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British Comedy

BBC Radio 4 "Humph Day" info & article from The Times
13/06/2008 00:00 GMT

Posted by lisa

This Sunday BBC Radio 4 presents several tributes to Humphrey Lyttelton (  The event is the top story in both Radio 4 and BBC 7's weekly newsletters; there is also an article in The Times (at


Excerpts from the Radio 4 newsletter

Friday 13 - Friday 20 June 2008

Hello fellow listeners,

As a tribute to our much loved colleague, the late Humphrey Lyttelton, we're broadcasting three programmes on Sunday in celebration of his life. Dubbed Humph Day, there's another chance to hear his final appearance on Desert Island Discs; an hour-long tribute presented by Stephen Fry; and a programme Humphrey Lyttelton made about Louis Prima - one of his own heroes.

Sunday 15 June

Desert Island Discs, 11.15am-midday
Another chance to hear Humphry Lyttelton's final appearance as Kirsty Young's guest. Note: not repeated on Friday.

Chairman Humph, 12.00-1.00pm
Stephen Fry presents a special tribute to Humphrey Lyttelton, the host of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, through the eyes of his close pals on the show and distinguished admirers from Dame Judi Dench to Radiohead.

The King of the Swingers, 1.30-2.00pm
Humphrey Lyttelton profiles Louis Prima, one of the most prolific and accomplished jazz musicians of the 20th century, who is sadly now remembered mostly for his role as a cartoon monkey.


Excerpts from the BBC 7 Newsletter

Hello again

I don't usually begin my newsletter by recommending that you switch over to another radio station, but in this instance, I suggest that on Sunday some of you might like to join our sister station, Radio 4, to catch " Humph Sunday"

Humphrey Lyttelton, widely regarded as a National Treasure, was once described (apparently to his great delight) as " trumpeter and broadcaster, and purveyor of blue-chip filth to the nation"

Alongside his music, and his 36 years in the driver's seat of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue", Humph unquestionably brought fun, joy and laughter to millions of listeners.

When the news of his death was announced in April this year, the BBC was inundated by his many fans who wanted to pay tribute to him.

Radio 4 will be broadcasting its own special tribute and appreciation on 15th June, on what has been affectionately named Humph Sunday.

There will be almost three hours celebrating all sorts of things that are Humph, beginning with his Desert Island Discs, (from November 2007) followed by Chairman Humph, a one-hour homage warmly presented by Stephen Fry, with contributions from many friends and colleagues.

To finish off, you can catch Humph's profile of jazz musician Louis Prima (well-known in jazz circles, but most probably remembered as the voice King Louis, King of the Swingers in the film of The Jungle Book.

And King of the Swingers is the name of that programme.

I'll certainly be listening in.



From The Times
June 14, 2008

Radio 4 celebrates the life of Humphrey Lyttelton

Alan Franks
National monuments like Humphrey Lyttelton tend to have characteristics willed on to them by an admiring public. Many of these, for example his commitment to silliness, are accurate; others, such as the notion that he was endlessly freewheeling and gregarious, less so. Philip Larkin, the poet and jazz lover, surely got it right when he wrote of the veteran trumpeter and radio host: "One mustn't be misled by the amiable, bumbling persona...
He is a toughly intelligent man moving confidently in any kind of surroundings from Windsor Castle to Birdland."

That spectrum takes in the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent, which is where I met him on a filthy Friday evening a year before his death. He was 85, and by then diminished to a mere 6ft - four inches less than the height of his prime. He was still an imposing, elegant figure. He had just driven down from his home in the far north of London, and was bearing the essentials of his trade; in one hand a trumpet case with a thoroughly lived-in look; in the other the lightweight suit still wrapped in the Mill Hill dry-cleaners' polythene.

In the sense that he was purposeful, punctual, eyeing the terrain for signs of his band members, he corroborated Larkin's reading. At the same time there was something mildly hunted about him. This may well have been because of the sheer freight of association with chaos that 34 years in the chair of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue would place on anyone's shoulders. While talking to him, and to people who knew him, I became convinced that his distinctive thing - his chop, as musicians say - was to border-cross; to be in places that you might not expect to find him, and then to give the probably accurate impression that he felt thoroughly at home.

It started with his birth, in 1921, which occurred in Eton. Once he had become famous in the postwar years, some thought he was having them on when he answered straight questions about his origins with straight answers. It was not just Eton the place, but Eton the school. His father was no less than the Hon George Lyttelton, who was a teacher there. So Humphrey was in effect born at Eton, duly went there as a pupil and might even have considered following in his father's professional footsteps if he had been more academically inclined and less crazy about music. One woman who knew him as a very young man on family holidays in Suffolk recalls a delightful, rather distrait character who couldn't be bothered with socks. In a classic and symbolic piece of bunking off, the teenage Humphrey walked off from an Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lords and went to Charing Cross Road to buy himself a trumpet.

Then there was the war, or rather the effects of it - the erosion of class barriers and the easing of a "downward" passage into what was considered bohemia. But again, if you look at something that had happened to him before he joined the Army (he served in North Africa and Italy) - it explains much of his deliberate journey away from privilege. "One of my father's brothers was the director of a steel firm in South Wales," he said. "My cousin and I went down there to work. It was most uncomfortable because the workers there thought we were management spies. Eventually a foreman called Fred befriended us and got us to meet the rest of the workforce. He asked the MD if we could work in the smelting shop, which meant throwing all kinds of stones, dolomite, manganese into the furnace. It was the lowest form really.
He took us to the working men's clubs and I started playing the trumpet there."

It might not have been quite such a public renunciation of class birthright as that of the public school-educated former 2nd Viscount Stansgate Tony Benn, but a socialist he was. When, at the Mick Jagger Centre, I asked him if it was true that he had turned down a knighthood from John Major, he effectively snubbed the question by doing an impression of a senior moment.
It was, in a different sense, pure class. Even his chairmanship of Clue could be seen as a subversion of authority, even if that authority was notionally his own.

Although he never tried to disguise his roots, he never flouted them. Far from the Old Etonian tradition of sticking close with your fellow alumni, visible still through David Cameron, Lyttelton was wary rather than proud if a bunch of them turned up at his gigs.

For someone who was for so long in the public eye, and who had chosen the most extroverted of instruments, the intensity of his privacy may have looked odd; it was of course, as Larkin implied, a necessary part of keeping the show on the road. Most musicians who worked with him had nothing but respect and affection, but even they were alarmed to discover that none of them had his phone number, and that if by some error it ever leaked, he would have it changed immediately. To my surprise he did talk of the pain of losing his wife Jill the previous year after a long struggle with the degenerative brain disease progressive supranuclear palsy. "Oh, it was a horrible thing," he said, shaking his head. "Eight or nine years. All the things she loved doing, they shut down one by one."

But then, like a bandleader striking into a brighter number: "No good agonising. I don't agonise over many things. I mean, I could agonise over my father's treatment of me in the Easter holidays. We can all allow these things to hang on and take over our lives."

It was not until he died that I realised the biggest boundary he crossed in his life was the one between the past and the present - for want of a subtler definition, the pre- and the post-Diana Britains. This was both a stoical gentleman from the war generation and an artist who enacted such New Age-friendly ideals as living in the moment, acknowledging the healing power of music and becoming the person he was meant to be.

His funeral in London on May 6 was a private affair. Family and friends only. On the order of service were these words, written many years before, by Lyttelton: "As we journey through life, discarding baggage along the way, we should keep an iron grip, to the very end, on the capacity for silliness.
It preserves the soul from desiccation." He knew as well as any educated Englishman the link between that deceptive word "silly" and its Germanic origin selig, meaning blessed.

After my article appeared I got a letter with a Suffolk postmark. It was from the woman who recalled his youthful charm - Patricia, his first wife and mother of their daughter, Henrietta, who is now a grandmother herself.
Humphrey had left when the girl was 2, and there were periods when there was not much contact. Patricia tells of an occasion when she and Henrietta surprised him in the interval of a concert at Aldeburgh by joining the queue for signed CDs. Henrietta says she developed a very warm relationship with him, and with her two brothers and sister. "He was a wonderful father to have," she says. "Very interested, and always tremendous company." Whatever happened all those years earlier, both women seem to have enacted his principle of no agonising.

Lyttelton also rang me to leave a message, saying thanks for the chat. I rang back but got caller withheld ... naturally. In such a long playing life, it was one of the few numbers of which there was no record.

Radio 4 on Sunday: Desert Island Discs, 11.15am; Chairman Humph - a Tribute, noon; The King of the Swingers - Lyttelton profiles Louis Prima, 1.30pm

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