A Brief Guide To Why Everyone Is Fuming At Radio 4's John Humphrys Today

Chris York

John Humphrys managed a triple-whammy of controversy on Wednesday morning after clashing with guests over gender stereotypes, “daft” university courses and the perils of scuba-diving in a sea full of salmon shit.

In what is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence, the veteran broadcaster’s name trended on Twitter as people vented some less-than-flattering opinions about the BBC Radio 4 host.

Here’s what went down...

Gender stereotypes

Off the back of two TV adverts being banned under new gender stereotyping rules, Humphrys spoke to Jess Tye of the Advertising Standards Authority, who spoke of the “real-world harms” caused by the such ads.

One for Volkswagen’s eGolf car featured a woman sitting on a bench next to a pram after scenes of two male astronauts floating in a spaceship and a male para-athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump.

When asked by the host what she meant by “harm”, Tye suggested such an ad could “affect the career choices that girls or boys make”.

Humphrys appeared taken aback at the suggestion, saying: “Really? You mean if a girl sees this rather charming picture of a mother sitting in the park with a baby and a pram, she might think ‘I don’t want to be an astronaut, I want to be just a caregiver’?

“And I put the word just in inverted commas because there is nothing wrong in being a caregiver, is there?”

 Cue round one of Twitter outrage.

Media studies degrees 

Humphrys then aimed his ire at students.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, was on the show to talk about her party’s plan to scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new “fairer” system of post-qualification admissions (PQA).

But rather than let Rayner explain the policy fully, Humphrys instead asked if there should not be an overhaul of the amount of time students spend at university as “the first year is spent getting drunk mostly”.

He then singled out particular courses, suggesting some are far easier than others, saying: “If you’re doing a medical degree, if you want to be a doctor it’s going to take you years to learn but if you want to do media studies or something do you really need three years?”

Rayner replied: “I don’t know John, I think your listeners will decide whether or not you need three years for media studies.”

Humphrys then doubled down, adding: ”I suspect most of them will say you need about five minutes.”

Rayner replied: “John, I think you’re going to make yourself deeply unpopular today.”

And she was bang on the money...

The Salmon poo 

To finish, Humphrys also engaged in what appeared to be a bragging match with a salmon farmer, Ian Roberts, who plans to open a large fish farm in the Hebrides. 

This one’s worth quoting in full...

HUMPHRYS: “What you can’t do, no matter how developed you are, is stop the salmon defecating in vast amounts and the amount of filth they deposit on the sea floor is enormous, isn’t it?”

ROBERTS: “Well it is farming and no matter what animal you farm you are going to have waste from that animal and it’s organic waste and it’s part of the...”

HUMPHRYS: “Well you say it’s organic waste but it kills everything, I’ve seen it myself, I have swum beneath salmon cages and it is absolutely horrifying, that’s my word, other people might quarrel with it but I was absolutely appalled by the extent and the depth of the filth on the floor. There was absolutely nothing else on the floor, everything was killed.”

ROBERTS: “Well John I can only disagree with you...”

HUMPHRYS: “Well I’ve seen it.”

ROBERTS: “And so have I John, I’ve been in the business for 26 years, I started as a scuba diver actually.”

HUMPHRYS: “Well I was scuba diving when I saw that, yup.”

ROBERTS: “Well we can agree to disagree and maybe you dove 20 years ago and saw a bad actor but I can say if you do it right, it’s a sustainable business.”

 And you can guess the reaction...

Humphrys has already announced he plans to quit the Today programme after 32 years on the early-morning broadcast.

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