Off-air discussion on equal pay nothing to do with Carrie Gracie, says Humphrys

Radio broadcaster John Humphrys has said comments made in an off-air chat about equal pay were "nothing to do" with the campaign by Carrie Gracie after he was criticised for making light of the situation.

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.

According to the Sun and the Times, 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 presenter told the Times the conversation had not been intended as a criticism of Ms Gracie.

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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."

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 that she simply wanted the corporation to "abide by the law and value men and women equally".

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Former BBC journalist Miriam O'Reilly, who won a tribunal against the corporation in 2011, claimed to have heard the recording of the conversation between Mr Humphrys and Mr Sopel.

She tweeted: " is base - and beneath what the public would expect to hear from John Humphrys. Winifred Robinson was stood down for tweeting support for @BBCCarrie I expect the same will now happen with Mr Humphrys."

She also described the exchange as "smug and condescending".

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."