Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton was born in Eton College, Windsor, on 23 May 1921. The second son of the Hon. George Lyttelton, a housemaster at the school, and cousin of the 10th Viscount Cobham, Lyttelton came, he said, from “a long line of land-owning, political, military, clerical, scholastic and literary forebears.” Lyttelton went to Eton, and bought his first trumpet in 1936, after slipping away from the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match at Lord’s. Later that year he formed a quartet at school, where his love of cartooning also saw him on stage drawing “Lightning Caricatures”.
On leaving Eton it was first suggested that Humphrey Lyttelton might join his uncle’s City office, and then, through another uncle who was president of the Iron and Steel Federation, it was arranged that he could spend eighteen months observing the workings of a South Wales steelworks. This turned him into a “romantic socialist”, but he was rescued from the problem of finding a career by the outbreak of war. In June 1941 Lyttelton enlisted in the Brigade of Guards and went to Sandhurst, receiving a commission five months later. He saw action in Italy in September 1943, where he recalled landing at Salerno with his pistol in one hand and his trumpet in the other (John Jones - the cartoonist JON - was one of the landing officers at Salerno). Back in London on VE Day in May 1945, Lyttelton serenaded the crowd at Buckingham Palace, and can be heard playing “Roll out the Barrel” in a BBC recording of the event.
In 1946 Lyttelton, in common with many ex-servicemen, took advantage of a grant to go to art school. “When I got out of the army I was twenty-five and didn't feel like going back to anything very academic,” he recalled, “so I went to Camberwell School of Art for a couple of years and round about the same time started playing jazz in various low dives.” In March 1947 Lyttelton and Wally Fawkes, a clarinettist who was also studying part-time at Camberwell, joined the George Webb Dixielanders, a semi-professional band of New Orleans-style jazz revivalists.
In January 1948 Lyttelton left the Dixielanders to form his own band, and took Wally Fawkes with him. Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band, with Wally Fawkes on clarinet, soon became the leading traditional jazz band in Britain. Fawkes was meanwhile working as a cartoonist on the Daily Mail, drawing incidental “column breakers” and illustrations, and signing himself “Trog”. In 1949 he began drawing the “Flook” strip for the paper, and, as Lyttelton recalled, "tipped me the wink that the job of column breaker would soon be vacant." Lyttelton, who had got married the previous year, got the job, and chose the signature “Humph” for his cartoons. He illustrated the "Mailbag" correspondence columns of the paper, but soon provided other incidental cartoons and illustrations, and began writing jazz reviews. However, in 1953 Lyttelton gave up cartooning to become a professional musician, although he continued to write storylines for “Flook” for another three years.
In 1956 Lyttelton's composition “Bad Penny Blues” became the first jazz record to reach the British Top 20 - although as he recalled, “it climbed to number nineteen and then fell back exhausted.” He became a noted exponent of jazz, and in 1967 began presenting “The Best of Jazz” on BBC Radio 2, a series that would run continuously until 2007. In 1971 Lyttelton also agreed to chair the pilot of a BBC Radio 4 panel game, which was entitled “I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue”, and was originally conceived as a companion to the radio sketch show “I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again”. First aired in February 1972, Lyttelton decided from the start to adopt the persona of a man with “a slight hint that he doesn't really want to be there and slightly grumpy about everything.” It was an enormous success, and he eventually chaired the series until 2008. The script involved a large amount of innuendo, and in 2001 The Times described him as a “Purveyor of blue-chip filth to Middle England”, which Lyttelton greatly enjoyed, saying that he wanted to drive between gigs in a tradesman’s van with the lettering “Humphrey Lyttelton: Purveyor of Blue-Chip Filth.”
Lyttelton wrote eight books, and, as a freelance journalist, contributed restaurant reviews to Harpers & Queen, humorous articles to Punch and to the British Airways Highlife magazine, as well as numerous articles on jazz. A keen amateur calligrapher, like his father, he was appointed President of the Society For Italic Handwriting in 1990. He was also awarded Honorary Doctorates in Music, Letters or the Arts at the Universities of Warwick (1987), Loughborough (1988), Durham (1989), Keele (1992), Hertford (1995) and de Montfort (1997). Although reluctant to talk about it, he was also said to have been offered a knighthood by both James Callaghan and John Major, and to have refused on both occasions.
Humphrey Lyttelton died on 25 April 2008, following an operation.
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 19 December 1941, p.7169.
- Alan Franks “Some People Are Born Treasures”, The Times, 22 December 2001.
- I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue Interviews: Humphrey Lyttelton - http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/clue/interviews/humph_transcript.shtml
- George Melly “Humphrey Lyttelton: Masterly jazz musician and broadcaster”, The Guardian, 28 April 2008, p.34.
- The Daily Telegraph, 28 April 2008, p.25, “Humphrey Lyttelton: Jazz trumpeter, cartoonist and broadcaster.”
- Steve Voce “Humphrey Lyttelton”, The Independent, 28 April 2008, p.34.
- The Times, 28 April 2008, p.47, “Humphrey Lyttelton.”
- Iain Pattinson “The joke's on me”, The Guardian, 20 October 2008.
- Stephen Lyttelton (ed) Faces of Humph: Caricatures and Memories (JR Books, London, 2009)
99 uncatalogued originals [HM0001 - 0099] (mainly Humph, although majority unsigned) [HM0001 - 0093]
1 uncatalogued original [PU0908]
40s; 50s (1946 - 55)back to top