By Anna Jacob
One of my heroes died last year. I found out whilst on a coach travelling from Dublin to London and I cried, loudly and openly. As my parents have great taste in radio, (I’ll let The Archers slide, just this once) I first heard Humphrey Lyttelton’s comic talents from the nice little place I had in the wonderful womb of Ingela Jacob, and grew up listening to ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’ (the antidote to panel games) pretty much religiously.
Unfortunately it is not a programme particularly popular with my generation and I have often confused and alienated people by getting abnormally excited when passing through Mornington Crescent tube station, periodically singing one song to the tune of another or by letting my Swanee whistle outstay its welcome at parties.
The reason that Humph was especially special to me was that he was an inspiration in both of my dearest fields: comedy and music (he was also a writer, DJ and cartoonist). He was a fecking deadly trumpeter, described by Louie Armstrong as “that cat in England who swings his ass off”.
The first ‘proper’ gig I ever attended at the age of 15 (prepare to be jealous) was Radiohead’s homecoming concert in South Park, Oxford with support from…. Supergrass, Sigur Ros, Beck, aaand… Humphrey Lyttelton’s Jazz Band. Lucky lucky me. The whole gig was stupendously amazing but Humph’s band (who are all old folk, Humph would have been in his early 80s at the time) stole the show. After their set, a roadie had to run on stage with a zimmerframe for an ancient woman playing a baritone sax, I think the instrument must have been holding her up throughout the gig.
The last time I saw Humph play was about 2 years ago in the wonderful Bull’s Head in Barnes, London (anyone who doesn’t know, the Bull’s Head is THE place for jazz in London, fuck the Blue Note). His band were playing there monthly at the time to a dedicated audience of old jazz heads. Me and my brother Tom would have brought down the average age in the room considerably. As well as being a superb player and composer, he was telling brilliant stories throughout the set. He is one of those comics who really makes you appreciate timing. His timing is just impeccable. You couldn’t learn that shit. I also got to meet him after the set and he signed a CD for me and Tom. I regret to say I got completely tongue-tied in his presence and didn’t manage to communicate with him quite how honoured I was. I did some top notch mumbling and shoe shuffling though. OK, I’m a tit, but then meeting one of your heroes is quite a tongue-tying experience. He was wearing a yellow shirt and he just exuded loveliness. I will miss him immensely.
If you are interested, here is a link to some photos, tributes, obituary etc: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7367669.stm I’ll happily burn you a copy of some of the shows too. If you promise to play ‘Cheddar Gorge’ with me now and then.
A slightly different version of this blog was first published on Anna’s myspace in 2008. This one is better though.