John Humphrys

Last updated

John Humphrys
Humphrys in 2012
Desmond John Humphrys

(1943-08-17) 17 August 1943 (age 78) [1]
Education Cardiff High School [1]
Occupation Journalist, presenter
Employer BBC
AgentKruger Cowne Ltd [2]
Notable credit(s)
Today (1987–2019)
BBC Nine O'Clock News (1981–1986)
Mastermind (2003–2021)
Edna Wilding
(m. 1964,divorced)
Relatives Bob Humphrys (brother)

Desmond John Humphrys (born 17 August 1943) [1] is a Welsh broadcaster. [3] From 1981 to 1987 he was the main presenter for the Nine O'Clock News , the flagship BBC News television programme, [3] and from 1987 until 2019 he presented on the BBC Radio 4 breakfast programme Today . [4] He was the host of the BBC Two television quiz show Mastermind from 2003 to 2021, for a total of 735 episodes.


Humphrys has a reputation as an outspoken and challenging interviewer; occasionally politicians have been critical of his style after being subjected to a tough interview on live radio. [3] [5] [6] [7]

Early life and career

Humphrys was born in a working class environment in Cardiff at 193 Pearl Street, Adamsdown, son of Winifred Mary (Matthews), a hairdresser, and Edward George Humphrys, a self-employed French polisher. [5] [8] He was one of five children. [5] 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. [5] [7] He became a pupil at Cardiff High School (then a grammar school), but he did not fit into the middle class environment there. [5] He was an average pupil and left school at 15, choosing not to go to university and instead became a reporter with the Penarth Times . [3] [5] The weekly newspaper that employed him served the town of Penarth, which is a seaside resort located south of Cardiff, in South Wales and focused on local news.

Humphrys later joined the Western Mail , a larger regional newspaper based in Cardiff. He joined Television Wales and the West (TWW), a commercial television channel based in Wales, and was the first reporter on the scene of the Aberfan disaster, which killed 144 people and destroyed entire parts of a town, in October 1966. [9] [10]

Career at the BBC

Humphrys joined the BBC later in 1966 as the district reporter for Liverpool and the Northwest, where he reported on the dock strikes of that time, sometimes for the national news. [5] 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. [5] Later he took his family with him to the United States and South Africa where he was sent to open a news bureau. [5] He reported the resignation of president Richard Nixon in 1974 on television by satellite from the United States, [5] 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, [5] and returned to London in 1980 to take up the post of BBC Diplomatic Correspondent. [3] [7]

In 1981 he became the main presenter of the BBC's flagship Nine O'Clock News . [3] 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. Humphrys began presenting Today in January 1987, joining Brian Redhead. He still made occasional appearances fronting BBC Television news bulletins in the 1990s. During the 1991 Gulf War he was a volunteer presenter on the BBC Radio 4 News FM service. [11]

From 1993 he presented the weekly On The Record political TV show until its demise in 2002. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in January 2001 when he was surprised by Michael Aspel while presenting an edition of On The Record at the BBC Television Centre. [12]

Humphrys has also presented Panorama and was the presenter of the revived version of the game show Mastermind between 2003 and 2021. [13] [14] He became the programme's fourth regular host, succeeding Magnus Magnusson, Peter Snow and Clive Anderson.

Humphrys is an agnostic, but has said that he 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. [15]

On 12 November 2009, he became a temporary replacement for David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time when Dimbleby was recovering from an injury. [16] 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. In 2014, he appeared as himself in The Life of Rock with Brian Pern . [17]

Humphry's interview with the Director-General of the BBC George Entwistle on 11 November 2012 on the Today programme was widely reported to have been a major factor in Entwistle's resignation later that day. [18] In the interview, Entwistle admitted he was unaware of a Newsnight investigation which wrongly accused a senior Conservative figure of child abuse until after it was broadcast. [19] The report came about during the unfolding of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, which was also considered a factor that contributed to Entwistle's resignation.

On the day of the interview, Humphrys' co-presenter James Naughtie recalled "It was electric in that studio. There were three of us sitting there, George, John and me. And I think all three of us knew we could see a man destroying his own job, on the spot. He was at sea. And it was a deeply uncomfortable 10 minutes." [20] Humphrys later said: "I know it was said in the papers the following morning that he had been humiliated. I didn't set out to humiliate him, of course I didn't." [21]

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." [22]

In February 2019 Humphrys announced that he was to leave the Today programme, saying that he should have quit "years ago". He hosted his final edition on 19 September, where his interviewees were Tony Blair, Dame Edna Everage and David Cameron. [23] [24] [7]

On 6 February 2021, in his Daily Mail column, Humphrys announced he would leave his position on Mastermind after 18 years of hosting the programme. His 735th and final episode of the show aired on 26 April 2021. He was replaced by TV presenter Clive Myrie, who made his debut on 23 August 2021. [25]

Other interests

Humphrys has written several books, including Lost for Words, in which he criticises 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. In September 2019, he released his memoir, A Day Like Today, which included his views on the internal political climate at the BBC.

He played himself in the 2013 crime thriller film Closed Circuit with Eric Bana playing the lead. [26]

After leaving the BBC, Humphrys joined the Daily Mail as a weekly columnist [27] and became a presenter on Classic FM on Sunday afternoons between 3 pm and 5 pm. [28]

Humphrys is a keen gardener who makes his home-made compost and uses his own urine to water his lawn. [29] [30] [31]

Political views

Humphrys has been described as a "natural liberal" and does not view himself as conservative, saying; "I am not conservative, you know. I am genuinely one of those pathetic people who has very strong views about issues". [7]

He also stated that his political views are heavily influenced by what he sees and who he talks to as a reporter. "So every other bloody week I change my mind about something or other, and when you vote, you look for the party that comes closest to what you believe." [7]

When asked if he was happy with having the extracts of his books published in the Daily Mail , Humphreys responded saying: "Yes. They did and they not only did that, but they also sought my approval. I was not particularly happy with the splash [the headline] the Mail used, but you know… I don’t give a flying fuck whether people think that a particular newspaper is biased in this way or that way. All I’m concerned with is that my material is presented in the way I’ve written it and they didn’t change a word." [7]

He also responded to a further question titled "Do you understand why some people don’t like the Daily Mail?" saying that he has always read the Daily Mail simply because it reaches an awful lot of people. And that it may not always be compatible with his own views, but said that he also thinks the same about The Guardian , which hosted the interview. [7]

He views himself as feminist: “I detest the word feminism, because of course I’m a feminist,” he says. “God, why does one have to say it? Obviously, obviously… Racism is a profoundly moral issue, as is feminism. That’s why I refused to wear one of those “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts. No, it isn't. This is what a white man looks like, who happens to believe that women are equal to men. I mean, even saying it makes you sound like a dickhead.” [7]

Personal life

Humphrys married Edna Wilding (August 1942 – September 1997) in 1964 and they had two children, a son and daughter, Christopher and Catherine. [5] Their marriage broke down in the late 1980s. [5] Wilding died of cancer in Glamorgan, South Wales; Humphrys described her last days in a hospice in his book Devil's Advocate (2000). Humphrys' son Christopher is now a professional cellist. [5]

On 2 June 2000, when he was 56 years old, Humphrys and his then partner, Valerie Sanderson, had a son, Owen James. [32] 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 . [33]

In 2005 he founded the Kitchen Table Charities Trust, a charity that funds projects to help some of the poorest people anywhere in the world; it not only helps the most vulnerable but, in the longer term, "helps the country to stand on its own feet." [34]

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". [35] He was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs on 6 January 2008. [5] 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. [5]

Humphrys' brother, Bob Humphrys, was a sports television presenter on BBC Wales Today. He died of lung cancer in Cardiff on 19 August 2008, aged 56. [36]

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. [37]


Humphrys has won a number of industry awards, including being named Journalist of the Year in February 2000 at an awards ceremony organised by The House and Channel 4, the Gold Sony Radio Award in 2003, and a silver platter for Crystal Clear Broadcasting from the Plain English Campaign.

He holds an honorary degree from Abertay University, which is located in Dundee, Scotland. [38]


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  1. 1 2 3 "HUMPHRYS, John". Who's Who . 2015 (online Oxford University Press  ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(subscription or UK public library membership required)(subscription required)
  2. "John Humphrys Agent & Speaker".
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Biographies: John Humphrys: Presenter, Today". BBC. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  4. "John Humphrys: 'Forensic' and 'grouchy' host 'will be much missed'". BBC News. 19 September 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 "Desert Island Discs with John Humphrys". Desert Island Discs. 6 January 2008. BBC. Radio 4.
  6. "BBC criticises Humphrys' speech". BBC News. 6 September 2005. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Sawyer, Miranda (13 October 2019). "You ask the questions: John Humphrys: 'The Queen told me if she ever did an interview, it wouldn't be with me'". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  8. The Daily Telegraph , 21 July 2007, "Family Detective"
  9. "Aberfan 'was like a scene from hell' – John Humphrys". BBC. 20 October 2016.
  10. "The Aberfan disaster: John Humphrys, Huw Edwards and a survivor recall the 1966 tragedy".
  11. "BBC – Press Office – Jenny Abramsky Oxford lecture two".
  12. "John Humphrys". Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  13. "Mastermind". BBC. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  14. "Mastermind: John Humphrys to step down as host". BBC News. 6 February 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  15. "Humphrys in Search of God". BBC. Archived from the original on 28 June 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2019. 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.
  16. "David Dimbleby injured by bullock". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009.
  17. "BBC Four – Brian Pern, The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, Death of Rock". BBC.
  18. "Fallout from Newsnight fiasco: John Humphrys vs George Entwistle – TV & Radio – Media". The Independent. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  19. "George Entwistle under fire: the full transcript of Today interview". The Daily Telegraph. 10 November 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  20. Davies, Caroline (19 September 2019). "The John Humphrys 'paradox': rottweiler or shy Welsh walker?". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  21. "John Humphrys: 'I didn't set out to humiliate George Entwistle'". Press Gazette. 3 December 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  22. "John Humphrys: I am a different interviewer now from the one who started on Today". Radio Times.
  23. 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  24. "Cameron, Blair and Dame Edna join Humphrys' final Today programme". BBC News. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  25. "Mastermind: John Humphrys to step down as host". BBC News. 6 February 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  26. "John Humphrys prepares to step down as voice of Today programme". The Irish News . Belfast. 18 September 2019. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  27. Tobitt, Charlotte (9 January 2020). "John Humphrys joins Daily Mail as weekly columnist after leaving BBC". Press Gazette. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  28. "John Humphrys to join Classic FM on Sunday afternoons". Classic FM. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  29. Guinness, Bunny (5 October 2019). "Out of the studio and into the garden: John Humphrys on weeds, no-dig, and Sir David Attenborough". The Telegraph. ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  30. Turner, Janice. "John Humphrys talks Today, the BBC pay row and Greta Thunberg". ISSN   0140-0460 . Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  31. "Gardening: the secret of happiness". The Guardian. 26 March 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  32. "Today presenter celebrates new son". BBC. 4 June 2000. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  33. Gordon, Bryony (22 September 2009). "John Humphrys: 'I've always felt like a bit of a fraud'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  34. "Kitchen Table charities Trust: Welcome page" . Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  35. "Glastonbury 2013: John Humphrys at his first festival". BBC News. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  36. "Former BBC sports presenter dies". BBC News. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
  37. "BBC One – Coming Home, Series 8, John Humphrys". BBC. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  38. "John Humphrys: National treasure or the rudest man in Britain?". 10 May 2003. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
Media offices
Preceded by
Magnus Magnusson
Host of Mastermind
Succeeded by
Clive Myrie
Preceded by
John Timpson
Today presenter
with Brian Redhead, Peter Hobday, Sue MacGregor, Anna Ford, James Naughtie, Edward Stourton, Sarah Montague, Carolyn Quinn, Evan Davis, Justin Webb and Mishal Husain
Succeeded by