Entertainment

John Humphrys quits Today with swipe at politicians who snub interviews

Former PM Tony Blair was among his final interviewees on the show.

BBC broadcaster John Humphrys ended his final Today show with a swipe at politicians who snub political interviews in favour of social media.

The Today “Rottweiler” bowed out of the early morning BBC Radio 4 programme after 32 years and 5,000 programmes.

Humphrys, 76, who has been accused of “poisoning the well of democratic debate” over the years, thanked the people he has interviewed on the flagship Radio 4 show.

In an interview with ex-prime minister Tony Blair on his final broadcast, Humphrys said Boris Johnson had not been on the show since he entered Number 10 and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had stayed away for nearly three years.

“Increasingly, politicians are talking directly to the people via social media so they can choose the questions they answer without being challenged,” Humphrys said.

Later as he signed off for the final time, Humphrys said “thanks” to everyone he had interviewed, “including the politicians, or at least those of them, the vast majority, who still recognise it is important that people in power should be held to account, even if just occasionally we might give them a hard time”.

John Humphrys, who is presenting the Today programme for the final time, interviewing the Princess in 1995
John Humphrys interviewing Princess Anne in 1995 (PA)

Minutes after BBC director-general Lord Hall showered him with praise in the studio, Humphrys said there is a “lot wrong” with the BBC “as an organisation”, adding “there is a lot wrong with every organisation”.

The broadcasting heavyweight, who will continue to host BBC show Mastermind, said: “It’s facing massive challenges from social media and changing behaviour but I believe we need the BBC as much now as we have ever done.

“I simply cannot imagine this country without it. It is an unthinkable thought.”

Earlier, he had quizzed Lord Hall over the decision to means-test the TV licence for over-75s.

Humphrys sounded emotional as he thanked listeners for their “loyalty” to the programme.

“I really do feel that I have got to know you over the decades and you are decent people,” he said.

“I’m more proud than I can say that you have put up with me for so long. Thank-you, all of you. I do hope you keep listening.

“Today matters for tomorrow and if that’s a rather corny way to end my years on the programme, so be it.”

Of listeners who had “written over the years, sometimes to give me a pat on the back, often to give me a kick up the backside for getting it wrong or for being out of touch, you’re always right, or nearly always”.

Clips of his former interviews were played, including the encounter which led to BBC director-general George Entwistle resigning.

Dame Edna Everage appeared on the show, and when Humphrys asked if she “had any words of guidance for somebody like me, who is retiring from a job after a very long time doing it”, she replied with a rhyme.

“You won’t grow old, you’ll just get nicely mellow. So hug your trees, play Elgar on your cello.”

Humphrys responded: “You can’t follow that, really.”

With the studio filled with co-presenters past and present, he signed off: “That’s it from me and from Today. Good morning.”

The BBC is not recruiting a replacement for Humphrys, with Justin Webb, Mishal Husain, Martha Kearney and Nick Robinson filling in his shifts.

Humphrys later told the BBC’s World At One that the send-off “was beyond my wildest imaginings, it was simultaneously profoundly embarrassing and deeply moving”.

“If I hear the programme, I am going to be saying to myself, ‘Oh God, look, that’s not the place for that interview, for heaven’s sake.

Humphrys, who was accused by Jonathan Aitken of “poisoning the well of democratic debate” before the ex-Tory MP was jailed in 1999 for perjury and perverting the course of justice, said: “I am going to have no influence or no power over it (the programme). It’s an awful, terrible feeling.”

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