Johnny’s letter this week is to a BT Sport presenter and Norwich City fan who started his career on children’s TV and shared a bed with Holly Willoughby. That’ll be Jake Humphrey, then.
Why the Love?
Jake is now into his 11th year as a sports presenter, having got his start on CBeebies in many different roles, including that of being a large pink lobster. Well, we’ve all been there.
After doing 5 live match reports in 2005, his TV presenter talent was spotted early and he quickly became the youngest ever host of Football Focus, Match of the Day and Final Score.
His ease in a live format meant that he quickly got lots of gigs outside of football, handling the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games and Summer Olympics. He’s also covered American Football and famously presented Formula One on the BBC. He gained a lot of fans in the industry and it was no surprise that the BBC were awarded a BAFTA Television award for its coverage of the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP. His F1 coverage got huge love.
He has also co-hosted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and guest presented non-sports programmes such as The One Show for BBC One and This Morning for ITV, as well as many more shows.
He left F1 to work for BT Sport as one of their big dudes. Currently his main gig is presenting the Saturday Premier League game and playing ringmaster for the excellent post-game show along with pundits such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. I’ve previously described the show as a gamechanger with its mix of well-edited user-generated content, cheerful interaction and quality pundit discussion.
Also does noble work for a children’s cancer charity and has spoken well of being bullied as a boy, how horrible it is and how it affects your life forever.
I suspect the reason he’s become a go-to man for live broadcasts is because of his absolute ease in the format. The key to this is an ability to improvise, to think on your feet, and to be inclusive with your guests. Couple that with genuine enthusiasm and you’ve a lot of boxes ticked. And if you look at the BT Sport roster of football presenters, it is a stellar list and speaks very highly of Jake that he is part of it. This is an A Grade team: Gary Lineker, Matt Smith, James Richardson, Lynsey Hipgrave, Darrell Currie (oft overlooked but very good indeed) and Mark Pougatch.
You can tell his hero is Des Lynam, as he aims to inhabit the same territory of light and shade, and has certainly been inspired by him to shift between those two poles without clunking the gears.
His interaction with the ex-players on the BT Sport show has been a little controversial with some feeling he’s too “matey” with them. I disagree. The USP for the show is the energy he brings and the fact he will take the mick out of them, and won’t bend the knee in what used to be the much despised tradition of: “I’m just a mere presenter and I bow to your god-like ex-player knowledge.”
Anyone can understand and appreciate a football match; what Jake does so well is take that fact for granted, and get to the meat of the matter more quickly by asking experience-specific questions of the players. In other words, he pulls out stuff we can’t otherwise know. This is a brilliant example:
Rio, Frank and Steven discussing the failure of the Golden Generation was an intelligent, thoughtful chat, the like of which used to be rare on football TV. It gives us, the punters, access to their experience. I don’t think you get this without a good, respected, well-liked host.
You also have to bear in mind that prior to it, there had been some joking, messing around and interaction in the studio, with the public sending in their match reports. So Jake had to move the mood to something, if not serious, then more considered. It is so successful because through his questions and knowing when to listen and when to talk, he structures the discussion and allows it to flow. The fact many watching would not even realise there is a technique happening live-on-air is proof of how good Jake is. We shouldn’t be able spot the skeleton beneath the skin – the discussion should be all-consuming. And it is. But none of this happens by accident. It does help to have three interesting and articulate men present, of course.
But if you’re going to have some to-and-fro between presenter and pundit, you have to be prepared to have the pish ripped out of you too. This short clip shows really well how Jake deals with that and wrestles it back to an interesting question and subject.
You need self-confidence in the magazine format. You need a good sense of yourself and to worry more about making things good, than about things going wrong.
This and many more reasons are why the show was nominated for a Broadcast Digital Award this year, only losing out to BT Sport’s UFC 205, whatever that is.
One of the lang shanks tribe at 6 foot 3 or 4. Is surely a regular at High & Mighty for his smart suits and plain shirts. Even though he’s colour blind, he has yet to commit an obvious fashion faux pas. Has sensibly opted for the open-neck shirt and decent suit option for his BT Sport gig.
My missus, who knows nothing about football or football media, looked at a full-length picture of Jake and said: “He’d look good done up in fishnets for Rocky Horror. I’m a big fan of lads cramming their tackle into a black silk G-string. And those legs just won’t quit.”
She’s an artist and is obviously utterly bonkers, though.
What the people say
I will just make one reference to some of the ridiculously negative comments I received about Jake, most of which used the word ‘smug.’
Yeah? Does this look like a smug person?
But the easy disparaging was put in the shadow of good vibes, with many enjoying his work.
Someone in the media, who has good reason to know, emailed me to say this:
‘Jake is a lovely chap. Married his childhood sweetheart and has two lovely kids. He’s a really warm person and doesn’t put on an act for the telly. I used to stand there and watch him and wonder how he made live broadcasting look so easy.’
Another of our football media men says: “Jake is really nice chap, and is a very decent chap. In this day and age you get criticised as a presenter for being too forthcoming and for being too reticent, almost as if a presenter cannot win. How would Des, who is Jake’s hero, get on today with social media keyboard warriors?”
And a third:
“I work for BT and although I’ve not personally met him I have dozens of colleagues who have and they all, to a man or woman, say he is a genuinely nice guy. Takes time to speak to people & takes an interest in them.”
We should all wish for such respect and praise. Social media also volunteered some really appreciative comments.
‘He’s excellent on Premier League Tonight on BT Sport. He’s pally enough with the pundits to make them feel at ease enough to open up, but never looks like he’s blowing smoke up their arse. Seems like a nice bloke, too.’
‘Seems a decent bloke doing something he loves. Enough self awareness to realise that as well. Did a great job in F1 of keeping Eddie Jordan under control.’
‘Always good to hear about someone who was bullied in school go on and have a great life and career. Great role model for kids who have been in similar situations and genuinely nice person.’
‘Met him at soft play at Colchester Zoo. Lovely fella, willing to indulge all the dads who wanted to talk football. Can’t speak highly enough.’
‘A sort of Jordan Henderson of presenting. Nice, enthusiastic and probably practices a lot on his skills.’
‘Has the easy air of education and niceness. Always feel he’d never talk down to you, ever.’
‘If you turn any programme on and see he’s presenting, you know you are in safe hands. Seems to have built a bit of respect with the PFMs as well so can sometimes challenge them without getting the “you never played the game” look.’
‘One of the most flowing, seamless and intelligent presenters around who always manages to get the absolute best out of his co-presenters.’
‘Seems like a great bloke who’s having a great time being paid to watch sport, always thought the same when he was doing F1 too.’
‘I think you can say that he’s excellent at reflecting the quality of the pundits around him.’
‘Excellent on BT Sport… seems to get the best out of the younger pundits they use (Lampard, Rio, Gerrard etc).’
‘He’s clearly good at the basics – dealing with live tv etc but he’s also got a gift for getting the best out of guests – even Glenn Hoddle occasionally chips in with something vaguely relevant. And that in itself is a feat. A good guy.’
‘He’s one of those understated, discreet, knowledgeable types who seems to have a good knowledge of the game. Gets the best out of the ex-pro studio guests without resorting to the sycophantic level of most others.’
‘When he was doing F1 my mum was photographer at (possibly) the Force India Christmas party. Unimpressed with him having his top two shirt buttons undone before a photo, she told him in her Lancashire accent to “do your shirt up! What would your mother say?” He sheepishly did.’
‘Don’t always agree with him, but I respect that he does offer an opinion whilst many others outside the ex footballers club don’t/won’t. Was better on the F1 where he didn’t have to sell the BT product.’
‘Not a big fan of BT Sport in general, but this guy seems like one of the likeable, knowledgeable “New school” of presenters and pundits – Along with Dan Walker, G-Nev, Carra, etc who have admirably broken through in an industry in danger of being swallowed up by PFMs. Good on him.’
‘The way he framed and allowed the flow of the recent ‘why the golden generation failed’ discussion with Rio, Gerrard and Lampard was great. Probing without being overbearing.’
‘I’d imagine Saturday morning live kids TV is the presenting equivalent of turning out for a Northern lower league side on a cold, wet Tuesday night.’
‘He learned a lot from his stint covering F1, I think. One interview he gave to Bernie Ecclestone early on was excellent, giving him a real grilling. But he balanced this with a presenting style allowing the ex-pros to speak naturally & in depth about topics, which is hard to do.’
‘He’s not afraid of challenging the ex-pros.’
‘I think that he hasn’t forgotten his roots is important.’
‘Seems like an ultra ambitious bloke who you’re preconditioned to despise, then you end up stuck at the bar on a night out with him and you really like him. Keeps the show on the road really well and steps back from the debates when they pros get going.’
‘That show manages to get sense out of Harry Redknapp from time to time. Clearly Jake is some sort of magician.’
‘My mother-in-law fancies the pants off him. She got a picture at Silverstone with him and she says he was lovely. And I was glad to hear that he’s lovely.’
‘Seems a lovely guy, the sort of guy you’d like to go for a pint with (and not in the Reidy or PFM sense). Great interview with three of the ‘golden generation’ too recently.’
‘I reckon he’s a good lad, loves his sport and works hard.’
‘Looks like the type of bloke who if your sister brought home – you would approve – have liked him since his F1 days.’
‘How he encapsulated the spirit of the 2012 Olympics is vastly underrated. The UK really seemed like a country with the potential to go somewhere great that summer.’
‘He’s like my mates (or me). One of those people that is stereotyped as a nerd but are just trying to be nice, and of course it’s not cool to be ‘into’ things. Bet he’s got a train set or more likely a Scalextric.’
‘He once switched on the Christmas lights in Holt, Norfolk. That’s commitment!’
Modern football TV media requires its performers to be flexible beasts. The days of staring at an autocue and introducing clips are long gone. You have to be a fan, a real person. Authenticity is everything. You have to perform on the telly as though you’re not on the telly. You live forever in the court of public judgement, so you need to be tough, but you can’t lose your humanity. And, after all, it’s just football on the telly and in the scheme of things, as Jake well knows, not so important.
This is all playing into his strong suit. With a 30-year career ahead of him, if he wants it, as one of the first postmodern presenters, he sees the bigger picture. Age will only strengthen his stock. One of the good guys, with a good heart. It’s a pleasure to have him in our football lives. While we all have our preferences and tastes, good people are hard to find. And in Jake, we found one.