Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton (23 May 1921 – 25 April 2008), also known as Humph, was an English 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.
Lyttelton was born at Eton College, Berkshire, where his father, G. W. 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 Lyttelton.) From Sunningdale Preparatory School, Lyttelton duly progressed to Eton College. 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 steel plate works in Port Talbot 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 Salerno 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.
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
On 23 July 2008, Lyttelton was posthumously named as BBC Radio 2 Jazz Artist Of The Year, voted by radio listeners.
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.
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 almost until his death, famed 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 go much further than most BBC pre-watershed humour. The success of the programme had a big influence on the manner in which comedy was presented on radio. Lyttelton's persona was a big part of that success: he was a straight-man surrounded by mayhem, a very similar comedy device to that employed by Kenneth Horne in Round the Horne in the 1960s. 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 Theatre in Bournemouth. 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.
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.
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