and sexual abuse; Saunders criticised this claim on the show, and campaign groups such as End Violence Against Women criticised Humphrys' comments on the show, calling on him to no longer do interviews relating to sexual offenses. The same month, a piece on transgender issues by Humphreys was criticised for misgendering and trivialising trans experiences, first by claiming that transgender women are "men who think they are women". Humphreys went on to say, "In other words, if a man thinks he's a woman, all he has to do is fill in a form and say so, he doesn't need to convince anybody else." When talking to Bex Stinson, a transgender woman from the LGBT charity Stonewall , Humphrys asked whether she had "anything to prove that" she was a woman. Stinson referred to her driving licence and passport as well as "life experience" as "my fundamental proof" of womanhood. However, Humphreys asked whether Stinson had "a certificate that says you are a woman?", and spent much of the segment talking to controversial Times columnist Janice Turner, who received negative attention for her columns on transgender issues.
In November, Humphreys asked (now Lord) Hague if there was a "witch hunt" against Members of Parliament following the Westminster sexual misconduct allegations of that year, and that there was a "danger" that male MPs would not be able to ask women out on dates innocuously. Hague dismissed this line of questioning, saying "I don't think we've reached that point, I think there is a real problem here that needs to be dealt with." Humphreys persisted with the point, alleging: "We're heading in that direction, aren't we, where, seriously, where MPs would be terribly nervous about it – an unmarried MP asking an unmarried assistant for a date." Labour MP Sarah Jones described it as "unbelievable pointless questioning" and retweeted Bloomberg political correspondent Robert Hutton's comment: "No, @BBCr4today, we're really not heading in a direction where people will be afraid to ask people on dates or to get married." Women's Equality Party leader Sophie Walker said: "John Humphrys: do an interview on sex harassment without using the words 'witch hunt' or 'gone too far'. You are part of the problem."
In December, following fellow presenter Nick Robinson's interview with Conservative MP Vicky Ford, in which she did not deny being reduced to tears by the party's whips, Humphrys said to weather forecaster Stav Danaos: "Time for the weather forecast – are you in tears, Stav?" Today and Humphreys were accused by some of having a "blokey joke" at Ford's expense and being unconcerned about her views on Brexit, but rather her emotions.
In 2017, Humphrys earned between £600,000 and £649,999 as a BBC presenter. In January 2018, an off-air conversation between news colleagues and old friends Humphreys and BBC North America editor Jon Sopel was recorded in which they discussed the gender pay gap at the BBC and mocked Carrie Gracie (former BBC China editor who had written a letter and resigned the previous night, accusing the BBC of a "secretive and illegal pay culture" which favours men). Humphrys reportedly asked Sopel about "how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her" and mockingly referred to "other men who are earning too much" at the BBC. Sopel replied "if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I'll have to come back and say well yes Mr Humphrys", who then swore and said that he was "still left with more [pay] than anybody else" at the corporation. Miriam O'Reilly, who won an case against the BBC in 2011 on the grounds of age discrimination and alleged sexism, described the exchange as "base, smug and condescending" and typical of the attitude of "back-slapping entitled males" such as Humphrys and Sopel. Then-Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson asked in a tweet whether Humphrys would be prohibited from presenting stories on the issue of gender impartiality; the BBC responded that he was subject to the same impartiality rules as any BBC presenter and that his comments did not cross the line. BBC Women, a feminist group within the corporation, threatened a mass walkout in protest of Humphreys' continued employment, saying "The only acceptable outcome they [BBC female stars] can see is for him to go, they blame Humphrys, not Sopel. ... They are so angry that Humphrys would not only hold these views, but share them in a studio while being recorded." In January 2018 he took a voluntary pay cut to the £250,000–£300,000 range in the light of the controversy. In May 2018 the BBC defended Humphrys against accusations of pro-Brexit bias by Tim Walker, a journalist for pro-EU newspaper The New European.
In August 2019, Humphrys and Conservative MP David Davis made light of [a news story in which a Russian competitor was disqualified from the World Tango Championships in Buenos Aires for allegedly hitting his wife, who was also his dance partner. Davis said as the interview got underway: "I guess this is our last tango", to which Humphreys responded: "It is indeed, but I promise not to punch you if you don't punch me." This was criticised by some, including Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler, Labour MP Chris Bryant and Sky News presenter Kay Burley as making light of spousal abuse.
Humphrys married Edna Wilding (August 1942 – September 1997) in 1964 and they had two children, a son and daughter, Christopher and Catherine, their marriage broke down in the late 1980s. Wilding died of cancer in Glamorgan, South Wales; Humphrys described her last days in a hospice in his book Devil's Advocate (2000). Humphrys's son Christopher is now a professional cellist.
On 2 June 2000, when he was 56 years old, Humphrys and his then partner, Valerie Sanderson, had a son, Owen James. Sanderson was a newsreader with Spotlight then BBC News 24 and is now a radio producer. Humphrys had a reverse vasectomy, he referred to these facts on 31 October 2006 on BBC Radio 4 in the programme Humphrys in Search of God. He and Sanderson subsequently separated. In 2009, he began a relationship with the journalist Catherine Bennett, a contributor to The Observer.
In 2005 he founded the Kitchen Table Charities Trust, a charity that funds projects to help some of the poorest people; it not only helps the most vulnerable but, in the longer term, "helps the country to stand on its own feet."
Humphrys is a keen listener to classical music and cites Mozart, Beethoven and Bach as particular favourites, although he once saw The Rolling Stones in concert and said "they blew me away", he was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs on 6 January 2008. His favourite record of the eight he selected for the show was Elgar’s Cello Concerto; he chose the biggest poetry anthology possible as his book and, as his luxury item, a cello.
In December 2013 Humphrys was featured in an episode of the BBC Wales series Coming Home, together with his older brother Graham, it was revealed that their great-grandmother Sarah Willey was, from the age of six, resident at the Cardiff workhouse and that their paternal great-grandfather was from Finland.
- Devil's Advocate. London: Arrow Books Ltd. (2000). ISBN 0-09-927965-7
- The Great Food Gamble. London: Coronet Books. (2002). ISBN 0-340-77046-5
- Lost For Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2004). ISBN 0-340-83658-X.
- Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2006). ISBN 0-340-92375-X.
- In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2007). ISBN 0-340-95126-5.
- Blue Skies & Black Olives (with Christopher Humphrys) London; Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (2009). ISBN 978-0-340-97882-5
- Humphrys, John; Jarvis, Sarah (2 April 2009). The Welcome Visitor: Living Well, Dying Well (1st ed.). Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-92377-6.
- I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language. The Daily Mail (2007-09-24)
- "HUMPHRYS, John". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2015 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- "Biographies: John Humphrys: Presenter, Today". BBC. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
- "Mastermind". BBC. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
- "Desert Island Discs with John Humphrys". Desert Island Discs. 6 January 2008. BBC. Radio 4.
- "BBC criticises Humphrys' speech". BBC News. 6 September 2005. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
- The Daily Telegraph, 21 July 2007, "Family Detective"
- "Aberfan 'was like a scene from hell' – John Humphrys". 20 October 2016 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- "The Aberfan disaster: John Humphrys, Huw Edwards and a survivor recall the 1966 tragedy".
- "BBC – Press Office – Jenny Abramsky Oxford lecture two".
- Wintour, Patrick (6 September 2005). "Former Blair aide admits leaking tape of Humphrys speech to Times". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
- "Humphrys in Search of God". BBC. Archived from the original on 28 June 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2019. Cite uses deprecated parameter
|dead-url=(help) Archived link.
"Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Archbishop Rowan Williams". BBC World Service. 22 December 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
"Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Professor Tariq Ramadan". BBC World Service. 29 December 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
"Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks". BBC World Service. 4 January 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
- Sunday 28 October 2007, BBC2 20:00–21:00GMT
- "David Dimbleby injured by bullock". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- "Fallout from Newsnight fiasco: John Humphrys vs George Entwistle – TV & Radio – Media". The Independent. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- "John Humphrys: I am a different interviewer now from the one who started on Today". Radio Times.
- "Thomas Mair convicted of the murder of Jo Cox MP". www.cps.gov.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
- "John Humphrys criticised for saying Jo Cox killer was not a terrorist". inews.co.uk. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
- "Humphrys to leave Today later in 2019". 6 February 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
- editor, Jim Waterson Media (6 February 2019). "John Humphrys: I should have left Today programme years ago". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
- York, Chris (2 September 2016). "John Humphrys 'Moira Stuart lip reading sex gaffe' tweeted by Nick Robinson". HuffPost. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Aitkenhead, Decca (23 November 2013). "Mishal Husain, Today show presenter: 'It's the most intense experience'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Sherwin, Adam (6 February 2019). "John Humphrys to quit Today: Listeners' Champion or sexist dinosaur? His greatest spats". i. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Press Association (17 June 2014). "BBC's John Humphrys accused of 'everyday sexism' by Lady Warsi". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Humphreys, John (12 July 2016). "Angela Eagle: 'I'm not crying now'". BBC News. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Media mole (12 January 2018). "A definitive list of sexist things John Humphrys has said". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Rawlinson, Kevin (18 July 2017). "BBC presenter under fire for doubting Konta's Britishness". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Horton, Helena (18 July 2017). "BBC's John Humphrys accused of 'xenophobia and sexism' after interview with British tennis star Johanna Konta". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Petter, Olivia (4 September 2017). "Former Vogue editor scolds John Humphrys for 'mansplaining' fashion to her". The Independent. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Dowell, Ben (30 October 2017). "John Humphrys: I was right to challenge former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman in "aggressive" interview". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- "John Humphrys branded 'dinosaur' over remarks about rape trials". Evening Standard. 10 October 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- "John Humphrys suggests trans women are 'men who think they are women'". PinkNews. 18 October 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- "John Humphrys under fire for 'Westminster date jitters' radio grilling". Express & Star. 1 November 2017.
- Moore, Matthew (1 November 2017). "Humphrys criticised for suggesting Westminster scandal has gone too far". The Times. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Weaver, Matthew (19 July 2017). "BBC accused of discrimination as salaries reveal gender pay gap – as it happened". Retrieved 13 August 2017 – via The Guardian.
- "BBC 'deeply unimpressed' over pay chat". BBC News. 12 January 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Draper, James (13 January 2018). "Female BBC stars 'threaten mass walk-out unless John Humphrys is sacked'". The Mirror. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Noah, Sherna (26 January 2018). "John Humphreys among six BBC male stars to have pay cut amid gender pay row". Daily Record.
- "BBC defend John Humphrys after Remainer accusation of Brexit bias". 15 May 2018. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
- Evans, Albert (22 August 2019). "John Humphrys and David Davis criticised for domestic violence joke". i. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Rahim, Zamira (22 August 2019). "John Humphrys jokes about dancer punching wife in live BBC radio interview with Tory MP". The Independent. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- Furness, Hannah (22 August 2019). "BBC Today programme accused of making light of domestic violence over John Humphrys and David Davis jokes". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
- "Today presenter celebrates new son". BBC. 4 June 2000. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
- Gordon, Bryony (22 September 2009). "John Humphrys: 'I've always felt like a bit of a fraud'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- "Kitchen Table charities Trust: Welcome page". Retrieved 6 January 2008.
- "Glastonbury 2013: John Humphrys at his first festival". BBC News. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
- "Former BBC sports presenter dies". BBC News. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
- "BBC One – Coming Home, Series 8, John Humphrys". BBC. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- "John Humphrys: National treasure or the rudest man in Britain?". Retrieved 31 October 2018.
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| Host of Mastermind
2003 – present
| Today presenter
1987 – 2019
with Brian Redhead, Peter Hobday, Sue MacGregor, Anna Ford, James Naughtie, Edward Stourton, Sarah Montague, Carolyn Quinn, Evan Davis, Justin Webb and Mishal Husain