When John Humphrys interviewed outgoing Vogue editor Alexandra Schulman on the Today programme a few weeks ago, many were critical of his aggressive questioning about the magazine’s reliance on super-thin models.
In fact Shulman (below) herself attacked Humphrys for his approach in the 31st August interview, writing that “I unexpectedly found myself having to defend the fashion industry from all manner of evil, such as promoting anorexia among young girls.”
She added: “Suddenly I was confronted by a grey-haired guy in chinos hectoring me on the business I had worked in for a quarter of a century and which he neither knew, nor cared, much about.”
Strong words. But of course no one would have expected Humphrys to take this sort of attack lying down, and in an interview in this week’s Radio Times the presenter has a go back – even suggesting that Shulman’s attacks would have been “sexist” if he had said the same things as she did, but about a woman.
Says Humphrys: “Where I’ve disagreed with certain people, possibly even my editor, was that the interview I did with her might have been better. There was mild disagreement afterwards about the approach I took. But why wouldn’t I want to interview somebody who’d edited a magazine for 25 years that had a huge influence over the way women dress?
“It was massively interesting, and actually a rather important subject, particularly if you advance the proposition, which I did, that magazines like Vogue and the fashionistas in general, pushed the idea for many years, and are still pushing it, though they deny it, that in order to look nice you’ve got to be stick-thin. I’ve always thought it an absurd proposition and damaging to an awful lot of young girls who are susceptible to that sort of pressure. So I was, according to some people, too aggressive with her. I thought I was actually rather polite.
“But she didn’t like being asked about that sort of thing and suggested, preposterously, that you’re almost as likely to see chubby women on the cover of Vogue. I think she came up with three examples over 25 years. Well, I rest my case, M’lud!”
Humphrys also took issue with Shulman’s criticisms about his appearance.
“Not that I feel strongly about this, but I did resent the idea that I was being painted as some sort of token, as a man – apparently I’d committed the sin as well of wearing chinos. I’m not sure what chinos are… She said I was ‘a grey-haired man who wore chinos’, you know? Wow, well I’m sorry.
“It occurred to me then, that if I’d accused her of being, say, a grey-haired woman who wore whatever, that would have been sexist. But she was allowed to write that about me. I don’t care but…”
At which point his fellow presenter Justin Webb chimes in: “People say things about John that you couldn’t say about other people. The ageism is outrageous.”