Humphrey Lyttelton - They called him Humph


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This weekend saw a BBC tribute to Humphrey Lyttelton, jazz trumpeter, band-leader and much-loved Radio 4 presenter who died in April. Pat Parker was privileged to conduct one of his final interviews, in which he spoke candidly about his life IT WAS just before Christmas last year that I interviewed the great Humphrey Lyttelton. He hadn't been terribly well but was as genial, gentlemanly and generous as always. The previous year, 2006, had brought sadness. His wife, Jill, whom he had nursed for many years, died after a long degenerative illness. But 2007 saw him more active than ever: he had been featured on The South Bank Show, and hailed in one newspaper as a national treasure, cited as “trumpeter, broadcaster and purveyor of blue-chip filth to the nation". He was rather chuffed by that.

And, at 86, he had been gigging with his eight-piece jazz band with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager. “My band is on a roll," he told me. “I'm having the best time of my life."

In addition, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the anarchic 'antidote to panel games' which he had chaired on Radio 4 since its inception in 1972, had gone on tour to massive, sell-out audiences. It toured again this year, though Humph was unable to attend the last performance because he was in hospital for a heart operation to repair an aortic aneurism.

He died of complications following the surgery on 25 April, and the nation mourned as if it had lost a dear friend.

Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton, cousin of the 10th Viscount Cobham, was born on 23 May 1921, at Eton, where his father George taught English literature to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

“My ancestors started the title Viscount Cobham," he said. “I broke away and remained plain Mr Lyttelton." The ancestor he seems to have been most proud of, however, was another Humphrey Lyttelton, one of the Gunpowder Plotters. Humph shared his rebellious streak.

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