John Humphrys and Justin Webb have spent years politely introducing Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – but it appears they may have been doing so through gritted teeth all this time.
In an exclusive interview with this week’s Radio Times, Today presenter Humphrys said that the slot was often “deeply, deeply boring” and suggested that it was an unnecessary feature in the programme’s schedule.
Asked what he thought of Thought for the Day he said: “Deeply, deeply boring, often. Sometimes not. Sometimes it’s good and the guy or woman is delivering an interesting thought in a provocative way. Usually not. It seems to me inappropriate that Today should broadcast nearly three minutes of uninterrupted religion, given that rather more than half our population have no religion at all. Certainly very few of them are practising Christians… we have Hindus of course, and we have the occasional Muslim, the occasional Jew, but by and large it’s Christian. Why?”
Challenging his colleagues on the Radio 4 news programme, Humphrys added, “When you’re presenting it, how many times have you said to yourself, ‘Dear God, we’ve got to cut a really fascinating programme short because we’re now going to hear somebody tell us that Jesus was really nice, and the world could be a better place if we all…’ You know… Oh God.”
Sarah Montague, Justin Webb, John Humphrys, Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain on the cover of Radio Times to celebrate Today’s 60th anniversary
Humphrys’ colleague Justin Webb also criticised the slot, which airs for two minutes and 45 seconds at 7.45am and features a range of thinkers reflecting on a religious or spiritual theme.
They’re all roughly the same,” Webb said. “‘If everyone was nicer to everyone else, it would be fine’. But from my cursory glance around the world, I think a lot of religious people don’t want to be nice to each other.”
However, presenter Mishal Husain defended Thought for the Day: “I think it’s a bit of punctuation in the programme,” she said, adding, “For me it’s the time I need to be out of the house, when I’m late.”
Fellow presenter Nick Robinson said he occasionally saw the value of the section.
“Do you know what, when Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi, does it, I listen. There are a few people who are just profound. Profound.”
Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times, on sale in store and online from Tuesday 31st October