Final Trumpet

by Kieran Healy on April 26, 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton has died. The Guardian has an obituary written by George Melly, who also happens to be dead.

I first came across Lyttelton not on Radio 4, but in Peter Winch’s The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, of all places. He pops up there in an anecdote showing why some kinds of social practice are in principle not amenable to precise predictions derived from some (putative) social physics. Lyttelton was once asked if he knew where jazz was going, and replied “If I knew where jazz was going, I’d be there already.”



harry b 04.26.08 at 10:59 pm

You beat me to it by a couple of minutes, Kieran. My headline was “Humph has buggered off”. Probably better to have yours. A sad day. But, by all accounts, a happy life. I love the end of the BBC obit:

“Humphrey Lyttelton – who turned down a knighthood – had yet more talents, too. He worked for the Daily Mail as a cartoonist, wrote for left-wing papers and for magazines and was the author of several books about music. He excelled at each of his contributions to British life”.


John 04.26.08 at 11:15 pm

Lyttleton was once asked if he knew where jazz was going,

Mornington Crescent?


dave heasman 04.26.08 at 11:40 pm

There’s now a vacancy for “greatest living Englishman”. Who’d you think? Jamie Carragher?


Matt Weiner 04.27.08 at 1:54 am

I believe the CT position is that the title is held by Stephen Fry — oddly enough if you search on the phrase Fry provides the top hit, but his nominee is Tim Berners-Lee.


Warren Terra 04.27.08 at 3:18 am

I’ve never listened to the BBC via broadcast – I haven’t even visited Britain for about twenty years – but looking around for some audio to stream a few years back I discovered the BBC’s wide selection, and came to love I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. I feel a much greater sense of loss than I have any right to.

Some links to tributes I’ve seen, written by Lyttelton’s costars from Clue:
by Barry Cryer
by Sandi Toksvig
by Jeremy Hardy

One of the obituary reports said that memorial wreaths are being laid by members of the public at the Mornington Crescent underground station. This seems utterly appropriate.


Chunter 04.27.08 at 4:55 am

It’s ‘Lyttelton’, not ‘Lyttleton’.


Kieran Healy 04.27.08 at 5:02 am

Whoops, fixed.


Eric Rauchway 04.27.08 at 5:36 am

Alan Coren’s account of being taught to dance while listening to records and having his retired drill sergeant dancing instructor require him to go upstairs to tell Humphrey Lyttelton to tone down his playing remains one of the funniest things I’ve heard.


Katherine 04.27.08 at 7:28 am

Until I saw the BBC announcing that he had died I didn’t even know Humphrey Lyttelton was a jazz trumpeter. His voice just meant “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” to me. Shame on me.


rk 04.27.08 at 10:11 am

The Lyttleton Band’s work in the late 1950s was terrific: could swing like hell, often through-composed, and with great soloists at work — worth anyone’s serious attention.
Try “Triple Exposure”.


harry b 04.27.08 at 12:55 pm


Chris Bertram 04.27.08 at 1:21 pm

I’d vote for Jamie Carragher, but I suspect that I’d be in a minority of one.


Jacob Christensen 04.27.08 at 6:58 pm

@harry b: There. Fixed. I hope.


nick s 04.27.08 at 7:00 pm

Until I saw the BBC announcing that he had died I didn’t even know Humphrey Lyttelton was a jazz trumpeter.

If you were like me, in your thirties and British, you’d likely know about his jazz programme on Radio 2, but not necessarily be familiar with his music. The YouTubes provide now.

He played at the end of the ISIHAC touring show, accompanied by the mellifluous glissandos of the swanee whistle and the earthy rasp of the kazoo.


Seeker 04.28.08 at 6:55 am

Bye, Humph. Really gonna miss you.


simon 04.28.08 at 2:17 pm

There’s a nice phrase in one of Philip Larkin’s jazz reviews about ‘Humph’s urbane emceeing of his own virile trumpet’ which seems to me to sum up the essence of the Lyttelton style — particularly ‘urbane’ which is exactly the word I’d use to describe his style on ISIHAC as well.


Fay Jelliman Harger 05.01.08 at 6:16 pm

I was first introduced to Humph in the early 50’s when he performed in Liverpool. I have been a jazz lover ever since. Living in the States for many years I lost touch with him. Now he is Marching with the Saints. R.I.P. Humph.

Comments on this entry are closed.