John Humphrys has signed off from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after 32 years and 5,000 shows.
Editor Sarah Sands said the stalwart broadcaster’s departure was “a bit like Big Ben being silenced”. “I will miss his restlessness, his capacity for delight, his profound curiosity, his humanity,” she said.
Humphrys, 76, interviewed ex-prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron before hearing tributes from both current and former colleagues on the show, many of whom were in the studio this morning.
BBC director general Lord Tony Hall said on air that despite his “rottweiller” reputation, Humphrys “handles interviews with people who have been through traumas or disasters… with amazing sensitivity”.
Asking Humphrys if this was the result of him being the first reporter on the scene at the 1966 Aberfan disaster in Wales, the reply was: “They all play a part I suppose in the way you behave.”
Today co-presenter Justin Webb said Humphrys was more like a terrier than a rottweiller – “he just keeps on”.
“But he’s also imbued this programme with humanity because he is keeping on with a cause,” Webb added. “He likes people. Some of his finest work has been about people.”
Humphrys apologised to Today listeners “if just occasionally I was a teeny-weeny bit grumpy” and praised them as the “backbone of our country”.
“Today matters for tomorrow,” he said. “And if that’s a rather corny way to end the programme so be it.”
Humphrys also used his final broadcast to take a swipe at politicians who snub interviews in favour of putting their message on social media.
Humphrys said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had not been on Today since he took office in July 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”.
He also said there was “a lot wrong” with the BBC “as an organisation”.
But he added: “There’s a lot wrong with every organisation and it’s facing massive challenges from social media and changing behaviour and all that but I believe we need the BBC as much now as we ever have done I simply cannot imagine this country without it – it is an unthinkable thought.”
Ex-Today presenters remembered when John “once destroyed a typewriter” at work.
Others said they were “astonished at his energy levels” and that he had “created a radio show around through sheer force of personality”.
Nick Robinson said: “It’s not exactly a state secret that John can be just a tad grouchy, but John’s never bored. He never doesn’t care.
“Every single morning every single programme every single item he thinks matters and he can be as grouchy as he likes because of that.
Mishal Husain added: “Everyone around [John] ends up raising their game.”
Humphrys admitted that he “an arguer” when pressed by Webb. “I love arguing – got it from my father I suppose.” Webb said Humphrys argues from 4am when he first gets in to the studio.
But he also praised Humphrys’ interview style – “the energy the probing”.
He said: “John does interrupt, but his great skill isn’t that, it’s listening to what is said… John has the capacity to damage people but he also has the capacity to give people their voice and take their case to those in power.”