John Humphrys: I should have left Today programme years ago

Departing host of Radio 4 show says he will miss listeners most – even if many ‘hate his guts’

John Humphrys has said he should have left the Today programme “years ago” but stayed on because he enjoyed hosting the flagship BBC Radio 4 show so much, as he confirmed his departure after 32 years.

The presenter said he would be quitting the show in the autumn and that his greatest pleasure was forming a relationship with listeners, even though many “hate your guts”.

He told Radio 4’s World At One: “I love doing the programme, I have always enjoyed it, always loved it. And I still [do], that’s the problem; I should have gone years ago, obviously I should have gone years ago, but I love doing the programme.”

Humphrys’ former colleague Sarah Montague, host of World at One, doorstepped the presenter in the Today programme studio and convinced him to confirm the news.

“As you know, when you do this programme it dominates your life, not just because you have to get up in the morning so many days a week, but all the time, you have to be obsessed – I think that is the right word – with what’s going on out there,” Humphrys said.

“You have to read everything and listen to everything and all the rest of it. There are so many things you think, ‘Oh I could have done this, I could have done that, and I’m never going to do them if I stay on this programme’.”

Humphrys said he had decided to leave the programme on previous occasions but “lost his nerve”. “I worry about missing the programme, and I do now. I genuinely worry about what it is going to be like not doing the Today programme – 32 years is a very long time.”

He also said he ignored criticism of his interviews on social media: “I suppose the honest answer is I really couldn’t care less … I’m not sure I’d like me if I was listening to me. There’s no law that says you have to be liked in this business, as long as you’re doing your job competently.”

Humphrys was asked what he would miss most about the programme: “This is unspeakably corny but it’s not the politicians, it’s not even the interviewees, it’s the listeners. You genuinely feel after you have done this programme for long enough that you have – now I’m not going to say ‘friends’, you can’t say that as a lot of them aren’t your friends, they hate your guts – but you do feel that you have a relationship with a huge amount of people … It’s a relationship with millions of listeners, that is a huge privilege.”

Asked what he would do with his spare time he said: “I like trees, I want to get more involved with trees.” He suggested he would like to make a programme about arboriculture.

The Today programme editor, Sarah Sands, paid tribute to Humphrys, calling him “Gandalf” and describing him as “still the little boy who throws stones”.

The 75-year-old will not be retiring from broadcasting as he will continue to present the quiz show Mastermind. On Wednesday the BBC confirmed it had signed a new deal to produce 82 episodes of the show and its celebrity spin-off, with Humphrys contracted to remain as host until at least 2021.

BBC Studios, the corporation’s in-house production company, lost the tender to make the quiz show to a joint bid by the independent companies Hat Trick and Hindsight. They have promised to move production and filming to Northern Ireland and to refresh the format, returning the programme “to its roots, in a dramatic and pressurised setting”.

Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, also paid tribute to Humphrys on Wednesday. “It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that anyone who’s played a key role in the political events of the last three decades has been interviewed by John. But most importantly, he has always been a champion of his listeners, holding the powerful to account on their behalf,” she said.

“John will be sorely missed by audiences and his colleagues when he leaves the programme this year, if perhaps less so by the politicians he interviews.”


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
John Humphrys turns grime rapper on Today programme
After segment discussing the lack of Brit nominations for grime artists, the BBC presenter tries out some rhymes of his own

Jessica Elgot

12, Feb, 2016 @11:12 AM

Article image
Big news boosts audiences for Radio 4's Today programme and John Humphrys
Latest Rajar figures reveal BBC's influential news show has almost as many listeners as Chris Moyles on Radio 1

John Plunkett

02, Feb, 2012 @12:00 AM

Article image
John Humphrys to leave Radio 4's Today programme this year
Veteran broadcaster has spent 32 years hosting early morning news and current affairs show

Jim Waterson Media editor

06, Feb, 2019 @7:28 AM

Article image
Alastair Campbell: Radio 4’s Today should be less middle class
Labour party grandee says the BBC programme should cover arts and sport as serious issues

Mattha Busby

19, Feb, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
John Humphrys says he is staying on Today programme
Veteran presenter also dismisses claims that Radio 4’s flagship breakfast show has dumbed down

John Plunkett

17, Mar, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Radio 4 Today editor says John Humphrys is 'listeners' champion'
Sarah Sands defends presenter in face of criticism and says he will know when it’s time to quit

Jim Waterson Media editor

05, Sep, 2018 @4:40 PM

Article image
John Humphrys struts his stuff with Daily Mail peacock tale | Media Monkey
Media Monkey: BBC Radio 4 presenter displays his sentimental side with tale of how he fell in love with a bird – but ruffles some readers' feathers


03, Jun, 2014 @9:06 AM

Article image
Rows, bloopers and scoops: John Humphrys’ 32 years at Today
The veteran presenter, feared and respected by all sides, is hanging up his mic. We look at his career highs and lows

Vanessa Thorpe

14, Sep, 2019 @4:45 PM

Article image
The Today programme:wake up, tune in – and be irritated? | Observer profile
In case you haven’t noticed, Radio 4’s flagship news programme has been celebrating a significant birthday

Andrew Anthony

28, Oct, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
BBC's John Humphrys: I'm not planning to pack it in just yet
Presenter signs nine-month extension to Radio 4 Today contract and will also front BBC1's Mastermind for another three years. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

05, Apr, 2013 @12:55 PM