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‘Smug’ John Humphrys defends off-air remarks about BBC pay

Under fire: Broadcaster John Humphrys

BROADCASTER John Humphrys has insisted he was not making light of unequal pay at the BBC in comments he made during an off-air chat, saying they were nothing to do with the campaign by Carrie Gracie.

A leaked tape recording of a conversation between Mr Humphrys and North America editor Jon Sopel, before Monday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, reportedly heard them discussing Ms Gracie, who had quit just hours earlier in protest at unequal pay.

Mr Humphrys asked his colleague how much of his salary he would be prepared to ‘hand over’ to keep Ms Gracie as the BBC’s China editor, before adding: ‘Oh dear God, she’s actually suggested you should lose money.’

The BBC presenter told The Times the conversation was not intended to make light of Gracie’s push for pay equality.

He said: ‘This was what I thought was an exchange between two old friends who have known each other for 30 years and were taking the mickey out of each other.

‘It was nothing to do with Carrie’s campaign,’ he insisted.

Ms Gracie’s resignation came as she accused the corporation of a ‘secretive and illegal pay culture’ after it was revealed two-thirds of its stars earning more than £150,000 were male.

In an open letter, she said she had left her post to ‘speak out publicly on a crisis of trust at the BBC’, adding she simply wanted the corporation to ‘abide by the law and value men and women equally’.

Former BBC journalist Miriam O’Reilly, who won an ageism case against the corporation in 2011, claimed to have heard the recording.

She described it as ‘smug and condescending’ and ‘beneath what the public would expect to hear from John Humphrys’.

A BBC spokeswoman said: ‘This was an ill-advised off-air conversation which the presenter regrets.

‘The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay.’