Today programme host John Humphrys triumphed at the Sony Awards tonight, landing the radio journalism award after his grilling of George Entwistle led to the BBC director-general quitting hours later.
The 69-year-old Radio 4 presenter savaged Entwistle over his handling of the fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal and the bumbling performance led to him resigning as DG after just 54 days.
Another major winner at the event tonight was Danny Baker who collected the best entertainment show prize for his Radio 5 Live programme, just months after he famously quit another BBC show with a valedictory two-hour live rant.
The presenter lambasted corporation bosses last year after learning his BBC London series was being axed, and did not go back to see out the end of his run.
Baker’s victory tonight – beating rivals such as Radio 1’s Greg James – is his third win at the Sony Radio Academy Awards in as many years.
Broadcaster Steve Lamacq, a tireless champion of new music since starting at Radio 1 two decades ago, was given the Special Award in recognition of his contribution.
Event bosses said of the DJ, who now works for Radio 6 Music: “Steve Lamacq is one of radio’s true legends – he’s brought great music to the people. Long may he continue.”
The event, regarded as the Oscars of the UK radio industry, introduced a new Sony Golden Headphones public vote to find the nation’s favourite presenters with the inaugural award going to Radio 1 newcomers Dan Howell and Phil Lester.
Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans hosted tonight’s event, which featured performances by Robbie Williams and Jamie Cullum, with further awards still to be announced.
Mr Entwistle appeared on the Today programme on November 11 to defend his role as the BBC was in crisis over the unfolding Savile scandal and an edition of BBC2’s Newsnight which mistakenly slurred Lord McAlpine.
But in a tense interview the beleaguered boss’s position looked increasingly untenable and by that night he announced his departure on the steps of Broadcasting House.
Speaking before the ceremony, Cardiff-born Mr Humphrys said he had a lot of respect for Mr Entwistle and would have preferred not to have done the interview.
He said: “That’s in a way the sad bit about it because you know, I know George, liked him, admired him, respected him, and then did an interview after which he resigned.
“And I don’t think for a minute it was because of the interview he resigned but nonetheless it’s sad to, as it were, be praised for something you’d rather not have had to do. So sort of mixture really of nice to be here but possibly for the wrong reasons if you see what what I mean.”
Mr Humphrys said interviewing Mr Entwistle was very difficult but his years of experience helped him to focus on the job.
He said: “Once you start an interview like that the years of doing it take over as it were, the experience takes over and you don’t think that is (a) my boss and (b) somebody I rather like and respect and feel a bit sorry for. You just do your job and then when it’s over you think oh my god.”
Mr Humphrys said his former boss appeared to show now ill feelings after the interview.
He said: “He was amazingly gracious about it afterwards. As he left the studio he turned and I couldn’t talk to him because we were live on air at the time but he put his hand out and shook my hand and looked rather sort of very sad and then went off to resign. And it was all rather poignant.”
Mr Humphrys said it was a very difficult period for the BBC and he briefly worried whether the broadcasting organisation would get over the scandal.
He said: “The danger in an organisation like the BBC is you do tend to get a bit complacent. You believe your own propaganda and things go along beautifully and you feel pretty smug about the whole thing and then something comes and bites you in the bottom and you have to think, actually we’re vulnerable as well.”
Humphrys made special mention of Entwistle in his acceptance speech.
“I thought he dealt with that interview with grace and elegance,” he said.
“He was in a difficult place but he dealt with the questions, he didn’t duck and dive, he was honest.
“And then he went and resigned”
He quipped: “I just hope not everyone does that, or I would be out of a job.”
Baker couldn’t resist a side-swipe at his former radio station as he took to the stage to receive his award from presenter Patrick Kielty.
Laughing as he accepted the prize, he said: “It’s been a hell of a year in radio for me.
“I’d like to draw a line under a contretemps many of you will remember from late last year and at this point, I’d like to apologise to BBC London 94.9 – where are they? Oh,they’re not here! And in an Olympics year too.
“That’s not fair. But it’s beautiful to be able to say.”
He added that he was particularly pleased to win because he thought his most recent Sony awards had been given “in sympathy”, saying: “I thought it was because I’ve had cancer.”
Kielty, who recently married presenter Cat Deeley, said “married life is great” and joked: “She’s done very well for herself.”
Lamacq said he was “flabbergasted” to be recognised for his work, having never won a Sony award before in his 20-year career at the BBC.
“To get one in this special year for me is amazing,” he added.