John Humphrys has said it would have been “bonkers” to boost the pay of his Today programme co-presenters to match his salary instead of him volunteering a pay cut.
The broadcaster’s pay was slashed from around £600,000 to £250,000 after the BBC was forced to publish the salaries of its top-earning on-air talent following a Government edict.
Asked whether he should have campaigned for women doing an equivalent job to earn his salary, Humphrys told The Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday: “It would have been bonkers. I was earning too much money.”
The Today “Rottweiler” bowed out of the early morning BBC Radio 4 programme last month after 32 years and 5,000 programmes.
Humphrys, 76, said his salary was “partly overstated because I was doing Mastermind as well”.
“But nonetheless I know now I was getting about twice as much as anybody else on the programme,” he added.
“If you’re going to increase all salaries on the programme by that level… somebody has to pay for it and that somebody is the licence payer.”
The best option was to take a salary reduction, he said.
“Of course I knew I was paid a lot of money,” he went on. “I also knew… I worked very hard. I got up at 3.30am to do my job, I did lots of other things for the Today programme.
“I’d had a huge amount of experience in my early years when I was earning very little money… I was shot at, people tried to kill me, my marriage broke up. I was away from home for months at a time, I didn’t see my children grow up.
“All that was my choice, I’m not blaming anybody for that, but there was a sense in the back of my head that I put in a lot of hard yards…”
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday, Humphrys said that after the BBC’s former China editor Carrie Gracie spoke out about the corporation’s equal pay issues things had improved, but he believed there was still discrimination.
“I think it is still probably more likely the case you are to get a senior management job if you are male than female,” Humphrys said.
“It is still outrageous that the BBC, which is nearly 100 years old, has never had a woman director general and I think that is just plain wrong and the next one has to be, in my view.”
The journalist went on to say he was unaware of the gender pay issue until Gracie went public last year.
“I knew I was the best paid presenter on the Today programme. I didn’t feel guilty about that because I had been there longer than anyone else and I’d done lots of other stuff,” he said.
“When it was revealed, I was like everyone else at the BBC – except for those that allowed it to happen – I was shocked.
“I took three pay cuts over that period of time and I now think, certainly on the Today programme, it has evened out.”
Interviewer Georgina Godwin asked Humphrys about the infamous off-air recording of him discussing the gender pay gap with colleague Jon Sopel.
Humphrys described the exchange as “idiotic” and a “joke”.
“We were not having a go at Carrie Gracie, we were taking the mickey out of each other. It was a stupid thing to do,” he said.
Asked whether he had apologised to Gracie, he replied: “If you listen to the Today programme you will know that a certain politician asked me whether I had apologised to her.
“But given what I have just told you, for what exactly? What should I be apologising for?”
Godwin suggested his remarks were “offensive” and he replied: “Were they? What did I say about her?
“I thought the whole point of it was that men were earning too much and women too little, so a man takes a pay cut, that doesn’t address the issue?
“The tone was entirely jokey. I was taking the mickey out of him and he was taking the mickey out of me for earning even more than he did.
“So, the answer to your question is, ‘no’. Apologise for what?
“I did drop her a little line to say I am sorry if you have been embarrassed by our stupid little conversation, but I didn’t apologise for what I said because I didn’t say anything offensive to Carrie.”