Humphrey Lyttelton, veteran broadcaster, dies
By Gary Cleland and Laura Clout
Last Updated: 2:44am BST 26/04/2008
Humphrey Lyttelton, the jazz musician and presenter of Radio 4 comedy panel show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, has died. He was 86.
Known as "Humph", the jazz band leader, trumpet player and master of innuendo died following surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm after being admitted to Barnet General Hospital in north London on April 16.
A statement released on his website said: "Humph died peacefully with his family and friends around him on April 25 at 7pm following surgery.
"We would like to thank everyone for their support and express our deep gratitude to the staff of Barnet General for the care that they gave Humph."
Dr Graeme Garden, the former Goodie and regular on the panel show, told the Daily Telegraph last night: "He was on sparkling form a few weeks ago when we last worked together. We also spoke just before his operation. He was a great guy.
"He was an immensely loveable man and we are absolutely shattered by the news.
"You would be chatting to him and he would start telling anecdotes about Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, both of whom he worked with.
"He had an amazing energy and get up and go. He only gave up his jazz programme this year, at the age of 86, because he wanted to devote more time to other projects – not because he was scaling back.
"He was a great advocate of silliness. Last time I spoke to him he had just watched Hell's a Poppin' on DVD – it is a comfort to know his sense of silliness endured till the end."
Lyttelton had hosted the "self-styled antidote to panel games" from 1972, but was perhaps best known over his lifetime as a musician.
Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, said Lyttelton encompassed "so many" of the virtues people wanted from Radio Four comedy.
"He's just a colossally good broadcaster and possessed of this fantastic sense of timing," he said.
"It's a very, very sad day but we should celebrate and be very grateful for how much he did for Radio Four because he really was one of the giants over the last 40 years, really terrific."
Jenny Abramsky, Director of Audio and Music at the corporation, said: "Humphrey Lyttelton has been one of the wonders of radio broadcasting for years.
"He championed British jazz with his weekly programme on Radio 2 introducing millions of listeners to the glories of the British jazz scene.
"At the same time his deadpan stewardship of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the unique ringmaster of an anarchic world, ensured the programme became the jewel of radio comedy.
"Humph was warm, erudite, funny and scurrilous. His audience loved him. He was an irreplaceable voice on British radio."
Lyttelton was born on May 23, 1921 at Eton College, where his father was a housemaster. It was while at Eton that he developed a love for jazz and, in 1936, having taught himself the trumpet, formed his first quartet with schoolmates including journalist Ludovic Kennedy.
After leaving school he served with the Grenadier Guards during the war before going to Camberwell Art College in central London.
It was from here that the extent of Lyttelton's versatility started to become clear.
In 1949 he joined the Daily Mail as a cartoonist, working, among other projects, on the popular Flook strip, and stayed there until 1956.
He was also emerging as a key figure in the British revival of traditional jazz forms.
In 1956, he became the first British jazz artist to enter the top 20 with Bad Penny Blues.
That same year his Lyttelton Band supported jazz legend Louis Armstrong in London, while 45 years after that he worked with the rock group Radiohead, and the following year advised Jamie Cullum on his album.
He began his four-decade stint hosting Radio 2's The Best Of Jazz in 1967, beginning I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue five years later.
As chairman, he became legendary for his ability to deliver the smuttiest of innuendoes with apparent innocence.
Lyttelton announced in March that he was to stop presenting BBC Radio 2's Best of Jazz after 40 years.
Jon Naismith, the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, last week announced the cancellation of the upcoming series because of Lyttelton's hospitalisation.
Father-of-four Lyttleton, who was long-standing president of the Society For Italic Handwriting, married twice, first in 1948 and then again following a divorce in 1952.