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Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton (23 May 1921 – 25 April 2008), also known as Humph, was an Englishmarker jazz musician and broadcaster, and chairman of the BBC radio programme I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. He was a cousin of the 10th Viscount Cobham and a great-nephew of the politician and sportsman Alfred Lyttelton, who was the first man to represent England at both football and cricket.

Early life and career

Lyttelton was born at Eton Collegemarker, Buckinghamshire, where his father, George William Lyttelton (second son of the 8th Viscount Cobham), was a house master. (As a male-line descendent of Charles Lyttelton, Lyttelton was in remainder to both the Viscountcy Cobham and the Barony of Lyttelton.) From Sunningdale Preparatory Schoolmarker, Lyttelton duly progressed to Eton Collegemarker. At Eton, Lyttelton fagged for Lord Carrington and formed his love of jazz. He was inspired by the trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Nat Gonella. He taught himself the instrument, and formed a quartet at the school in 1936 that included the future journalist Ludovic Kennedy on drums.

After leaving school, Lyttelton spent some time at the Port Talbot steel plate works in South Wales, an experience which led to him becoming what he termed a "romantic socialist". After being called up for war service, he served in the Grenadier Guards, being commissioned as a second lieutenant on 29 November 1941, and seeing action at Salernomarker during Operation Avalanche when he came ashore with his pistol in one hand, and his trumpet in the other. On VE Day, 8 May 1945, Lyttelton joined in the celebrations by playing his trumpet from a wheelbarrow, inadvertently giving his first broadcast performance; the BBC recording still survives. Following demobilisation after World War II, he attended Camberwell Art College for two years.

In 1949, he joined the Daily Mail as a cartoonist, where he remained until 1956. Several of his cartoons have recently been on display in various branches of the Abbey National bank, as part of their new advertising campaign. He was one of the collaborators with Wally Fawkes on the long running cartoon strip Flook.

The jazzman

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Lyttelton was prominent in the British revival of traditional jazz forms from New Orleansmarker, recording with Sidney Bechet in 1949. To do so he had to break with the Musicians' Union restrictive practices which forbade working with jazz musicians from the United Statesmarker. In 1956, he had his only hit, with the Joe Meek-produced recording of "Bad Penny Blues", which was in the UK Singles Chart for six weeks. As the trad jazz movement (not quite the same thing as revivalism) developed, Lyttelton moved to a mainstream approach favoured by American musicians such as trumpeter Buck Clayton; they recorded together in the early 1960s and Clayton considered himself and Lyttelton to be brothers.

By now his repertoire had expanded, including not only lesser known Ellington pieces, but even "The Champ" from Dizzy Gillespie's band book. The Lyttelton band — he saw himself primarily as a leader — helped develop the careers of many now prominent British musicians, including Tony Coe and Alan Barnes

In 2001, Lyttelton and his band added traditional jazz elements to the Radiohead song "Life in a Glasshouse" on the Amnesiac album.

On 11 March 2008, he announced that he would cease presenting BBC Radio 2's "Best of Jazz", after 40 years.

On 23 July 2008, Lyttelton was posthumously named as BBC Radio 2 Jazz Artist Of The Year, voted by radio listeners.

The Humphrey Lyttelton Band

Humphrey Lyttelton's eight-piece band featured, aside from himself on the trumpet and clarinet: Ray Wordsworth on the trombone; Jimmy Hastings on the alto sax, clarinet and flute; Jo Fooks on the tenor saxophone and flute; Rob Fowler on the tenor sax, baritone sax and clarinet; Ted Beament on the piano; John Rees-Jones on the double bass and Adrian Macintosh on the drums.

The band maintained a busy schedule, performing (frequently sell-out) shows across the country. Performances occasionally included a guest singer, or a collaboration with another band. During the 1990s the band toured with Helen Shapiro in a series of Humph and Helen concerts. They also featured in several Giants of British Jazz tours with Acker Bilk and George Melly and John Chilton's Feetwarmers.

Lyttelton had a long established professional relationship with UK singer Elkie Brooks. After working together in the early sixties they rekindled their working partnership in early 2000 with a series of sold out and well received concert performances. They released the critically acclaimed album Trouble in Mind in 2003 and continued to perform occasional concerts in support of this work.

Radio personality

From 1967 until April 2007, Lyttelton presented The Best of Jazz on BBC Radio 2, a programme which featured his idiosyncratic mix of top-quality recordings of all ages, including current material. In 2007 Lyttelton chose to cut his commitment to two quarterly seasons per year, in order to spend more time on other projects.
Humphrey Lyttelton and producer Jon Naismith during a 2005 recording of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue at the Edinburgh Fringe
In 1972 he was chosen to host the comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue on BBC Radio 4. The show was originally devised as a comedic antidote to traditional BBC panel games (both radio and television), which had come to be seen as dull and formulaic, and in keeping with the staid middle-class "Auntie Beeb" image. Lyttelton continued in this role until shortly before his death, and was famed both for his deadpan, disgruntled, and occasionally bewildered style of chairmanship, and for his near-the-knuckle double entendres which, despite always being open to an innocent interpretation, went much further than most BBC pre-watershed humour. ISIHAC's success had considerable influence on the manner in which comedy was presented on radio, and Lyttelton's persona was a significant part of that success: he was a straight man surrounded by mayhem. At the time of his death, Lyttelton was the oldest active panel game host in the UK, being two and a half years older than his closest rival, Nicholas Parsons.

On Tuesday 22 April 2008 Lyttelton and the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue team were due to appear in the stage version of the programme at the Pavilion Theatremarker in Bournemouthmarker. Due to his indisposition, his place was taken by Rob Brydon, but a pre-recorded message from Lyttelton was played to the audience ("I'm sorry I can't be with you today as I am in hospital - I wish I'd thought of this sooner!"). The panellists on that night were Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Barry Cryer and Jeremy Hardy.

As well as his other activities, Lyttelton was a keen calligrapher and President of The Society for Italic Handwriting. He named his own record label "Calligraph" after this extracurricular interest. This label, founded in the early 1980s, not only issues his own albums and those of associates, but also re-issues (on CD) his analogue recordings for the Parlophone label in the 1950s. He is reported to have turned down a knighthood in 1995.

Illness and death

On 18 April 2008 Jon Naismith, the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, announced the cancellation of the upcoming spring series of ISIHAC owing to Humphrey Lyttelton's hospitalisation to repair an aortic aneurysm. Rob Brydon and others were asked to deputise for Lyttelton during the tour shows, but Lyttelton postponed his operation and managed to perform on all but the last night. A further email on 21 April 2008 reported that the BBC were "unclear precisely how long Humph's recovery period will be" but Lyttelton was "otherwise fine and in very good spirits".Lyttelton died peacefully following his surgery on 25 April 2008 with his family around him. BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 1995 episode of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue as a tribute on Sunday 27 April, and a retrospective programme presented by Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday 30 April 2008. Radio 4 celebrated Humphrey Lyttelton Day on Sunday 15 June 2008, including a new profile of ISIHAC by Stephen Fry called Chairman Humph - A Tribute.

After his death, the controller of Radio 4, Mark Damazer, said: "He's just a colossally good broadcaster and possessed of this fantastic sense of timing. [...] It's a very, very sad day but we should celebrate and be very grateful for how much he did for Radio 4, really terrific."

Responding to news of Lyttelton's death, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood wrote on the band's blog Dead Air Space: "We were all sorry to hear of Humphrey Lyttelton's death - he was an inspiring person to record with, and without his direction, we'd never have recorded/released Life in a Glasshouse. So go and find "Bad Penny Blues", and celebrate his life with some hot jazz."

Lyttelton was survived by his four children: a daughter from his first marriage to Pat Braithwaite, and two sons and a daughter from his second marriage to Jill Richardson. Richardson, to whom he had been married since 1952, predeceased him in 2006.

Notes

Books

  • Humphrey Lyttelton: It Just Occurred to Me...: An Autobiographical Scrapbook (Robson Books Ltd: London, September 2006) (224pp.; ISBN 1-86105-901-9
  • Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Barry Cryer, Humphrey Lyttelton: The Little Book of Mornington Crescent (Orion: 2000) (112 pp.; ISBN 0-7528-1864-3)
  • Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Humphrey Lyttelton, Barry Cryer, Willie Rushton: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: the Official Limerick Collection (Orion: 1998) (128 pp.; ISBN 0-7528-1775-2)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: The Best of Jazz (Robson Books: London, 1998) (423pp.; ISBN 1-86105-187-5)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: The Best of Jazz: Vol 2 — Enter the Giants (Robson Books: London, 1998) (220pp.; ISBN 1-86105-188-3)
  • Julian Purser Humph: A discography of Humphrey Lyttelton 1945-1983 (Collectors Items: 1985) (49 pp.; ISBN 0-946783-01-2)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Why No Beethoven?: Diary of a Vagrant Musician (Robson Books: 1984) (176 pp.; ISBN 0-86051-262-2)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Jazz and Big Band Quiz (Batsfordmarker: 1979) (96pp; ISBN 0-7134-2011-1)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: The Best of Jazz 1: Basin Street to Harlem: Jazz Masters and Master Pieces, 1917-1930 (Taplinger Publishing Co: London, 1978) (220pp.; ISBN 1-86105-188-3)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Best of Jazz (Robson Books: 1978) (224 pp.; ISBN 0-903895-91-9)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: I play as I please: The memoirs of an Old Etonian trumpeter (MacGibbon and Kee: 1954) (200pp.; B0000CIVX1)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Second chorus (MacGibbon and Kee: 1958) (198 pp.; B0000CK30P)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Take it from the Top: An Autobiographical Scrapbook (Robson Books: 1975) (168 pp.; ISBN 0-903895-56-0 )


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