A Fulfilled Life Cut Tragically Short; as Former BBC Wales Today Sports Correspondent Bob Humphrys' Autobiography Is Published, His Widow Julie Shares Her Fond Memories of a Man Driven by an Enduring Passion for His Work with Abbie Wightwick

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Fulfilled Life Cut Tragically Short; as Former BBC Wales Today Sports Correspondent Bob Humphrys' Autobiography Is Published, His Widow Julie Shares Her Fond Memories of a Man Driven by an Enduring Passion for His Work with Abbie Wightwick


IT has been a poignant week for Julie Humphrys. She's been filming a BBC Wales tribute to her late husband Bob and facing the emotional journey of reading his autobiography.

Julie, 58, refused to read it in draft form, telling him she would do so when it was a book.

While he was writing the memoir, Bob, sports correspondent for BBC Wales flagship news programme Wales Today, was told he had lung cancer.

He got the draft to the publisher last May, soon after his diagnosis and died just three months later on August 18.

When we speak, Julie is summoning her strength to read the autobiography.

The pain of Bob's early and unexpected death hangs in the air throughout our conversation, although his story is generally a happy one.

His autobiography tells of professional and personal fulfilment - though he has some scores to settle and does so.

Here was a man lucky and talented enough to forge a career based on his love of sport and journalism.

His autobiography, Not A Proper Journalist, starts with recollections of growing up in Cardiff and following his brother into journalism. It details the journey from his first job on the Western Mail to BBC Wales, where he rose to become sports correspondent after covering major news stories and working on Week In Week

Out.

As sports correspondent, Bob was at the heart of all major sport stories for two decades and made friends with names from Enzo Calzaghe to Colin Jackson and Graham Henry.

It was a glamorous, high-voltage career, with Bob in his element at the centre of the highs and lows, the politics and drama of Welsh sport.

The autobiography recounts everything from the departure of Wales rugby coaches to the rise of new stars such as Nicole Cooke.

Its title was inspired by some advice from his older brother John Humphrys, broadcaster and presenter of Radio 4's Today programme.

Early in Bob's career John took him aside and cautioned: "The one thing you want to avoid is covering sport - that is not proper journalism."

A few years on, John was not only begging Bob for tips when BBC top brass entertained him at a rugby match but also conceding "the boy done good" when he received a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Bob, who was BT Welsh Sports Reporter of the Year three times, also ignored John's advice to follow him to London, saying he liked Cardiff and didn't want a life stuck in tube trains and traffic jams.

Besides, he enjoyed the excitement and intrigue of Welsh sport. Friends he made along the way included former Wales rugby coach Graham Henry, now coach to the New Zealand side.

In a foreword to the book, Graham recalls Bob as a true friend, professional and "master storyteller".

"My time in Wales was a rollercoaster ride but Bob was a reliable constant among the silliness," he says.

Graham highlights the cruelty of the speed with which cancer took Bob and his friend's feelings of betrayal when the BBC replaced him with younger faces.

Shortly before discovering the cause of the pains in his shoulders, Bob had taken early retirement from the job he loved.

He'd been axed from the main news programme in favour of newer presenters.

Given the choice of moving to other programmes, Bob decided to leave.

His own words lay bare his anger and shock at being ditched after nearly 20 years as sports correspondent, and he makes clear his feelings towards head of news Mark O'Callaghan, presenter Jason Mohammad and Jamie Owen.

He speaks highly of Sara Edwards and many others he worked for over the years and former colleagues say he was a valued source of advice and inspiration.

Tributes from across the corporation and sporting world after his death showed the respect Bob commanded.

But he clearly felt ill-treated by some at the BBC. …

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