Today ‘not dumbed down’ – Humphrys

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Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Today programme host John Humphrys has denied that the BBC’s flagship current affairs radio show is being dumbed down.

Speculation about its future direction was sparked last year when its editor, Jamie Angus, was quoted as saying that some listeners had turned off because of the “preponderance of really difficult and distressing foreign news” and that he was looking at whether the programme could tell “stories in shorter form”.

But Humphrys, 71, who has co-presented the Radio 4 breakfast programme for almost 30 years, denied the accusation.

The Mastermind host told Radio Times magazine that Today was “middle-brow,” adding: “I don’t regard middle-brow as a term of abuse. It means intelligent, but also entirely accessible.

“If you want dumbed-down stuff, you can find it. There are 8,000 channels where you can get it. But that’s not dumbing down, that just means there’s more stuff.”

He added: “The idea that the Today programme is dumbing down is complete garbage. It is as least as serious as it was when I started, in some ways more serious.

“It depends on the editor – we had one who felt he’d failed if we didn’t interview a cabinet minister at ten past eight, even if he wasn’t very interesting. We don’t do that now, but I don’t think it’s dumbing down. “

Humphrys, who presents Today with Sarah Montague, Mishal Husain, Justin Webb and James Naughtie, said that he had no plans to retire and that he would not stop until they “get fed up with me, or I get to the point where I think, ‘I really don’t want to get up so early'”.

And he said that he hated his “Welsh terrier” nickname, earned for his reputation for confrontational interviews.

“I do think the times I do an interview on Today where there is actual confrontation, a real bit of aggro, are vanishingly rare.

“But you’ve only got to do it a few times, and I did have a couple of big run-ins, but people want to categorise you, don’t they?

“Paxman was the Rottweiler and I was the Welsh terrier. Which I must say – I know I’m not very big – I did rather resent,” he said.

Humphrys revealed his softer side as a keen amateur baker, saying “I’ve started with sourdough, and there isn’t a bakery in the land who would dare to sell it – I could probably market it as ammunition, if you drop it on your foot, it hurts.

“But I am getting better, and it’s so satisfying.”

He also told how he “hugely regrets” not going to university because “when I went occasionally to a students’ union, to get pissed or something, I didn’t half feel jealous” and “I wanted to strangle them (students) with those bloody scarves!”

The broadcaster said that he “might do a mature degree” but that he did not have fond memories of his years at Cardiff High School.

“The thing that really pissed me off was I used to do a paper round and one morning I was a bit late for school, because it was snowing, but I got caned anyway, even though the headmaster knew the reason,” he said.

“They asked me to go back and do a prize-giving and make a speech. So I said, ‘Yes – here’s what I’ll say,’ and they changed their minds. They withdrew the invitation.”

Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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