My Life In Media: John Humphrys

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The Independent Online

John Humphrys, 61, is best known as the voice that wakes the nation as presenter of BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme. He left school at 15 to work on local papers in South Wales before joining the BBC. He has two grown-up children, and a four-year-old son with his current partner, Valerie Sanderson.

John Humphrys, 61, is best known as the voice that wakes the nation as presenter of BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme. He left school at 15 to work on local papers in South Wales before joining the BBC. He has two grown-up children, and a four-year-old son with his current partner, Valerie Sanderson.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I'm not proud of this, but it really was Superman. It was the comic of choice when I was in infants' school and my critical faculties were not exactly honed to a fine edge. I made a simple calculation: Superman was really Clark Kent; Clark Kent was a journalist; ergo if I became a journalist I would become Superman. Not too shaming for a five-year-old, but I never really grew out of the notion.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

My father was a working-class Tory so we got the Express and, yes, I did read it ... which probably explains a lot.

And what were you favourite TV and radio programmes?

No TV (that came much later) but lots of the Home Service on the wireless. I was deeply impressed by the glamorous figures who contributed to From Our Own Correspondent. That gave me another push in the direction of journalism. Charles Wheeler was a regular even then. Extraordinary that he's still broadcasting 50 years later.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

You mean there's an alternative to Radio 4?

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I use Google a lot... hard to imagine life without it.

What is the best thing about your job?

I'm not sure that spending one's time talking to interesting people is a "job" in a sense. It's a bit like getting paid to do something you'd do from choice.

And the worst?

Having to get up in the middle of the bloody night.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Surviving this far.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Doing the programme with a terrible hangover one morning and realising, half way through an interview with a leading politician, that I'd forgotten who he was. And no, I'm not going to give you his name. I think he knows, but I'm not sure and I've enough enemies in Westminster as it is.

At home, what do you tune in to?

Radio 4 and sometimes Radio 3. I'm a sucker for radio drama. The old cliché is true: the pictures are better on the wireless. I'm already bending the ear of Mark Damazer, the new controller of Radio 4, to bring back 90-minute plays. They were dropped years ago and I miss them. But what really makes Radio 4 unique is that it refuses to chant the mantra of "accessibility". Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time is a perfect example of what the network is for - intelligent conversation that makes demands of the listener. I could do with a bit less talk on Radio 3, but Private Passions is almost always a joy.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

All of them except the red-top tabloids. I can't imagine not reading The Spectator and New Statesman.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

The Queen hasn't agreed to an interview... and that's not for want of asking.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Provide nutrition for the worms. A few years ago I'd have said farming, but I'm lousy at it. Plus, that's real work.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

John Simpson because he is genuinely brave. Columnists such as Libby Purves who write from real conviction. And, naturally, whichever editor I happen to be working for at the time.

CV: THE QUESTIONER

1966: Joins the BBC as a reporter based in Liverpool.

1970: Moves to London, but spends long periods covering Northern Ireland.

1971: Moves to the US as the youngest journalist ever to be appointed a BBC foreign correspondent, spending one year in New York and five in Washington, DC.

1977: As Southern Africa correspondent he covers the transformation of Southern Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.

1980: Back in London as diplomatic correspondent.

1981: Begins a five-year stint presenting the Nine 0'Clock News.

1987: Becomes presenter of Radio 4's Today programme.

1993-2002: Presents BBC1's weekly political programme, On The Record.

1994: Begins presenting Radio 4's On the Ropes.

1995: His current reputation as a formidable interviewer takes off when his aggressive style is attacked by some Conservative MPs, notably Jonathan Aitken.

2003: Host of BBC2's Mastermind.

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