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Desmond John Humphrys (born 17 August 1943)[1] is a Welsh broadcaster.[2] From 1981 to 1987 he was the main presenter for the Nine O'Clock News, the flagship BBC news television programme,[2] and since 1987 he has been a presenter on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today. He presents the programme with Justin Webb, Nick Robinson, Mishal Husain and Martha Kearney.[2] Since 2003 he has been the host of the BBC Two television quiz show Mastermind.[3]

John Humphrys
Desmond John Humphrys

(1943-08-17) 17 August 1943 (age 75)[1]
EducationCardiff High School[1]
OccupationJournalist, broadcaster
Notable credit(s)
BBC Nine O'Clock News
Spouse(s)Edna Wilding (div)
Valerie Sanderson (div)
RelativesBob Humphrys (brother)

Humphrys has a reputation as a tenacious and forthright interviewer; occasionally politicians have been very critical of his style after being subjected to a tough interview on live radio.[2][4][5]


Early lifeEdit

Humphrys was born in Cardiff at 193 Pearl Street, Adamsdown, son of Winifred Mary (Matthews), a hairdresser, and Edward George Humphrys, a self-employed French polisher.[4][6] He was one of five children.[4] During early life Humphrys had a bout of whooping cough and concerned that he would be known as 'Dismal Desmond' his mother opted to use the name John. His parents encouraged him to do his homework and he passed the eleven plus exam.[4] He became a pupil at Cardiff High School (then a grammar school), but he did not fit into the middle class environment there.[4] He was an average pupil and left school at 15 to become a reporter on the Penarth Times.[2][4] He later joined the Western Mail.


Humphrys joined TWW, a commercial television channel based in Wales, and was the first reporter on the scene of the Aberfan disaster in October 1966.[7][8] He joined the BBC later that year as the district reporter for Liverpool and the Northwest, where he reported on the dock strikes of that time, sometimes for the national news.[4] He then worked as a foreign correspondent, initially having to go abroad and leave his family for six to nine month periods at a time when his children were still young and growing up.[4] Later he took his family with him to the United States and South Africa where he was sent to open a news bureau.[4] He reported the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974 on television by satellite from the United States,[4] the execution of Gary Gilmore in 1977, and later, when based in South Africa, he reported on the end of Rhodesia and the creation of the new nation of Zimbabwe.

Humphrys became disillusioned with living in hotels and life on-the-road as a foreign correspondent,[4] and returned to London in 1980 to take up the post of BBC Diplomatic Correspondent.[2] In 1981 he became the main presenter of the BBC's flagship Nine O'Clock News.[2] This appointment marked a change in the BBC's approach to news broadcasting. With the appointment of Humphrys and John Simpson, the presenters of the news became part of the process of preparing the broadcast, rather than just reading a prepared script as with previous presenters. In addition to this, Humphrys also briefly read the midweek classified football results. The job on Today was unexpectedly offered when John Timpson was about to retire at the end of 1986.[4] Humphrys began presenting Today in January 1987, joining Brian Redhead. He still made occasional appearances fronting BBC TV news bulletins in the 1990s. During the 1991 Gulf War he was a volunteer presenter on the BBC Radio 4 News FM service.[9] From 1993 he presented the weekly On The Record political TV show until its demise in 2002.

He made the headlines on 28 August 2004 for giving the yearly MacTaggart Lecture in which he made scathing criticism of the 'dumbing-down' of British television. He criticised reality shows such as Big Brother, as well as the increasing violence in British soap operas. He made these criticisms after five years with no television set, and in the context of re-acquainting himself with the medium after the prolonged gap. Humphrys is also the presenter of the revived version of Mastermind, and after his criticism of reality television, Humphrys appeared the following year in Art School, a show which followed a celebrity reality[citation needed] format.

Humphrys attracted further controversy in September 2005 when he allegedly branded all politicians as liars and made disrespectful comments about Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and John Prescott in an after-dinner speech which was subsequently leaked to The Times by Tim Allan, a former aide to the Prime Minister.[10] On 6 September 2005, Humphrys was censured by the Corporation for his use of "inappropriate and misguided" language.[5]

Humphrys has also presented Panorama. He has won many industry awards, including being named Journalist of the Year in February 2000 at an awards ceremony organised by The House Magazine and Channel 4; the Gold Sony Radio Award in 2003; and a silver platter for Crystal Clear Broadcasting from the Plain English Campaign.

Humphrys has written several books, including Lost for Words, in which he criticizes what he sees as the widespread misuse of the English language, plus Devil's Advocate, Beyond Words, The Great Food Gamble and In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist.

Humphrys is an agnostic, but has a curiosity to test his agnosticism and challenge established religions to see if they can restore his childhood belief in God. In 2006, he presented a BBC Radio 4 programme, titled Humphrys in Search of God where he spoke to leading British authorities on Christianity, Judaism and Islam to try to restore his faith.[11]

Despite his reputation, Humphrys is prepared to send himself up: for example, when he appeared on the light entertainment programme Top Gear driving a Peel P50 microcar around BBC White City.[12]

On 12 November 2009, he became the only person to replace David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time when Dimbleby was recovering from a minor farming injury.[13]

On 3 January 2011, Humphrys announced that he had extended his contract to present the Today programme, but in doing so had agreed to a pay cut.[14] His Today interview of BBC director general George Entwistle on 11 November 2012 during an interview on the Today programme was widely reported to have been a major factor in Entwistle's resignation later that day.[15]

He played himself in the 2013 crime thriller film Closed Circuit with Eric Bana in the lead. In 2014, he appeared as himself in The Life of Rock with Brian Pern.

Humphrys has occasionally been criticised for his forthright interviewing style: for example, in March 1995 after being interviewed on Today the former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Jonathan Aitken, accused him of "poisoning the well of democratic debate", although Aitken was not supported by his fellow Cabinet Ministers, Kenneth Clarke and Douglas Hurd when they were interviewed by Humphrys on the Today programme, on the following Monday.[4]

In a March 2014 interview with the Radio Times, Humphrys noted some of the biases at the BBC, describing it as "broadly liberal as opposed to broadly conservative". He highlighted failing in coverage of issues of Europe and immigration, stating: "We weren’t sufficiently sceptical – that’s the most accurate phrase – of the pro-European case. We bought into the European ideal. We weren’t sufficiently sceptical about the pro-immigration argument. We didn’t look at the potential negatives with sufficient rigour."[16]

In March 2017, Humphrys disputed that Thomas Mair, who murdered MP Jo Cox was a terrorist despite him being prosecuted and described by the Crown Prosecution Service as one,[17] claiming it "muddied the waters". Humphrys was criticised for his statement and listeners called on the BBC to correct him.[18]

In 2017, Humphrys earned between £600,000 and £649,999 as a BBC presenter.[19] In January 2018 he took a voluntary pay cut to the £250,000–£300,000 range in the light of the gender pay gap controversy.[20] In May 2018 the BBC defended Humphrys against accusations of pro-Brexit bias by Tim Walker, a journalist for pro-EU newspaper The New European[21]

In February 2019 Humphrys announced his intention to leave the Today programme by the end of the year, admitting that he should have quit "years ago". He said he was likely to leave in the autumn, but he had not yet set a date.[22][23]

Personal lifeEdit

Humphrys married Edna Wilding (August 1942 – September 1997) in 1964 and they had two children, a son and daughter, Christopher and Catherine.[4] Their marriage broke down in the late 1980s.[4] Wilding died of cancer in Glamorgan, South Wales; Humphrys described her last days in a hospice in his book Devil's Advocate. Humphrys's son Christopher is now a professional cellist.[4]

On 2 June 2000, when he was 56 years old, Humphrys and his then partner, Valerie Sanderson, had a son, Owen James.[24] Sanderson was a newsreader with Spotlight then BBC News 24 and is now a radio producer. Humphrys had a reverse vasectomy. He referred to these facts on 31 October 2006 on BBC Radio 4 in the programme Humphrys in Search of God. He and Sanderson subsequently separated. In 2009, he began a relationship with the journalist Catherine Bennett, a contributor to The Observer.[25] In April 2017 it was reported that he was in a relationship with Sarah Butler-Sloss, the daughter of Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover and former daughter-in-law of Baroness Butler-Sloss.[26]

In 2005 he founded the Kitchen Table Charities Trust, a charity that funds projects to help some of the poorest people on the planet.[27]

Humphrys is a keen listener to classical music and cites Mozart, Beethoven and Bach as particular favourites, although he once saw The Rolling Stones in concert and said "they blew me away".[28] He was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs on 6 January 2008.[4] His favourite record of the eight he selected for the show was Elgar’s Cello Concerto; he chose the biggest poetry anthology possible as his book and a cello as a luxury on the desert island.[4]

Humphrys' brother, Bob Humphrys, was a sports television presenter on BBC Wales Today. He died of lung cancer in Cardiff on 19 August 2008, aged 56.[29]

In December 2013 Humphrys was featured in an episode of the BBC Wales series Coming Home, together with his older brother Graham. It was revealed that their great-grandmother Sarah Willey was, from the age of six, resident at the Cardiff workhouse and that their paternal great-grandfather was from Finland.[30]

Humphreys holds an honorary degree from Abertay University.[31]


  • Devil's Advocate. London: Arrow Books Ltd. (2000). ISBN 0-09-927965-7
  • The Great Food Gamble. London: Coronet Books. (2002). ISBN 0-340-77046-5
  • Lost For Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2004). ISBN 0-340-83658-X.
  • Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2006). ISBN 0-340-92375-X.
  • In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (2007). ISBN 0-340-95126-5.
  • Blue Skies & Black Olives (with Christopher Humphrys) London; Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (2009). ISBN 978-0-340-97882-5
  • Humphrys, John; Jarvis, Sarah (2 April 2009). The Welcome Visitor: Living Well, Dying Well (1st ed.). Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-92377-6.


  1. ^ a b c HUMPHRYS, John. Who's Who. 2015 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Biographies: John Humphrys: Presenter, Today". BBC. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Mastermind". BBC. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Desert Island Discs with John Humphrys". Desert Island Discs. 6 January 2008. BBC. Radio 4.
  5. ^ a b "BBC criticises Humphrys' speech". BBC News. 6 September 2005. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  6. ^ The Daily Telegraph, 21 July 2007, "Family Detective"
  7. ^ "Aberfan 'was like a scene from hell' - John Humphrys". 20 October 2016 – via
  8. ^ "The Aberfan disaster: John Humphrys, Huw Edwards and a survivor recall the 1966 tragedy".
  9. ^ "BBC - Press Office - Jenny Abramsky Oxford lecture two".
  10. ^ Wintour, Patrick (6 September 2005). "Former Blair aide admits leaking tape of Humphrys speech to Times". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  11. ^ "Humphrys in Search of God". BBC. Archived from the original on 28 June 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2019. Archived link.
    "Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Archbishop Rowan Williams". BBC World Service. 22 December 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
    "Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Professor Tariq Ramadan". BBC World Service. 29 December 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
    "Heart and Soul, Humphrys in search of God – with Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks". BBC World Service. 4 January 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  12. ^ Sunday 28 October 2007, BBC2 20:00–21:00GMT
  13. ^ "David Dimbleby injured by bullock". BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009.
  14. ^ "BBC's John Humphrys: I kept my job in 2010 even if I did have to take a pay cut". Daily Mail. London. 3 January 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  15. ^ "Fallout from Newsnight fiasco: John Humphrys vs George Entwistle – TV & Radio – Media". The Independent. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  16. ^ "John Humphrys: I am a different interviewer now from the one who started on Today". Radio Times.
  17. ^ "Thomas Mair convicted of the murder of Jo Cox MP". Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  18. ^ "John Humphrys criticised for saying Jo Cox killer was not a terrorist". 6 March 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  19. ^ Weaver, Matthew (19 July 2017). "BBC accused of discrimination as salaries reveal gender pay gap - as it happened". Retrieved 13 August 2017 – via The Guardian.
  20. ^ Noah, Sherna (26 January 2018). "John Humphreys among six BBC male stars to have pay cut amid gender pay row". Daily Record.
  21. ^ "BBC defend John Humphrys after Remainer accusation of Brexit bias". 15 May 2018. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Humphrys to leave Today later in 2019". 6 February 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  23. ^ editor, Jim Waterson Media (6 February 2019). "John Humphrys: I should have left Today programme years ago". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  24. ^ "Today presenter celebrates new son". BBC. 4 June 2000. Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  25. ^ Gordon, Bryony (22 September 2009). "John Humphrys: 'I've always felt like a bit of a fraud'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  26. ^ Karasin, Ekin (9 April 2017). "Mastermind host John Humphrys, 73, is pictured kissing his billionaire Sainsbury's heiress girlfriend, 52". Mail Online. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Kitchen Table charities Trust: Welcome page". Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  28. ^ "Glastonbury 2013: John Humphrys at his first festival". BBC News. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  29. ^ "Former BBC sports presenter dies". BBC News. 19 August 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
  30. ^ "BBC One – Coming Home, Series 8, John Humphrys". BBC. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  31. ^ "John Humphrys: National treasure or the rudest man in Britain?". Retrieved 31 October 2018.

External linksEdit