Over the years, the New Statesman’s Media Mole has spent almost every other morning shouting at the radio, burying its head under its pillow or ranting at its colleagues about a certain downy-haired dinosaur who was inexplicably still presenting the Today programme most days.
And now he’s leaving.
If, like your mole, you felt the tributes gushing from Radio 4 this morning were a little too sycophantic, here’s our alternative tribute to John Humphrys’s best (worst) moments on the show:
Joking about a man punching his wife
“I promise not to punch you if you don’t punch me!” Humphrys chortled live on air with David Davis after a news bulletin about a man who punched his wife.
Mocking a colleague’s equal pay claim
Following BBC China editor Carrie Gracie’s resignation from her role due to pay inequality, Humphrys’s dismissive jokes about the story in an off-air chat were leaked. “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?” he joked to North America editor Jon Sopel. “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you?”
Lamenting that MPs can’t date their juniors
“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?” fretted Humphrys during the height of the “Pestminster” scandal.
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.”
Grilling Johanna Konta about her nationality
Ahead of the Wimbledon women’s semi-finals in 2017, Humphrys outraged listeners by pressing British singles star Johanna Konta about her Britishness:
“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 informed 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 2017 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.
Erroneous claims about rape victims
When Humphrys was interviewing the former director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders about sexual offence prosecutions, 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 in 2017.
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.
Calling trans women “men who think they are women”
In a special segment on gender, 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?”
Saying Mishal Husain was only in a job because she’s “good-looking”
When the then BBC News at Ten newsreader and 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”.
Suggesting a Nigerian woman who lives in Nigeria should “go back” home
In an interview with Nigerian filmmaker and London-trained lawyer, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Humphrys said: “You were born there of course, you trained as a lawyer, you came to this country. Maybe you should go back?”
“I don’t live here actually,” Austen-Peters, who was on holiday and lives in Nigeria, patiently replied.
Mansplaining away hate speech to Diane Abbott
“If I’m rude to you for being black, you’d survive,” Humphrys told the shadow home secretary and politician who receives more, and racist, abuse than all other MPs put together. “If I punched you in the nose, that would be an entirely different matter, wouldn’t it?”
Claiming people don’t like seeing “the burqa in my pub”
In a strange attempt to speak for mythical ordinary people, Humphrys said: “If he [Johnson] did that [apologised for the “bank robber” and “letter box” comments], a lot of people might say what that means is that, although I personally – they might say – am opposed to the burqa… I don’t like seeing the burqa in the street, or in my pub, or in my shop or wherever it happens to be.”