New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
12 January 2018

A definitive list of sexist things John Humphrys has said

The BBC presenter was caught joking about the gender pay gap.

By Media Mole

Rarely a morning passes these days without King of the Dinosaurs and perpetual Today programme presenter John Humphrys making some kind of offensive gaffe. His latest anguished howl at the modern world was a conversation with the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel in which the two men mocked the corporation’s gender pay gap.

Following China editor Carrie Gracie’s resignation from her role due to pay inequality, the two journalists joked about the story in an off-air chat.

The Sun reports Humphrys asking Sopel “how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her” and referring to “other men who are earning too much” – then adding, “I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that 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?” Before adding, “Oh dear God she’s actually suggested you should lose money.”

Apparently BBC management is “deeply unimpressed” with the conversation. And so is your mole, because it sees Humphrys’ “banter” as part of a trend that such a high-profile radio presenter should not be getting away with. Here are a few more examples from over the (many) ages:

Lamenting that MPs can’t “date” their juniors

Quizzing the Tory peer and former Foreign Secretary William Hague in November 2017 on the sexual harassment and abuse claims against politicians – or, as Humphrys delicately introduced the topic, “sexual abuse or whatever, scandals in the Palace of Westminster” – he feared that MPs will no longer be able to “date” their assistants:

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

“Is there a danger that 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 – maybe, eventually, to marry them or something, I mean, you know. There are risks in this aren’t there?”

To which Hague, rather baffled, replied: “I don’t think we’ve reached that point, I think there is a real problem here to be dealt with.”

But Humphrys wouldn’t let go, adding:

“But we’re heading in that direction, aren’t we? Where, seriously, where MPs would be terribly nervous – an unmarried MP asking an unmarried assistant for a date?”

Earlier in the interview, he asked Hague twice if this is “a witch hunt”, pressing him a third time by asking: “Is there a danger of that?”

Hague avoided this line of questioning, arguing: “We’re in a new age of accountability.”

After discussing inequality and misogyny across the world, Hague was subjected to one final, idiotic question on the subject by Humphrys:

“There’s not a danger, is there, that if you conflate mass rape with somebody touching somebody’s knee perhaps accidentally in the House of Commons that we get it out of proportion?”

Propositioning “sensationally sexy” fellow presenter for “mad passionate love in the basement”

In the Eighties, Humphrys propositioned the newsreader Moira Stuart after being on air – in front of an audience who could lip-read what he was saying to her:

“You’re the most sensationally sexy lady I know. The best thing we can do is to make mad passionate love in the basement.”

Undermining Johanna Konta’s tennis success

In July last year, ahead of the Wimbledon women’s semi-finals, Humphrys outraged listeners by grilling British singles star Johanna Konta about her nationality.

Unable to grasp that someone who wasn’t born in the UK could possibly be – splutter – British, he thundered:

“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 graciously handled the interview-turned-border control interrogation by giving a dismissive laugh and informing Humphrys that she wasn’t born in Hungary, and has lived in Britain half her life, representing it in both tennis tournaments and the Olympics for years: “I’m definitely a British athlete.”

Humphrys was accused of sexism and xenophobia.

Laughing at Michael Gove’s Weinstein joke

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove told Humphrys in October last year that “sometimes I think that coming into the studio with you, John, is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom”, at which Humphrys let out a guffaw. “You just pray that you emerge with your dignity intact,” he continued, while fellow guest Neil Kinnock added: “John goes way past groping – way past groping.”

You can hear Humphrys chortling in the background throughout.

Accused of trivialising sexual assault, Gove later apologised about his “clumsy attempt at humour… [it] wasn’t appropriate. I’m sorry and apologise unreservedly.”

Three men of the establishment sniggering about sexual assault. A lovely summary of the whole problem right there.

Finding Angelina Jolie frivolous – AND diminishing violence against women

In 2014, the then Conservative minister Sayeeda Warsi accused Humphrys of “everyday sexism” and the Labour politician Glenys Thornton said she was “irritated” after comments he made in an interview with the then Foreign Secretary William Hague on Today.

Hague and Angelina Jolie co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, but Humphrys accused the politician of looking “starstruck” in a photograph with her, and diverting his attention from “what really matters”.

“You must’ve been a bit embarrassed that with a full-blown crisis in the Middle East, you were in all the papers being photographed with Angelina Jolie… it did look as if you were a bit starstruck and as if it was a bit of a diversion from what really mattered,” Humphrys said. “You must’ve known the pictures in the papers were going to be of you with a very beautiful, very famous international superstar?… A bit embarrassing for you?”

Following the interview, Thornton said, “he seemed to suggest that because Angelina Jolie is a very beautiful and famous woman, somehow that undermined her support”.

Warsi added:

“In terms of the comments, well, you know, everyday sexism, what can we say? 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.”

Minimising victims in rape trials

When the host was interviewing the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders about sexual offence prosecutions last year, he suggested “the scales have been tipped a little too far” in favour of victims in sexual assault cases (calling them “sex cases”), and erroneously claimed that “at least, anecdotally” false accusations were rising.

He said the “problem” with such cases was that the accused don’t get anonymity, unlike the victims – and called it “regrettable” that former Prime Minister Ted Heath’s reputation had been “besmirched”.

The End Violence Against Women campaign called on the BBC to “stop Humphrys doing these” interviews.

Mansplaining fashion to the Vogue editor

The former editor of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman slammed Humphrys for “mansplaining” her industry to her during an interview when she was leaving the publication last year. Humphrys grilled her about what he saw as the loss of “hourglass” figures, and rarely seeing “reasonably cosy, comfortably shaped women” on the magazine’s cover, despite her listing recent profiles of all sorts of women, interrupting her by saying, “now you have to be skinny as a rake”.

“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,” she wrote in the Mail, accusing Humphrys of considering fashion a “shallow subject for discussion” and saying his knowledge of the subject was “no doubt low”.

“I would like to have spoken about the emergence of nylon, acrylic and polyester, and how they helped to release women from the drudgery of the kitchen sink and ironing board,” she added.

To make matters worse, Humphrys responded by doing that dreadful thing only sexist men do by flipping it round: “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.”

Calling trans women “men who think they are women”

In a special segment on gender last year, Humphrys was accused of misgendering by claiming, “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”, before badgering a trans woman to “prove” her identity in a combative interview.

When she said her “life experience is my fundamental proof”, he hit back: “But you don’t have a certificate that says you are a woman?”

Accusing a female politician of being too emotional to be party leader

When interviewing the Labour MP Angela Eagle in 2016, who had cried publicly 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?.. Are you entitled to that if you’re a political leader?”

Eagle replied that “there’s more than one way to be a leader, and I think being in touch with your emotions is quite an important thing”.

“Displaying them is different from being in touch with them,” he replied. “Shouldn’t you be able to control those emotions when you’re under great stress?”

The writer Emma Kennedy tweeted “will John Humphreys tackle Obama on his occasional crying during office?” and the leader of the Women’s Equality Party Sophie Walker tweeted, “day after we stop assessing female leaders by childbearing capacity, John Humphrys finds Angela Eagle wanting for being emotional”.

Mocking a guest for crying

Following fellow presenter Nick Robinson’s interview with the Tory MP Vicky Ford at the end of the last year, in which she did not deny being reduced to tears by the party’s whips, Humphrys piped in with a question to the weather forecaster on next Stav Danaos: “Time for the weather forecast – are you in tears, Stav?”

When Danaos appeared confused by the remark, he repeated: “You’re not in tears, are you?”

Today was accused of having a “blokey joke” at Ford’s expense by one listener.

Saying Mishal Husain was only in a job because she’s “good-looking”

When the then BBC News at Ten newsreader and his future fellow Today presenter Mishal Husain was on Celebrity Mastermind in 2009, Humphrys introduced her as a “newsreader and a very good-looking woman”, before asking: “Are you doing your job only because you are good-looking?”

At the time, Husain accused him of being “obsessed with autocuties”.

Content from our partners
We need an urgent review of UK pensions
The future of private credit
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges