Why is it so odd to switch lights off in rooms as you leave them or to prefer a cool larder to a fridge?

The usual diary is being replaced this week because a copy of a hitherto untransmitted BBC interview has fallen into the hands of the New Statesman. What follows is a verbatim transcript.

Anonymous interviewer: So you fell for it, then?

John Humphrys: Fell for what?

AI: The old "Would you care to do an interview to talk about your new book" trick, when you should have known bloody well that the book's the last thing they'd be interested in.

JH: I think that's a very cynical . . .

AI: Cynical! How long you been in this game? Forty years? And you still haven't clocked!

JH: Well, I thought . . .

AI: You thought they wouldn't leap at the chance to stuff you the way you've been stuffing all those other poor saps who've written books all those years?

JH: I don't know about stuffing . . .

AI: Sure you don't! You think I haven't been listening to Today or what? All that guff along the lines of: "Sorry, I haven't actually read the whole of your new book, but perhaps I could just ask you something entirely irrelevant that bears absolutely no relation to anything you've written but might be of marginal prurient interest . . ." You pull that stunt for 40 years and then expect to have them all falling over themselves when you write your own pathetic little effort?

JH: (muttering) . . . dunno about "path-etic" . . .

AI: Dear God, you even go for lunch with the Observer's Lynn Barber and expect her to take the book seriously.

JH: Well, she was quite nice about it when we were chatting over the rocket . . .

AI: Quite nice about it! About time you grew up, innit? Lynn Barber being "quite nice" about something over the rocket is one thing. Lynn Barber sitting over her typewriter in her personalised torture chamber the next day after a breakfast of char-grilled baby is another. Look, sunshine, you lunch with Barber and you're toast.

JH: Well, I can see that now, but why did she have to write about light bulbs?

AI: 'Cos she'd read the cuttings, you naive little sod, and it's more fun to take the piss than discuss the death of journalism.

JH: But she said I was odd.

AI: Of course you're odd. You wrote a book, didn't you?

The rest of the tape consists of a muffled, sobbing sound and a door quietly closing in the background.


It's more than a little odd to write a book when you don't need the money and you have a perfectly decent day job; it's verging on the insane. Still, I'm not sure I was all that naive. Even as I signed the contract I could hear the knives being sharpened. Anyone who dishes it out on programmes such as Today or On the Record year after year ought to be prepared to take it when he sticks his own head above the parapet. But I'm still baffled by the bloody light bulbs. Why is it so odd to switch lights off in rooms when you've left them and to prefer a cool larder in winter to a fridge?


It's funny how the Barber barbs stick in the mind and how you forget the kind words of others. The trick is never to read your own reviews or your own interviews. Or, better still, contrive to read only the good ones. Or, even better, don't let anyone who might be nasty get anywhere near the book. Perhaps we should all follow the example of Peter Jay. It is said of Jay that when he wrote a particularly obscure column for the Times many years ago he was approached by the sub-editor on duty at the time.

"Sorry to trouble you, Mr Jay," said the snivelling wretch, "but there's something here I don't quite understand."

"Be off with you," replied the great man, "that piece was written for only three people in Britain and you are not one of them."

Magnificent, but possibly not what the publishers had in mind.


Speaking of being a Welshman, the one thing that really distresses me about reaction to the book is the interpretation by some reviewers that I was critical of my fellow Celt, Huw Edwards.

I wrote that I did not approve of the revamped Six o'Clock News, of its softer agenda and its frequently cosy approach to stories. Nor do I like the way most reports are followed up with live chats with the reporters. I like even less the new gimmick of having a "second" presenter in the field - a sort of Santa's little helper - to whom the main presenter hands over. Anyway, what I did not say was that I disapproved of Huw.

Quite the opposite. He happens to be a first-rate hack who writes well, reads well, interviews well and has settled into the job remarkably swiftly. He is relaxed and authoritative and would have been my first choice for the job if they'd asked me and I'm delighted that he's doing it. Such criticism of Huw as there has been derives, I suspect, from his Welsh accent. Odd, isn't it, how relaxed most of us seem about attacks on broadcasters because they speak with distinct British or Irish accents. Imagine the same attacks on black or brown broadcasters for their Jamaican or Bengali accents. "Racists!" we would shriek, and quite right, too.


Since I began writing this column I have had a call from the publisher. "Great news, John, you're on the best-seller list and it's only just been officially published." And to think I used to be sceptical about those lists . . .

John Humphrys' book, "Devil's Advocate", is published by Hutchinson, £16.99