Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 22:54 UK

Obituary: Humphrey Lyttelton

Humphrey Lyttelton
Humphrey Lyttelton: Raconteur, wit and father of British jazz

Humphrey Lyttelton was perhaps the UK's most influential jazz performer.

Beyond this, he was a noted raconteur and wit and chairman of BBC Radio 4's long-running I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

He was the unlikeliest of jazzmen. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was schooled at Eton and commissioned in the Grenadier Guards.

Yet Humphrey Lyttelton - Humph to his many friends and fans - was also a life-long socialist and a performer and composer whose commitment to his music shone through for more than half a century.

And to the younger generation, he was the avuncular and razor-witted chairman of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, who more than held his own with comedians including Tim Brooke-Taylor, the late Willie Rushton and Barry Cryer.

Humphrey Lyttelton was born in 1921 and his father was a housemaster at Eton.

Both of his parents were amateur musicians and he began playing the trumpet in 1936, forming a school quartet later that year.

Humphrey Lyttelton
Lyttelton was a virtuoso, self-taught, trumpeter

On one occasion, when he should have been watching the school's annual cricket match against Harrow at Lord's, he was in London's Charing Cross Road, buying a trumpet.

His long-running love of making music had begun, although on leaving school he worked for a time in a steelworks in South Wales.

He was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards during World War II and saw action, most notably on the beach at Salerno.

But it was said that he arrived at the beach-head with a revolver in one hand and a trumpet in the other.

'Swings his ass off'

By 1948, he had formed a band with the clarinettist Wally Fawkes. That year he went to France's Nice Jazz Festival, where he met his idol, fellow musician Louis Armstrong.

Armstrong always spoke warmly of the man he called "that cat in England who swings his ass off."

Tim Brooke Taylor, Humphrey Lyttelton, Barry Cryer, Willie Rushton, Graeme Garden
Humphrey Lyttelton (bottom left) chaired I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue

In the early '50s, he opened the Humphrey Lyttelton Club in a basement in Oxford Street in London, and during the next 35 years or so he became the elder statesman of British jazz.

He composed more than 120 original works for his band, although some of his best-known numbers were When The Saints Go Marching In, Memphis Blues, High Society and the self-penned Bad Penny Blues.

His band has also backed several singers, ranging from New Orleans songstress Lillian Boutte to Helen Shapiro, and more recently, Stacey Kent.

In 2000 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Post Office British Jazz Awards.

'A very heavy day'

The following year he joined rock band Radiohead for a seven-hour session during the recording of their new album, Amnesiac.

The legendary trumpeter went into the studio with the band after they wrote to him asking for help as they were "a bit stuck".

He said the session, for experimental track Life In A Glasshouse, left him exhausted.

"When we finally got a take that sounded good to me, they said: 'Good, we'll go and have some food, then we'll come back and do some more,'" he told Q magazine. "I said: 'Not me.' It was a very heavy day."

But playing was just part of Humph's life.

Radiohead
Lyttelton helped Radiohead with their album in 2001

He also presented and performed in many jazz radio programmes - Jazz Scene, Jazz Club and The Best of Jazz, which started in 1968 and only ended last month.

He was also chairman of BBC Radio 4's I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, which billed itself as the antidote to panel games.

The show, which began in 1972, gained a huge and loyal following of listeners, delighted by games like One Song to the Tune of Another, Swanee Kazoo and the sublime, if unfathomable, Mornington Crescent.

Its spring series was cancelled in 2008 when its presenter had to undergo an operation to repair an aortic aneurysm in his heart.

Humphrey Lyttelton - who turned down a knighthood - had yet more talents, too.

He worked for the Daily Mail as a cartoonist, wrote for left-wing papers and for magazines and was the author of several books about music. He excelled at each of his contributions to British life.

SEE ALSO
Jazz legend Lyttelton dies at 86
25 Apr 08 |  Entertainment
Lyttelton show pulled for surgery
22 Apr 08 |  Entertainment
Lyttelton to end radio jazz show
11 Mar 08 |  Entertainment
Humph: Still swinging at 80
21 May 01 |  Entertainment
Jazz legend joins Radiohead
28 Feb 01 |  Entertainment
Thirty years of clueless radio
11 Apr 02 |  Entertainment

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific