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24 September 2014
I'm sorry I haven't a clue

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The Jazz Man
BIOGRAPHY: Humphrey Lyttelton
 
The Others:
Graeme Garden
Tim Brooke-Taylor
Barry Cryer
Willie Rushton


An officer and a journalist
Humphrey was born on 23 May 1921 in Eton College, where his father was a famous housemaster and where he was subsequently educated. During the War, he served as an officer in the Grenadier Guards and, on discharge, studied for two years at Camberwell Art School. His incredibly varied career saw him work as a cartoonist for the Daily Mail and as a journalist for Punch, The Field and the British Airways magazine, Highlife. He also wrote seven books, formed a record company and was President of The Society for Italic Handwriting.

The Jazz Man
But it was as a jazz musician that Humphrey was best known. His love affair with the trumpet began in 1936, he formed his first band 12 years later and has since wrote over 120 original compositions.

In 1949, he signed a recording contract with EMI, resulting in a string of now much sought-after recordings in the Parlophone Super Rhythm Style series. In 1956, Humphrey's Bad Penny Blues was the first British jazz record to enter the Top 20.

More recently Humphrey and his band made a guest appearance on the Radiohead track Life In a Glass House in 2000. His collaboration with Radiohead culminated in a performance in front of 42,000 fans at the South Park concert in Oxford. Humph later said that this was one of the most moving musical experiences in his 53 year career.

Humphrey in the 21st Century
Until he passed away in April 2008, Humphrey had been busier than ever. His band, one of the most versatile in the world, still toured regularly. Until March 2008 he had presented The Best of Jazz on BBC Radio 2, and had chaired the hugely popular panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue on Radio 4 for over 30 years. His authoritative and exquisitely bored tones leant the half-hour of innuendo and improvised tomfoolery an air of gravity.

Humph on ISIHAC
When asked to explain I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue's enduring popularity, Humphrey pointed to its improvisational format: "It's chronically unpredictable. It doesn't get stale because nobody knows what's going to happen next, least of all us."

One of Humphrey's favourite recollections from 30 years of laughter, was a particular round of 'Straight-Face'. "It's the round in which the teams have to say one word at a time in rotation without getting a laugh from the audience. As only he could, Stephen Fry brought the house down with 'moistly'".

Top Honours
Humphrey was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Awards at both the Post Office British Jazz Awards in April 2000 and at the first BBC Jazz Awards in 2001. In 1993, he was also the recipient of the radio industry's highest honour: The Sony Gold Award.

Legacy
Having shared his joy of music and beloved quick wit with generations of listeners, Humphrey passed away peacefully amongst his family and friends at the age of 86 on April 25th, 2008. Read the full obituary at BBC News.
 
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Humphrey Lyttelton
Humphrey Lyttelton


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