ISIHAC Christmas Special, 2007
|Birth name||Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton|
23 May 1921|
Eton, Berkshire, England
|Died||25 April 2008
|Occupation(s)||Musician, composer, radio presenter, cartoonist|
|Associated acts||Tony Coe, Alan Barnes|
Having taught himself the trumpet at school, Lyttelton became a popular figure of the trad jazz revival, leading his own eight-piece band, which recorded a hit single, "Bad Penny Blues", in 1956. As a broadcaster, he presented BBC Radio 2's The Best of Jazz for forty years, and hosted the comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue on Radio 4, becoming the UK's oldest panel game host.
Lyttelton was born at Eton College, Berkshire, where his father, George William Lyttelton (second son of the 8th Viscount Cobham), was a house master. (As a male-line descendant of Charles Lyttelton, Lyttelton was in remainder to both the Viscountcy Cobham and the Barony of Lyttelton.) From Sunningdale Preparatory School, Lyttelton duly progressed to Eton College. He was a cousin of the 10th Viscount Cobham and a great-nephew of the politician and sportsman Alfred Lyttelton, the first man to represent England at both football and cricket, both of whom also attended Eton.
At Eton, Lyttelton fagged for Lord Carrington and formed his love of jazz. He was inspired by the trumpeters Louis Armstrong (who subsequently referred to Lyttelton as "that cat in England who swings his ass off") 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 was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards as a second lieutenant on 29 November 1941 alongside future politician Mark Bonham Carter, and seeing action at Salerno, Italy, 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.
Like many ex-servicemen, Lyttelton received a grant for further study. He went to Camberwell School of Art, where he met Wally Fawkes, a fellow jazz enthusiast and clarinet-player, also known as the cartoonist "Trog". It was Fawkes who, in 1949, helped him to get the job with the Daily Mail, at first writing the words for Flook, Fawkes's comic strip.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s Lyttelton was prominent in the British revival of traditional jazz forms from New Orleans, 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 States. In 1956, he had his only pop chart 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. His band already had an alto saxophone player and by 1958 he had added tenor and baritone saxophone players to the lineup. Occasionally, with the help of Eddie Harvey, he assembled a big band for BBC broadcasts and records. In 1957 and 1958 blues singer Jimmy Rushing toured England with the band, as did Clayton, Vic Dickenson and Big Joe Turner in 1965. Clayton recorded with Lyttelton in the early 1960s and toured with the band on numerous occasions. Clayton considered himself and Lyttelton to be brothers. He also recorded with visiting Americans Al Casey, Buddy Tate and Kenny Davern.
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 1983, Lyttelton formed his own record label, Calligraph Records, which reissued some of his old recordings, all future recordings by his band and recordings made by band members.
For several years during the post-war period at 100 Oxford Street his regular band included Wally Fawkes, the Christie brothers, Pat Hawes and Johnny Parker. From 1958, Lyttelton's favoured line up was an eight–piece band with three saxophones, (alto, tenor and baritone) although this was reduced to seven occasionally to save money. But he would sometimes add the baritone again for broadcasts and recordings. Lyttelton's mainstream band usually included such established musicians as Jimmy Skidmore, Joe Temperley, Kathy Stobart, Jimmy Hastings, John Barnes, Roy Williams and Pete Strange along with new talent such as Tony Coe, Alan Barnes, John Picard, Karen Sharpe, and Jo Fooks. He also introduced Canadian vocalist Stacey Kent to British audiences. Lyttelton regarded his band as a family, with some members returning to the fold after periods away and/or staying for long periods (Bruce Turner, Stan Greig, Adrian Macintosh, Stobart, Hastings).
The band maintained a busy schedule, frequently performing sold-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 1960s they rekindled their working partnership in early 2000 with a series of sold-out and well-received concert performances. In late 2000, they played on the track "Life in a Glasshouse" on Radiohead's album Amnesiac, released the following year. In 2003, they released the critically acclaimed album Trouble in Mind and continued to perform occasional concerts.
Lyttelton's last band featured, apart from himself on trumpet and clarinet: Ray Wordsworth on trombone; Jimmy Hastings on alto sax, clarinet and flute; Jo Fooks on tenor saxophone and flute; Rob Fowler on tenor sax, baritone sax and clarinet; Ted Beament on piano; John Rees-Jones on double bass and Adrian Macintosh on drums. His last formal recordings, one track each on trumpet and clarinet, appeared on his last CD 'Cornucopia 3', (CLG CD 46) all of which he supervised. Trumpet on the other tracks was played by Tony Fisher.
After his death, part of Lyttelton's appearance with his 2007 Band, (with Karen Sharpe instead of Robert Fowler), at the Brecon Jazz Festival, in which he was joined by American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton was shown by BBCtv as a tribute, (Humph's Last Stand). The band continues to give concerts performing his music. The trumpet part is played by Tony Fisher with occasional guest spots by singer Sue Richardson and ex–Lytteltonians such as Karen Sharp.
From 1967 until April 2007, Lyttelton presented The Best of Jazz on BBC Radio 2, a programme that featured his idiosyncratic mix of recordings from all periods of the music's history, including current material. In 2007 he chose to cut his commitment to two quarterly seasons per year, in order to spend more time on other projects.
In 1972 Lyttleton was chosen to host the comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (ISIHAC) 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 doubles entendres and innuendo which, despite always being open to an innocent interpretation, was, according to fellow cartoonist William Rushton, "the filthiest thing on radio" (BBC Radio, unlike BBC Television, has no watershed and thus can feature adult or risque material during any time of day). The programme'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.
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.
Lyttelton was married twice. His first wife was Patricia Mary (Pat) Braithwaite (born 1929), whom he married on 19 August 1948. They had one daughter, Henrietta (born 1949). In 1952, following his divorce, he married (Elizabeth) Jill Richardson (1933–2006), with whom he had two sons and a daughter, Stephen (born 1955) and David (born 1958), and Georgina (born 1963).
Despite his celebrity, he was intensely private. He designed his house in Arkley, Hertfordshire, with blank walls on the outside and the windows opening onto an internal courtyard. He hated using the telephone and kept his number ex-directory, changing it if anybody else discovered it. Given his dislike of the telephone, he communicated by post, including letters hiring and firing members of his band.
He twice refused state honours which were offered to him. One occasion was in 1976, and in 1994 he declined the knighthood offered by Downing Street: his son Stephen later wrote that "Accepting it was never an option but he still felt sick to the stomach. He kept it from all of us, especially my mother who would have exerted a lot of pressure on him to accept, seeing it as recognition for all his work" <http://www.humphreylyttelton.com/the-doctorate-years/knighthood/>
On 18 April 2008 Jon Naismith, the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, announced cancellation of the spring series 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".
On Tuesday, 22 April 2008, Lyttelton and the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue team were booked to appear in the stage version of the programme at the Pavilion Theatre (Bournemouth). Because of his illness, 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.
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 website: "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 is 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. His Humanist funeral took place on 6 May 2008 at the St. Marylebone Crematorium (which shares grounds with East Finchley Cemetery) in East Finchley, London. Lyttelton regarded himself as a Humanist.
On 25 April 2010, two years after Lyttelton's death, a celebratory concert entitled "Humphrey Lyttelton — A Celebration Concert" was held at the Hammersmith Apollo to celebrate his life, works and contribution to music. Singer Elkie Brooks and many prominent British jazz musicians appeared at the concert, along with panellists from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. The event was organised and hosted by his son Stephen Lyttelton, who is also the founder and Chairman of "The Humph Trust", an organisation set up after his death to support young up and coming jazz musicians and to provide sponsorship and support. The event was opened by the 2010 winner of the Humphrey Lyttelton Royal Academy Of Music Jazz Award, Tom Walsh, who played Horace Silver's "Song for my Father" with his quintet from the Royal Academy of Music.
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