John Humphrys on joking about female colleague Carrie Gracie earning half the pay of male journalist: ‘What exactly should I be apologising for?’

Former Today presenter said suggesting he was a misogynist was ‘offensive’

Ellie Harrison
Sunday 06 October 2019 15:45
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Leaked audio of John Humphrys and Jon Sopel discussing Carrie Gracie's gender pay dispute

John Humphrys has said he doesn’t know what he should apologise to Carrie Gracie for after a conversation was leaked of him making light of the gender pay gap, and in particular her salary, at the BBC.

Radio 4’s former Today presenter, who recently left the programme after 32 years, was at the centre of a scandal in 2018 when an off-air conversation between him and BBC North America editor Jon Sopel was leaked, in which the pair made jokes about volunteering to take a salary cut for China editor Gracie.

At the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday, where Humphrys was promoting his memoirs A Day Like Today, broadcaster Georgina Godwin asked him if he thinks he should apologise to Gracie, to which he replied: “No. The answer to your question is ‘no’. Apologise for what?

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

Speaking about the leaked conversation, Humphrys said: “We had an idiotic exchange with me taking the mickey out of [Sopel] and him taking the mickey out of me at four o’clock in the morning. We thought we were having a private chat, some nasty little creep broadcasted it to the world.”

He insisted he was “not having a go at Carrie Gracie” and said: “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?”

In the leaked conversation, Humphrys could be heard asking Sopel: “How much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her?”

He added: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should you lose money; you know that don’t you?”

At the time, the BBC admitted Gracie had been told she would be paid in line with the north America editor, Jon Sopel, whose salary was in the £200,000-£250,000 range, but after she accepted the role her pay turned out to be £135,000.

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In the same year, 2017, Humphrys was on a salary of £600,000–£649,999. He subsequently took three pay cuts.

When an audience member at Cheltenham asked Humphrys, referring to Gracie, if he is a misogynist, he said: “That is an offensive question. Do you have any evidence for that?”

Earlier this week, Humphrys referred to the backlash after the leaked conversation as “preposterous”.

Elsewhere in the new interview, Humphrys said he thought it was “outrageous that the BBC is nearly 100 years old it has never had a woman director-general”. He added: “I think that is just plain wrong and the next one just has to be in my view.”

He also said the BBC has “probably always has had an institutional bias”.

“[BBC bosses] see the world through a particular lens at different times in their history,” said Humphrys. “I think probably in the late Eighties and Nineties we lost sight of the concern many people had specifically at that time about immigration. We didn’t address or acknowledge it as we should have done…

“Because most people who becomes bosses at the BBC come from decent universities and have probably done liberal arts degrees and had lecturers and professors who are on the left of politics. They’ve assimilated that, it’s not that they’ve come to the BBC with a specific agenda, but their mindset is that of the liberal left.”

Humphrys memoirs, A Day Like Today, were published earlier this week.

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