John Humphrys: The veteran broadcaster on Thatcher, his colleagues' annoying habits, and why nobody would bother stealing his car


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The Independent Online

Have any politicians struck you as particularly genuine?

The overwhelming majority of them. I think that most people who go into politics actually do want to make a difference. The idea that people like me have no time for politicians is complete nonsense. I don't agree with the idea that you always ask yourself, "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?"

What is your guiding mantra then?

It depends on the interview. In some you have to be more... I'm trying to avoid the word aggressive, because I don't think aggressive ever pays, really. I wouldn't pretend I never have been and in my early days I think I probably was too aggressive. And I made the enormous mistake of occasionally losing my temper with politicians, which was unforgivable.

Many people will remember your interview with George Entwistle...

It was an absolutely straightforward interview and I did exactly what I would have done with anybody. He just happened to be the Director-General of the BBC, my boss, and he didn't make a good job of it. I certainly don't feel proud of the fact that he resigned shortly afterwards. I liked him and I felt terribly sorry for him.

Any others which particularly stick in your mind?

It's much easier to remember the ones where one felt a complete prat at the end of it, I suppose. I do remember the first really big interview I did on the Today programme was with Thatcher. It was the start of the '87 campaign, I recall, and I made a botch of that. It was game, set and match really to the Prime Minister. I hope one learns from their mistakes: she was formidable and I wasn't.

Who would you most fear being interviewed by?

Brian Walden, who I think was the greatest political interviewer of his time. If I was a politician I would be thinking, "Ooh I'm not going to get anything past him, am I?".

If you were to appear on Mastermind what would be your...

No, no, there's no point in asking me, I simply wouldn't do it. Nothing in the whole wide world would get me to sit in the black chair.

Back to the radio then. Do any presenters indulge in bad habits of which listeners are blissfully unaware?

Some colleagues of mine have taken to chewing the rims of those polystyrene coffee cups. I'm not sure why but I have always found that rather disturbing.

And lastly, is Britain currently suffering a crisis of political leadership?

Now that's a question I wouldn't have asked, because... Hang on, the doorbell.

JH: Hello.

Man: That's not your green car, is it? The key is in the door.

JH: Oh Lord! You know, I do that all the time. It's so old and clapped out that I rather hope someone would pinch it, but they never do.

Man: You're Mr Humphrys, aren't you?

JH: I'm John, yes... Well thank you anyway, I will remove it, goodbye!

Sorry about that. I can't recall a time when people said they liked politics or thought highly of politicians. Perhaps the way in which people interact with politics has changed and they express their interest differently. Maybe the reason engagement isn't what it was is because in recent years we have had no massive crisis and people are reasonably happy?

John Humphrys will give a 'Masterclass' in radio at Radio Festival 2014