John Humphrys said he was ‘more proud than he could say’ as he paid an emotional tribute to Radio 4 listeners, who he deemed the “backbone of this country” on bowing out of the Today Show after 32 years at the helm.
Humphrys, 76, closed Thursday morning’s show with a moving speech in which he thanked his fellow presenters, the producers behind the show, the politicians who agreed to be interviewed and the listeners for their loyalty.
“My fellow presenters you wouldn’t believe how competitive they are,” he said. “Despite that it’s been great working with them, but it’s the producers who make this amazing.
“Thanks to all of the people who agree to be interviewed and politicians who still realise it’s important to be held to account.”
He thanked the BBC for “tolerating” him and said despite there being “a lot wrong” with the broadcaster he believes “we need the BBC now as much as we ever have done,” adding: “I can’t imagine this country without it. It’s an unthinkable thought.”
Turning to his listeners he said: “And finally my thanks to you who have written to me to give me a pat on the back or a kick up the bum. You’re usually always right.
“I’m amazed by the loyalty you have shown this programme, you really are the backbone of this country and you care about democracy. I feel I have got to know you over the decades. I’m more proud than I can say that you have put up with me for so long. Thank you all of you.”
He finished: “Today matters for tomorrow. If that’s a rather corny way to end my years on the programme, then so be it. That’s it from me and from Today, from Justin and me, good morning.”
His co-presenters paid tribute to his “restless energy” and his “passion to whatever stories” before joking that he can be “a tad grouchy”.
They played a montage of Humphrys’ most high profile interviews, including his many interrogations of Prime Ministers, with Tony Blair describing their interviews as “often a pleasure, occasionally not a pleasure but always worthwhile.”
Dame Edna Everage also read a poem, teasing Humphrys will never really retire, and BBC Director General Lord Tony Hall praised him for his “amazing sensitivity”.
Humphrys is the longest serving presenter on the show having taken over the microphone on 2nd January 1987, a feat he described as “terrifying”.
Humphrys will continue to present Mastermind on BBC2. He will not be replaced on the Today Show, with Justin Webb, Mishal Husain, Martha Kearney and Nick Robinson continuing to present.