John Humphrys: Next BBC director-general should be a woman

Former Today host John Humphrys has called for the next director-general of the BBC to be a woman.

The journalist, who has worked at the corporation for over 50 years, described it as “outrageous” and “plain wrong” the BBC has never had a woman director-general.

Humphrys also said that he did not think the BBC could survive in its “present form” and it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to justify the licence fee in the face of competition from social media, Netflix and Amazon.

The Cardiff-born journalist, who bowed out of the flagship BBC Radio 4 programme last month, was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival to promote his new book, A Day Like Today.

He said that after former China editor Carrie Gracie spoke out about the gender pay gap at the BBC things had improved but he believed there was still discrimination.

“I think it is still probably more likely the case you are to get a senior management job if you are male than female,” Humphrys said.

“It is still outrageous that the BBC which is nearly 100 years old has never had a woman director-general and I think that is just plain wrong and the next one has to be, in my view.”

Asked if the BBC can survive, Humphrys replied: “I don’t know. In its present form, probably not. The next charter renewal is a few years away.

“I do happen to think that the BBC is necessary for this country. In the face of social media, Netflix and Amazon and so on that kind of pressure, increasingly difficult to justify the licence fee.”

The journalist went on to say he was unaware of the gender pay issue until Gracie went public last year.

“I knew I was the best paid presenter on the Today Programme. I didn’t feel guilty about that because I had been there longer than anyone else and I’d done lots of other stuff,” he said.

“When it was revealed, I was like everyone else at the BBC – except for those that allowed it to happen – I was shocked.

“I took three pay cuts over that period of time and I now think, certainly on the Today Programme, it has evened out.”

Interviewer Georgina Godwin asked Humphrys about the infamous off-air recording of him discussing with colleague Jon Sopel the gender pay gap.

Humphrys described the exchange as “idiotic” and a “joke”.

“We were not having a go at Carrie Gracie, we were taking the mickey out of each other. It was a stupid thing to do,” he said.

He was asked whether he had apologised to Gracie and he replied: “If you listen to the Today programme you will know that a certain politician asked me whether I had apologised to her.

“But given what I have just told you, for what exactly? What should I be apologising for?”

Godwin suggested his remarks were “offensive” and he replied: “Were they? What did I say about her?

“I thought the whole point of it was that men were earning too much and women too little, so a man takes a pay cut, that doesn’t address the issue?

“The tone was entirely jokey. I was taking the mickey out of him and he was taking the mickey out of me for earning even more than he did.

“So, the answer to your question is, ‘no’. Apologise for what?

“I did drop her a little line to say I am sorry if you have been embarrassed by our stupid little conversation, but I didn’t apologise for what I said because I didn’t say anything offensive to Carrie.”

Humphrys said the Aberfan disaster in 1966 and its aftermath had a profound personal effect upon him and shaped his later career as it gave him a natural suspicion of those in authority.

Asked to name one person he would have wished to have interviewed, Humphrys replied that it would be the Queen.

Taking questions from a member of the audience, Humphrys was asked whether, given his earlier comments, he was a misogynist.

He replied: “I think that’s an offensive question. Got any evidence?”

The man asking the question said he did not.

“In that case I’ll leave it there,” Humphrys replied.