John Humphrys' interview with George Entwistle had huge impact. But did it really deserve an award?

What we heard was the rare sound of an interviewee unpractised in dissembling

Share

Magnanimity isn’t a tone often associated with John Humphrys, but in his remarks after winning a Sony award on Monday for his interview with George Entwistle, he was fit to burst with it. The award was essentially handed over for ending the former BBC Director-General’s career, and to Humphrys’ great credit, that didn’t sit entirely comfortably with him: “I thought he dealt with that interview with grace and elegance,” he said. “He was in a difficult place but he dealt with the questions, he didn’t duck and dive, he was honest.”

What his comments didn’t make clear was quite how squirmingly uncomfortable that 15-minute segment was. As Entwistle desperately fought to defend himself over a botched Newsnight investigation, Humphrys sliced him up into tiny pieces; his forensic, sorrowful butchery was a masterclass in his art. As the length of the silences grew, and Entwistle was shunted from his prepared line into the disastrous, bald admissions that he did not follow Twitter, had not read the papers, and did not see the programme, it became ever clearer that this would be his last interview as DG. Humphrys had his scalp.

And yet, somehow, the award didn’t feel quite right. You suspected, listening to that acceptance speech, that Humphrys felt the same thing. For, as he noted, at least Entwistle was honest. Those silences were so excruciating for exactly that reason: they denoted the truth.

Maybe that’s the problem. These facts were unvarnished, and unvarnishable: poor old George Entwistle was leaving whether or not the Today programme gave him a kick up the arse on the way out. We’re not used to silence on the radio, but it didn’t come about in this instance because it was the greatest interview of John Humphrys’ career, or even of his year; it came about because Entwistle was not a first-rate dissembler.

Now compare any political interview on any day of the week, on the Today programme or elsewhere. These do not feature silence. They consist, instead, of the soporific drone of the truth being stretched to fill the available space until there is no angle available from which to get a proper look at it. These people are too practiced to be caught out, ever. And so, instead of a high-stakes tennis match, we get two seasoned professionals knocking up. To us, the pace looks ferocious; the problem is, each of the competitors always knows exactly where the other is going to hit it.

None of this is to say that Humphrys is not very good at his job. But it is to suggest that we might consider other criteria for what constitutes a significant interview. Is it one in which the questioner scores the most points against a man who is already defeated? Or is it one that exposes, without hope of contradiction, a difficult political truth that would have otherwise gone unacknowledged? And if it’s the latter, can anyone think of an example, please?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A long way to go before we reach Dave Eggers's digital dystopia

Memphis Barker
 

August catch-up: dress to impress, words to use more often, and the end of the internet

John Rentoul
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis