When broadcasting legend John Humphrys left Radio 4’s Today show after 32 years, he delivered a parting shot in this paper that outlined his fears over the BBC’s intrinsic Left-wing, metropolitan, anti-Brexit bias.
One year on, as the new director general promises reforms, he argues the BBC is in an even worse state — held hostage by a woke mob who imperil its very survival. Unfair?
Here, in the new introduction to his memoirs, he faces the toughest interrogator of them all…himself.
JH: So… we meet again. A whole year without hearing your truculent tones on Today. They seem to have managed perfectly well without you.
JH: Of course. There was never any doubt about that. I was one presenter among many.
JH: Very noble but I bet you’re missing them.
JH: Quite the opposite. I won’t pretend I haven’t screamed at the radio from time to time, but I’ve made the amazing discovery that there may be more to life than arguing with politicians.
When broadcasting legend John Humphrys left Radio 4’s Today show after 32 years, he delivered a parting shot in this paper that outlined his fears over the BBC’s intrinsic Left-wing, metropolitan, anti-Brexit bias
JH: Fifty years with the BBC, and you’re honestly telling me you were able to pack it in without so much as a backward glance? I don’t believe it!
JH: That’s because you never believe anything. But I’m still broadcasting and . . .
JH: . . . oh sure . . . Classic FM! Not exactly Today is it?
JH: No, thank God! If you had a straight choice between listening to Mozart at 8.10am and listening to the Minister For Never Answering a Straight Question . . .
JH: . . . as you well know that’s a silly comparison. But you’ll seize on any excuse to attack the BBC even though it gave you a bloody good living.
JH: That’s nonsense. I was critical of some big bosses but I still believe the BBC is the most important cultural and democratic institution this country has ever produced and . . .
JH: . . . oh really? If that’s true how do you explain the front page headline in the Daily Mail the day after you left New Broadcasting House? ‘BBC ICON SAVAGES BIAS . . . AT THE BEEB’!
JH: I stand by every word. The BBC has had problems with bias in many areas even though it has an absolute obligation to remain impartial.
JH: So why didn’t you make a fuss at the time?
JH: I did. I just didn’t go public. You cannot continue to work for an organisation if you’re publicly attacking it.
One year on, as the new director general (above) promises reforms, John Humphrys argues the BBC is in an even worse state — held hostage by a woke mob who imperil its very survival. Unfair?
JH: Ah . . . so if it’s a choice between speaking out publicly for what matters and clinging on to your fat pay cheque, you’ll take the money and stay shtum.
JH: I concede that’s how it might look but if every senior figure at the BBC who had misgivings about its conduct were to walk out, there’d be many empty chairs on the News Board.
JH: All the better for that . . .
JH: Possibly. But my worry is that, in the year since I left, BBC News has come under unprecedented pressure from activists determined to impose their own political agenda.
JH: I could almost hear the sneer when you used the word ‘activists’! I assume you’re referring to people from the black and ethnic minority community who’ve been seriously discriminated against for generations. Not to mention the LGBTQ community.
JH: No ‘sneer’ but, yes, I’m uneasy with the language. Many black and gay people are insulted by the notion that they are members of a ‘community’. It suggests that they have no individual opinions or experiences of their own and see themselves as victims. They’re not and they don’t.
JH: So you’d be happy for the BBC to return to the Sixties? I bet the only black people you ever saw then were cleaners and all the bosses were straight white men.
JH: God forbid! They were indeed bad days. But the BBC was hardly unique in racially discriminating. It was reflecting the nation. I was brought up in what would certainly be regarded now as a racist household in a racist area.
My parents had not a single neighbour, let alone friend, who was black. And as for a black woman or even a white woman reading the news on the wireless, let alone the telly . . . dream on!
JH: In which case why have you been attacking the BBC for its coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, to name just one example?
JH: What I have attacked is the way the BBC has failed too often in its duty to be totally objective on many controversial issues such as immigration and the EU, or even the Last Night of the Proms fiasco. It is not the BBC’s job to transform society in ways that will meet the approval of certain pressure groups.
JH: Not even if those pressure groups are on the side of the angels?
JH: Not even then. No. And let’s not forget that BLM in this country is a political movement with objectives many people regard as profoundly disturbing — such as ‘defunding’ the police and closing the prisons.
JH: The fact is you’d be happy if we still tolerated racism or prejudice against gay people and still had laws, for instance, making it illegal for a man to sleep with another man?
JH: Don’t be ridiculous. That law was an obscenity. And it changed because the men and women we sent to Parliament voted for the change.
And, yes, they came under pressure, but it was not pressure from the BBC. It was pressure from the victims of that hideously outdated and iniquitous law and their supporters who marched in the streets and demanded reform and won the support of the majority of British citizens. It’s called the democratic process. And the BBC reported that great campaign because that was its duty. And is still its duty.
JH: Very high-minded no doubt, but not even the BBC can be impartial where racism is concerned.
JH: Tell me about it. I lived for years in South Africa. I saw the evil of apartheid at first hand and I reported what I saw. That’s what journalists do. We report the facts.
JH: And one fact is that there is still racism in this country and the BBC has an obligation to report it.
JH: True, but there are now laws which make it illegal and when those laws are broken the BBC does indeed report it. The same applies to sexuality. It’s illegal to discriminate against gays or lesbians or transgender people and the BBC’s reporting must reflect that.
JH: In which case why did you attack the BBC for appointing an LGBT correspondent?
JH: I didn’t. I attacked it for giving him a platform on which he said he regarded himself as a ‘mouthpiece’ for LGBT people. He’s not. He’s a journalist.
JH: One single example of some loose language is hardly evidence of the BBC allowing its reporters and correspondents to set their own agenda.
JH: You want another? Since I wrote the book, the BBC has also appointed a ‘gender and identity’ correspondent. She became involved in a massive row when she attacked the decision of a television news reporter to use the ‘N-word’ in a report about a serious racist attack on a young black man.
JH: Quite right, too. Everyone knows that word is simply unacceptable in this day and age.
JH: Fair enough, but in this case the young man’s mother wanted the word to be used because it proved the attack really was racially-motivated. The police changed the charge from ‘hit and run’ to ‘racially motivated attack’. And the reporter warned the audience she was going to use an offensive word. So did the presenters.
JH: But I bet the audience was massively offended.
JH: That’s what was so interesting. When the report was shown on Points West there were a handful of complaints.
But by the time it was repeated the following morning on the BBC’s national news the Twitter mob and the lobby groups were on the case. They screamed blue murder and the BBC started to panic.
A week later Tony Hall, who was director general then, called a meeting of the top bosses on a Sunday and the position he’d originally taken was reversed. The BBC apologised.
JH: And so he should have. You can’t go around offending thousands of people without saying sorry — even if you are the almighty BBC.
JH: Rubbish! Thousands of people are offended every day by stuff the BBC reports. There’d be something wrong if they were not.
JH: But only if what you’re reporting is important . . .
JH: . . . which is precisely what Lord Hall said this was. I quote: ‘This is important journalism which the BBC should be reporting on and we will continue to do so.’ But then he flatly contradicted that by adding: ‘I recognise that we have ended up creating distress among many people.’
So in other words the BBC will continue to do ‘important journalism’ just so long as it doesn’t ‘create distress’. That is neither rational nor acceptable. How do they deal with, say, low-life scum who deface a Holocaust memorial? Reporting it will cause distress among vast numbers of people (not just Jews) so should it be ignored?
JH: Of course not. But the BBC must take into account people’s feelings.
JH: Really? Which people specifically? And who makes the ultimate decision?
JH: Well . . . BBC editors following the guidelines.
JH: Ah . . . we can agree on something. My real concern is that those guidelines are at risk of being hijacked by, among others, an organisation called Embrace, which the BBC recognises as the voice of black and ethnic minority staff and which is represented at high-level management meetings.
Embrace sent senior BBC bosses an internal document which included this line: ‘We believe this to be a matter for debate within black communities, and not one for the BBC.’ That is simply outrageous.
JH: Because the BBC is responsible for all its editorial decisions. It cannot be excluded from the ‘debate’ by any special interest group. And God forbid it should allow words to be banned.
JH: Oh, come on. The fact is that the BBC took note of what its critics were saying and changed its mind. Maybe it should have done it more often in the past.
JH: But in my 50 years with the organisation there was never the sense that its senior management was being effectively held to ransom by people on its own staff in self-appointed ‘advisory’ groups who tell the bosses how things should be done.
They themselves have largely no editorial responsibility and they all have much the same agenda. They are, in the modern sense of the word, about as ‘woke’ as it gets. Since I left Today I have spoken to editors and very senior bosses who admit they feel intimidated. It has a chilling effect.
JH: You exaggerate again. There have always been pressure groups telling the BBC how it should report stories. What’s different now?
JH: Social media for one thing. Twitter is a malign force. The BBC has fallen for the fiction that a few hundred attention-seeking, virtue-signalling agitators represent the conscience of the nation. They’ve allowed the woke whingers to frame the argument. That is profoundly worrying.
JH: Time for the BBC to call it a day then?
JH: Quite the opposite. The new director general Tim Davie might well be its saviour. In his first three days in the job he has reversed the ludicrous decision to wreck the Last Night of the Proms and has made a speech that had an old cynic like me cheering from the rafters.
He warned the ever-growing army of bureaucrats and bosses with silly titles to start looking for new jobs. He warned all those senior journalists who can’t stay away from social media to keep their political views to themselves or clear off.
What I have attacked is the way the BBC has failed too often in its duty to be totally objective on many controversial issues such as immigration and the EU, or even the Last Night of the Proms fiasco. It is not the BBC’s job to transform society in ways that will meet the approval of certain pressure groups
He warned recruiters to hire fewer metropolitan right-on Oxbridge types and find a few working-class youngsters who don’t read only the Guardian. He wants to hear a few comics on Radio 4 who might (God forbid) have voted Conservative now and then.
He wants a ‘radical shift . . . to focus on those we serve: the public’. He wants ‘diversity of thought’. And — in some ways just as important — he has done something no previous DG has ever done.
He has recognised that the BBC is too big and must stop growing. Oh . . . and one other thing. He has put paid to the nonsense that the BBC might eventually become a subscription service like Netflix.
JH: Why nonsense?
JH: Because it would make it ‘just another media company serving a specific group’.
JH: And the reaction to all this?
JH: Depends who you talk to but I’m already getting calls from some very senior figures who had drafted resignation letters and have now ripped them up.
JH: A bit naïve surely? He’ll come under the same pressures that his predecessors have experienced.
JH: You bet! But if he chooses to fight he won’t be alone. There are millions of decent people out there who share my fears. GK Chesterton identified them in his great poem called The Secret People:
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
Adapted from A Day Like Today by John Humphrys, £9.99 published in paperback by William Collins on October 1.