The BBC is “deeply unimpressed” with an off-air chat in which two of its presenters joked about the gender pay gap, a corporation source has said.
BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys and North America editor Jon Sopel were discussing Carrie Gracie, who had just quit over equal pay.
A BBC spokeswoman said the presenter regrets the “ill-advised” conversation.
Mr Humphrys told the Times the off-air chat was “nothing to do” with the campaign by Ms Gracie.
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.”
BBC management are understood to be “deeply unimpressed” with the unaired discussion, which took place ahead of a pre-recorded interview for Monday morning’s edition of Today.
In an open letter issued the night before, Ms Gracie had accused the corporation of having a “secretive and illegal pay culture”.
She quit because of pay inequality with her male counterparts – including Mr Sopel – who were earning more than her £135,000-a-year salary.
Last year the BBC listed all the salaries of all employees earning more than £150,000 a year, which revealed Mr Sopel, the US editor, earned £200,000-£249,999, while Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen earned £150,000-£199,999.
It also showed that Mr Humphrys, who has presented Radio 4’s Today programme since 1987, had a salary of £600,000-£649,000.
Speaking in the Radio 4 studio, Mr Humphrys reportedly asked Mr Sopel about “how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her”.
He then referred to “other men who are earning too much” at the BBC.
Mr Sopel is understood to have replied that “if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say well yes Mr Humphrys”.
The presenter is then reported to have uttered a profanity and said that he was “still left with more [pay] than anybody else”.
Miriam O’Reilly, who won an ageism case against the BBC in 2011 after being dropped from Countryfile, described the exchange as “base, smug and condescending”.
Claiming to have heard a recording of the chat, Ms O’Reilly said it represented the attitude of “back-slapping entitled males”.
She also said she had been dropped from the Today programme on Friday, when she was expecting to talk about equal pay.
Deputy Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson asked in a tweet whether Mr Humphrys would be prohibited from presenting stories on the issue of gender impartiality.
Earlier this week, presenter Winifred Robinson – who had tweeted support for Ms Gracie – was taken off air, while Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey, a prominent campaigner for equal pay, said she was unable to conduct an interview with Ms Gracie for the show.
After the conversation between Mr Humphreys and Mr Sopel became public, Ms Garvey tweeted: “The Humphrys-Sopel exchange reveals, very neatly, what we’re up against.”
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,” she added.