John Humphrys, the host of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, was last night caught up in the corporation’s gender pay row after a leaked conversation between him and North America editor Jon Sopel was made public.
Humphrys, 74, made comments in an off-air discussion that were caught on a microphone before co-presenting the radio show with former China Editor Carrie Gracie on Monday.
Gracie had the evening before resigned from her role as she accused the BBC of gender pay discrimination. She had also raised that some of the corporation’s higher earning men should take pay cuts, after learning they were earning more than her. Gracie earns £135,000 while Sopel is paid as much as £249,000.
The conversation began with Humphrys teasing Sopel, 58, by asking him how much of his salary he was “prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her.”
Sopel, who was said to be a reluctant participant in the chat, responded: “Obviously if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution, I’ll have to come back and say, “Well yes Mr Humphrys, but. . .”
Veteran broadcaster Humphrys then remarked that he could “save you the trouble”, adding: “I’ve handed over already more than you f***ing earn. But I’m still left with more than anybody else, and that seems to me entirely just. Something like that.”
He then goes on to remark: “Oh dear God she’s actually suggested you should lose money. You know that don’t you?”
Sopel, who later says “can we have this conversation somewhere else”, says: “Yeah I have, yeah.” Humphrys then added: “The idea is I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.”
Humphrys reportedly dismissed the remarks last night as “silly banter between old mates”. However, a BBC source said management were “deeply unimpressed”, and that the presenter regretted what had been said.
The alleged comments are likely to upset people who work at the BBC. Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who won a landmark ageism claim against the corporation after being dropped from the rural affairs show, said on Twitter that she had heard the conversation. She also said: “You should hear the tone of the exchange – base, smug and condescending.” Others suggested it was light-hearted and sarcastic.
O’Reilly, 60, also said she had stood down from appearing on the Today programme, adding: “Clearly from the exchange, John Humphry’s was not happy about his salary reduction in the equal pay scandal or the reasons why. Blokes together – what are they like….Thanks to guest in the US who sent me this.”
A BBC spokesperson said last night: “This was an ill-advised off air conversation which the presenter regrets.
“The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay. PwC are working with us on this to ensure an objective external assessment of how we have set pay in the past, what we need to do differently going forward, and what further action we need to take immediately. We will publish that in the coming weeks.”