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British Comedy

Barry Cryer article from The Times - "How will we ever get over the Humph?"
09/06/2008 00:00 GMT

Posted by lisa

The following "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" related article appears in today's edition of The Times Online:

From The Times
June 9, 2008

How will we ever get over the Humph?

Humphrey Lyttelton was loved by millions but known only by a few, yet it's hard to know who could take his place

Barry Cryer

I knew Humph for 53 years. I worked with him on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue for 36 years. But the first time I saw his house was on the day of his funeral. None of us had been there, because he was an obsessively private man. He never told anyone his phone number. If his number was ever leaked, he changed it. If you wanted to get in touch, you rang his manager, Sue, who rang Humph, who rang you. That was fine. That was just Humph.

His house, it turned out, was totally Humph. It had no windows on the outside. All the windows faced inwards into some sort of courtyard.After Jill, his wife, died in 2006, he started talking a bit more about how he felt about things. But he kept a strict divide between his personal and his professional life. We all respected that.

He died on April 25, after an operation on an aortic aneurysm. After his death, it was a bit like when Eric Morecambe or Willie Rushton died. People felt they knew them. Certain people impinge on the general consciousness like that, they make an impact on people.

He was 50 when he first did Clue. He'd already had a life, was already a jazz star. And he relished it. He talked a lot about how he admired Kenneth Horne. You can see the lineage - the urbane chairman among the idiots, the squire and the incompetent gardener. But Humph brought the grumpiness, then built up the air of irritation and boredom over the years.

He never swore - too much style for that. Well, hardly ever. The last show we ever did with him was on our live tour, in Harrogate, just a few weeks ago. We were all at the same hotel. At breakfast he had prunes. He took one bite, looked up from his bowl and said: “How can you f*** up a prune?”

There's nobody like him. You can't say someone is a sort-of Humphrey Lyttelton. It's his era. The patrician courteousness. He broke the mould: Old Etonian, the Guards, then jazz. Labour Party all his adult life.

I never saw him lose his temper. A lot of band leaders are respected but not really liked. He wasn't liked by his musicians, he was loved. And he loved the contrast between Clue, where everything was prepared for him, and organising the band.

A lot the obituaries quoted his lines - Humph used to call them “blue-chip filth” - as if they were written by him. In fact they were written by Iain Pattinson. But nobody else could have got away with delivering those doubles entendres. He created this air of “Well, I've been given this to do”. He made it look effortless, which of course it wasn't.

He was good at everything he did, really. Ornithology. Cartooning. Calligraphy. It sounds as if I'm talking about a saint. Well, he was a three-dimensional man. But if I'm asked to list his faults, I fail to find any.

I'm going to miss the recordings, of course. As to whether the show continues without him, it's all up in the air. There is a strong school of thought that says we should stop now. Then again, Humph once said, ‘If I went under a bus, there should be no misplaced loyalty'.

Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and I had to talk about this now and then. It was always painful. We could smugly suggest that we'll continue as a tribute to him. More selfishly, we'd continue because we adore doing it. Maybe it could be like Have I Got News For You, with guest hosts. We'll see. But Humph was the hub. It will never be the same again, I know that much.

Humphrey Lyttelton Day is on Radio 4 on Sunday from 11.15am.

As told to Dominic Maxwell

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