John Humphrys answers your questions

(Such as: Do you have breakfast before the show, and is it sour lemons?)
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The Independent Online

The broadcaster John Humphrys, 57, grew up in Cardiff, the son of a French polisher. He left school at 15 to work on the Penarth Times and then The Western Mail before joining the BBC. At the age of 28, he became the youngest foreign-correspondent on British television, covering stories such as the revolution in Chile and the resignation of Nixon. Humphrys has presented Radio 4's Today programme since 1987, earning a reputation as a tough and tenacious interviewer.

For 10 years, Humphrys owned an organic dairy farm in Wales, an experience that drove him to comment: "Taking on a Cabinet minister is as nothing to handling three tons of kicking cow." He is passionate about British food, farming, fishing and agriculture, and earlier this year published a book about the crisis caused by intensive farming entitled The Great Food Gamble.

Almost two years ago, at 55, Humphrys became a father for the third time. He lives with his partner and their baby son in London.

What is your reaction to the fact that a large following of Today listeners, of which I am one, regard you as a national treasure?

Jennifer Graham-Brown, by e-mail

Great embarrassment – all those years trying to build a reputation as a thoroughly nasty piece of work – but secret delight. A nasty profile-writer on The Observer said that I just want to be loved – don't we all?

Is there any one question that you regret not asking to someone? If so, what was it and to whom?

Charlotte Myerson, London

Not one, thousands. Every morning I kick myself for all the questions that I failed to ask.

I heard you describe yourself as a "failed organic farmer". Why did you fail, and do you think you could make a success of it if you had another go?

Leon Mills, Stafford

I failed because it was many years ago and most of the organic techniques now in use – for weed- and pest-control, for instance – had not been developed. Plus, I was a lousy farmer.

I gather you only boil a carefully measured-out cup of water for every kettle you put on. Is this environmental awareness, or are you just mean?

S J Zimbardel, London

Not exactly "carefully measured", but I'm damned if I can see the point of filling a kettle and waiting for it to boil when you want only one cup of tea. So it's probably more to do with my impatience. But I don't like the waste either. Why would anyone?

Have you ever felt that your job as a presenter on the Today programme was threatened by what some might have at times considered to be an excessively aggressive interview technique?

Jennifer Graham-Brown, by e-mail

Frequently. The last Tory government often had a go at me. Jonathan Aitken (then a cabinet minister) said that I "poisoned the well of democratic debate". Ho hum. He should know. Labour defended me at the time. Then, when they got into office, they tried to get me sacked for duffing up Harriet Harman. But who said I'm "aggressive"? A shocking slander.

What did you make of the Hamiltons?

Siobhan Keely, by e-mail

It's hard not to have a sneaking regard for their resilience.

What, if any, has been the greatest disappointment of your professional career?

Jennifer Graham-Brown, by e-mail

Not getting an interview with the Queen. I did ask. She said no.

Who do you most dread interviewing?

Laura Goode, Taunton

Politicians who don't even try to answer the questions, and children. Children can make you look awfully stupid.

Do expressions in common currency such as "pretty much" irritate you? Have you any similar, pet linguistic "hates"?

Jennifer Graham-Brown, by e-mail

Intensely – though I can't pretend to be entirely innocent. My favourite hate is Americanised business-speak. Everything "impacts" these days. It's ungrammatical and ugly.

How on earth do you cope with a ludicrous schedule and a small baby?

K Grindely, Norfolk

A big house and an understanding partner.

The Today programme has been accused of left-wing bias. How do you plead?

Lawrence McNeil, Swindon

Tosh. We've been accused of right-wing bias, too, and just about any other sort you can think of.

Do you have your breakfast before or after the show, and what does it consist of – sour lemons, perhaps?

J Pimmel, Luton

Don't need the lemons, I'm sour enough. I have a banana and muesli before the show, and tea and toast after it.

How has the BBC changed over the years you have been there – for better or for worse?

Mark Sturges, Brighton

We've stopped being obsequious to politicians and that's good. We've also stopped appointing exclusively middle- class, middle-aged males with posh voices to present programmes. That's good, too.

Various interview topics come around again and again – the Middle East, Northern Ireland, etc – and get absolutely nowhere, with no light shed and no progress made. Which one makes your heart sink furthest when your name is against it to do the interview?

Charles Munder, by e-mail

You've hit the two big ones. I'm not sure you can say there's been no progress in Northern Ireland. The ceasefires are – just about – holding. But the Middle East – God help us. And yes, my heart sinks every time I have to talk to either side. The ultimate dialogue of the deaf.

Do you ever get bored/ depressed by the news?

Callum Briss, Stoke-on-Trent

Depressed, frequently. Bored, hardly ever.

John Humphrys appears at the Cheltenham Festival this Sunday. For details: 01242 227979

'The Great Food Gamble', by John Humphrys, is published by Hodder & Stoughton, price £12.99

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