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John Humphrys: ‘I’m hugely argumentative by instinct’

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Media captionJohn Humphrys: “I don’t feel any need to get back in front of a microphone or indeed a camera”

After 32 years of co-presenting BBC Radio 4’s Today, John Humphrys knew exactly how he wanted his final programme to sound.

“I had told the big boss that I wanted to leave without any fuss at all,” he explains. “At five minutes to nine on the morning of my last programme, I would say, ‘That’s it from us, oh and by the way, this is my last programme. And since I’m leaving, here are a few thoughts.’

“They vetoed that, because it just wouldn’t work. And they persuaded me.”

As a result, his last ever edition of the BBC’s flagship radio news programme ended up being quite an event.

Humphrys spoke to former Prime Minister David Cameron for his final 08:10 interview – the most prestigious slot of the programme. Tony Blair and Dame Edna Everage made appearances too, and for his closing item Humphrys was joined by several former co-hosts, including James Naughtie, Sarah Montague and Sue McGregor.

“I was actually, in spite of my reputation, rather moved by it,” he says (despite thinking it was “slightly over-the-top”).

The timing of Humphrys’ departure is somewhat surprising, considering it came six weeks before the Brexit deadline. But he says he was “absolutely not in the slightest” bit tempted to hang on, adding that “there would always be another reason for staying a little bit longer”.

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Humphrys presenting Today with (clockwise from top left) Sue McGregor, Brian Redhead, Mishal Husain and James Naughtie

There’s a recurring theme in the articles that were written about Humphrys around the time of his exit. Words like “Rottweiler” and “grumpy” crop up a lot.

“With all the boss class he was irascible, impatient and magnificently argumentative,” wrote former editor Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times. “For the past 20 years or more, senior figures wanted him out. They considered his approach too macho.”

In The New Statesman, another former editor, Roger Mosey, said Humphrys “excelled at the big gladiatorial combats; in his prime, there was nobody better at asking the questions listeners wanted to hear”.

Now that both Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman have left the BBC, there’s a suggestion that their combative style of interviewing may have had its day. Indeed, Radio 4 PM presenter Evan Davis has criticised those types of interviews as “worn out” and “not a particular public service”.

Humphrys discusses this at length in his memoirs, which are published this week. “I don’t want the audience to think we presenters and the politicians we interview are best mates, or even friends,” he writes in A Day Like Today. “Evan often uses their first names on air. I have always refused to do that and I wish they did not use ours.”

His own impatience during interviews, he now explains to BBC News, is largely down to the politicians who he says “refuse to engage on any level at all” – exchanges he finds “unrewarding and rather pointless”.

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HarperCollins

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Humphrys pictured with British forces at their military base in Basra, Iraq, in 2003

“It’s when you ask them a perfectly reasonable question, and they employ one of these gambits to avoid answering it, and you can see they’ve had media training or they’ve been told by their spin doctor not to answer it. The audience sees through it. I got more complaints about politicians who simply refused to answer the question than anything else.”

But he also points out that changes in interviewing styles over the years do not necessarily mean presenters nowadays are any less effective than they used to be.

“Justin [Webb] is every bit as tough as I was,” Humphrys says of one of Today’s remaining hosts. “He may have a slightly more emollient approach and he might get into an interview rather more gently than I did, but you realise if you’re listening that he knows what’s going on, he does his homework, and you wait for the killer question, and it will come.”

Humphrys and Webb’s warm relationship was evidenced by the fact that Webb was chosen to co-host the 76-year-old’s final programme. But he also acknowledged Humphrys’ occasional bad temper, writing in the Radio Times that Humphrys wouldn’t hesitate to “shout” and “throw things” if he was unhappy.

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Humphrys interviewed former Prime Minister David Cameron for his last 08:10 interview

“Untrue. Justin will hear from my lawyer,” Humphrys replies jokingly (we think) when this is put to him. “Look,” he continues, “I get worked up before and sometimes even during the programme – I was wholly engaged and I couldn’t do it by half.

“I am hugely argumentative by instinct, I’m fairly combative – not physically – and if I see something of which I disapprove, if I don’t like the running order or brief, I will say so. And with some people, I’m able to have perfectly rational and sensible conversations. With other people, for whatever reason, personality clashes or whatever, I will occasionally lose my temper. I’m always sorry when I do.”

How many times has he threatened to resign?

“Hang on a minute, how long have we got?” He jokingly pretends to count on both hands. “I’m afraid, rather childishly, I have threatened to resign once or twice – quite a few times probably.”

He does not recall many specific examples, but Charlotte Edwardes of The Times reported in 2016 that one such occasion was when Humphrys found out he wouldn’t be presenting on the morning of the EU referendum result. (In the end, he did present that programme, with Montague.)

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As a young reporter, Humphrys reported on the Liverpool dock strikes

Humphrys’ memoirs include his reflections on how journalism, and the BBC, have changed since he began presenting Today in 1987.

One of the most significant developments of recent years has been the annual publication of BBC stars’ salaries after pressure from the government. That has led to all kinds of issues for the corporation, not least the gender pay discrepancies which emerged.

Some presenters, such as Graham Norton, took issue with the list’s publication, but Humphrys says he’s “always been happy with it”.

“And I’ve always been puzzled by the BBC’s hitherto refusal to do so. I’ve never been ashamed of how much I earned. There was a time when I was earning a very large amount indeed.” In 2016/17, Humphrys earned between £600,000-£650,000 before he took a pay cut to around £290,000. “But the licence payer has a right to know.”

However, since the BBC began revealing salaries, it has lost some of its biggest names to the commercial sector, including Chris Evans, Simon Mayo and Eddie Mair. Although not the only factor in their exits, director general Tony Hall referred to the lists as a “poacher’s charter”.

“Well, let it [be one],” Humphrys replies. “Look, if someone wants to employ Eddie Mair, what’s to stop them ringing him up and saying, ‘How much you earning Eddie? Oh, well we can double that’. It’s a market, and if they want to take him from the BBC, fine.”

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Several past and present Today presenters and editors joined Humphrys for his final programme

His relationship with Mair, incidentally, is shown in the book to have been strained.

Humphrys recalls an occasion when the former PM presenter fronted an item about the leaking of an off-air conversation between Humphrys and BBC North America editor Jon Sopel, in which they appeared to make light of the gender gap revealed by the star salaries list. Humphrys admits he “went ballistic” about how Mair tackled the events on air, without allowing him a right of reply.

He does, however, express regret and “takes full responsibility” for his conversation with Sopel itself. “I naively believed that the people you work with are not sitting there listening furtively to your conversations that you think are little private chats at four o’clock in the morning, when you’re both taking the mickey out of each other. But I do find the reaction to be preposterous.”

Humphrys adds that he “has a vague suspicion” of who leaked the recording, but declines to name names.

‘Absolute tosh’

Notably, Humphrys is not on Twitter, something practically unthinkable for a journalist in 2019. The social media platform is a crucial tool for reporters.

Considering the pasting Humphrys gave George Entwistle in 2012 over the former director general’s failure to stay across news headlines and spot the Newsnight scandal sooner, is it not hypocritical for Humphrys himself to have refused to join such a platform?

“It’s a very good question, but let me throw it back to you,” he says. “If Donald Trump tweets something important, is it going to be in the newspapers and on every single outlet immediately? Yes. Do I read all of those newspapers? Yes. So the idea that by not spending eight hours of my day reading every idiotic and sometimes bizarre or offensive tweet I am somehow missing something is absolute tosh.”

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Humphrys’ interview with George Entwistle contributed to the BBC director general’s resignation

Safe to say, he will not be spending his radio retirement learning how to use social media. Instead, Humphrys is keen to have a few months off, although he will continue to present Mastermind on BBC Two.

The most important question, of course, is whether he’d consider doing Strictly Come Dancing now he’s free from the constraints of being a serious news presenter.

“I have been asked twice over the years, and the answer each time was no. The answer remains no,” he says. “Look, poor old John Sergeant made a fool of himself. He’s a great mate of mine and, moreover, he turned making a fool of himself into a very successful career. So good on him, but not for me.

“And anyway, I’ve got two left feet.”

John Humphrys: A life in journalism

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Humphrys presented the Nine O’Clock News with Julia Somerville before joining Today

  • Humphrys’ career began in newspapers in Wales. After leaving school, he spent two years working on the Penarth Times, then worked for the Merthyr Express and the Western Mail.
  • He moved into broadcasting in his 20s, and while working for the Welsh commercial TV channel TWW he was the first reporter on site of the Aberfan disaster in October 1966.
  • He joined the BBC later that year, first as a regional reporter, during which time he covered the Liverpool dock strikes, and then as a foreign correspondent, which saw him cover the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.
  • Since 1981, he has largely remained in the studio. He presented the BBC’s Nine O’Clock News before joining Today in 1987. It was there that he developed his reputation as one of the corporation’s most ferocious interviewers and he became the presenter most feared by politicians.



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Keith Lemon star hits out at fake Caroline Flack t-shirts being sold online

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Comedian Leigh Francis says fake versions of the charity t-shirt he made following the death of his friend Caroline Flack are being sold online.

The actor – better known as Keith Lemon – accuses other people of “ripping off” his design, which he made to support The Samaritans.

And he’s urging websites remove the fakes to make sure as much money as possible goes to charity.

So far, more than 11,000 of his original Be Kind tees have been sold.

Caroline took her own life earlier this month and Keith had known her for years.

Launching his t-shirt, he said he wanted to spread her #BeKind message – and said all the profits would go to charity.

But fakes have started springing up online.

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Some of the fakes Newsbeat found for sale online

Radio 1 Newsbeat’s found a number of sites selling the fakes – originals can only be purchased through Keith Lemon’s own pages.

And the comedian’s put out a number of messages on Instagram, urging people not to buy the copies.

“Thanks so much to everyone who’s bought a t-shirt for Be Kind. Unfortunately, there’s a website called Teespring.com that’s ripped off the design and unless they’re going to give that money to The Samaritans, then they’ve stolen my design and taken that money that would’ve gone to The Samaritans,” he said.

He then posted another message to say the company had removed the fakes.

Teespring has since apologised, saying all designs are created by “independent individuals”. It also says the user’s account has been “disabled” and that it “doesn’t support this behaviour”.

The company hasn’t said whether it’ll be handing over any profits to charity – but fakes are turning up on a number of other sites too.

Newsbeat has contacted several of the sites selling fakes but so far, there has been no comment.


If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want help or information you can visit BBC Advice.

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.





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Harvey Weinstein accusers welcome rape and sexual assault conviction

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Media captionDistrict Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr: “Weinstein is a vicious, serial sexual predator”

Accusers of Harvey Weinstein have welcomed the guilty verdicts in the rape and sexual assault case against the former Hollywood mogul.

Actress Rose McGowan told the BBC “this is a great day”, while others said the ruling brought hope to victims that their voices would be heard.

Weinstein, 67, was convicted in New York City of third-degree rape and a first-degree criminal sexual act.

He was cleared of the most serious count of predatory sexual assault.

Weinstein faces up to 25 years in prison over the guilty verdicts relating to two women. His lawyers say he will appeal.

“I’m innocent. How can this happen in America?” Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala quoted his client as saying.

The former movie executive still faces charges in Los Angeles of assaulting two women in 2013.

In all, at least 80 women had accused him of sexual misconduct stretching back decades, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek.

The allegations were at the centre of the #MeToo movement that prompted women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.

Weinstein once enjoyed phenomenal success with Oscar winners such Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, The King’s Speech and Shakespeare in Love.

He was taken to New York’s Bellevue Hospital reportedly suffering from chest pains after the verdict was announced.

He had been due to be moved to prison on Riker’s Island to await sentencing.

What happened in the New York court?

The jury of seven men and five women reached their verdict on Monday morning, the fifth day of deliberations.

Weinstein – who denied all charges – was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a former aspiring actress, in 2013. The judge ordered him to be sent to jail immediately.

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Weinstein showed no emotion in the minutes after the verdict

But the jury acquitted him on two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence, and first-degree rape of Mann.

In the minutes after the verdict, Weinstein showed no emotion as he talked to his lead lawyer Donna Rotunno.

A third-degree rape charge in New York is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse with a person who is incapable of consent, or under age 17, or who has not given consent for a reason other than the inability to consent.

Prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who used his position of power in Hollywood to manipulate and attack women.

The defence team said sex between the movie executive and the accusers was consensual, and that the accusers used it to advance their careers.

The allegations amounted to “regret renamed as rape”, the defence said. Two of the accusers kept in contact with Weinstein and had sex with him after the alleged attacks, they pointed out.

How did we get here?

  • Allegations against Weinstein began to emerge in October 2017, when the New York Times first reported incidents dating back decades
  • Weinstein issued an apology acknowledging he had “caused a lot of pain”, but disputed the allegations
  • As dozens more accusations emerged, Weinstein was sacked by the board of his company and all but banished from Hollywood
  • A criminal investigation was launched in New York in late 2017, but Weinstein was not charged until May 2018, when he turned himself in to police.
  • How the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolded

What were the allegations in this case?

Ms Haleyi, who had worked on one of Weinstein’s television productions, said she was assaulted by the producer after he invited her to his Lower Manhattan home.

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Reuters

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Weinstein sexually assaulted former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006

She testified that he backed her into a bedroom, held her down on the bed and forced himself on her.

Ms Mann said that she found herself in an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that did not involve intercourse until he raped her in a New York City hotel room in 2013.

She said he was a “Jekyll and Hyde” figure who could be charming in public but showed his dark side when they were alone.

Another one of Weinstein’s accusers, Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra, told jurors he raped her in her apartment one night in the mid-1990s.

  • Weinstein accuser: ‘No’ was a trigger for him

Her allegation was too old to be charged as a separate crime, but prosecutors used it in an attempt to demonstrate that the accused was a repeat sexual offender.

Following the verdict, Ms Sciorra said: “I spoke for myself and with the strength of the 80-plus victims of Harvey Weinstein in my heart.”

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Jessica Mann (left) and Anabella Sciorra accused Weinstein of rape

Three other also women testified they were lured to apparent work meetings with Weinstein, then sexually assaulted.

What more reaction has there been?

Rose McGowan told the BBC’s Newshour programme: “The little girl I was when I was hurt, she’s ecstatic…This is a great day. The trash has been taken out.”

The actress, who was an early Weinstein accuser, added: “The fact that we are white women and attractive and of some means and it still took this many of us to even get him to have one day in court – just tells you…how almost impossible it is to even be heard, period, let alone [get] any kind of conviction.”

In a joint letter, actresses Ashley Judd, Lucia Evans and Rosanna Arquette and 19 other Weinstein accusers called it “disappointing that today’s outcome does not deliver the true, full justice that so many women deserve,” but expressed gratitude towards all the women who came forward to speak out against him.

Meanwhile, Ms Rotunno said that “the fight is not over”.

“Harvey is unbelievably strong. He took it like a man and he knows we will continue to fight for him and he knows that this is not over.”

Ms Rotunno said her client was disappointed, but “mentally tough”.

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Media captionHired by Weinstein to extract information on celebrities

What happens next?

  • Weinstein will be sentenced on 11 March
  • He still faces charges of rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles, and there are other cases under review, according to the county district attorney
  • Civil complaints against Weinstein continue to be fought
  • In December 2019, lawyers said they reached a tentative $25m (£19m) deal with some accusers



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Luke Evans praises Swansea hospital after dad’s accident

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Luke Evans praised the “amazing” staff at Morriston Hospital in Swansea

Actor Luke Evans has praised hospital staff who saved his father’s hand after an accident with a circular saw.

In an Instagram video Evans described how his father, David Evans, had “sliced his hand open” with the tool.

He praised the “amazing” staff at Morriston Hospital in Swansea who operated on his father.

Beauty and the Beast star Evans, who was brought up in Aberbargoed, said the incident happened on Friday in the garden of his parents’ home.

In the video, posted on Monday evening, he said: “Three days ago my dad had an accident in his garden, chopping, slicing wood on a circular saw. It was very bad, he sliced his hand open.

“It was a terrible accident and he almost lost his fingers.”

He added: “It took five hours of microsurgery by one of the most incredible people I have ever met.

“What he did to my dad’s hand is extraordinary.”

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Evans has also had roles in The Hobbit and The Girl on a Train

The star said his family were looked after by “very kind people” from “the second we got there”.

“Nurses, carers, porters, surgeons, anaesthetists, all of which had already worked a very long day when we arrived,” he said.

Evans said the surgeon finished after midnight and “came out with a smile on his face and time to give me and my mum all the time to explain what had happened to my dad”.

“My dad has been looked after so well by everybody in that hospital and I just wanted to say how lucky I feel and how grateful I am to have a health service that allows my dad to be treated for all these things, and it hasn’t needed health insurance or anything, it is just there for us.

“We are a very lucky nation,” he said.





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