Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Humph wasn’t joking

London-based publisher JR Books Ltd has just brought out a posthumous collection of writings by Humphrey Lyttelton who died earlier this year. Lyttelton, often referred to as Humph, was a man of many talents, not least playing the trumpet, but he’s most widely known and loved for chairing the long-running radio programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. The newly published book includes some diary extracts, and these suggest he tired of the programme 30 years ago.

Born at Eton college in 1921 where his father was a housemaster, Lyttleton grew up to be schooled there also. He served with the Grenadier Guards in the war, attended art college, then, in 1949, joined the Daily Mail as a cartoonist. He stayed there until the mid-1950s, by which time he had become a well-known jazz musician. For 40 years, from 1967 until 2007, he presented The Best of Jazz on BBC Radio 2; and then, in 1972, he was chosen to host a new radio programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, or just Clue, billed as an antidote to panel games. He remained its chairman until his death last April. Wikipedia gives a useful biography of Lyttleton, but it’s quite brief, especially in comparison to the article on Clue, which is about twice as long!

JR Books, which is based in Camden and describes itself as ‘an exciting new name in book publishing’, has just published Humphrey Lyttelton’s Last Chorus: An Autobiographical Medley. Unfortunately, JR Books does not have an exciting website, and it gives no information about the book other than that it is ‘a feast for all his many fans and admirers’. There is more on Amazon, which says the book draws ‘on some of Humph’s long-lost autobiographical writings, as well a wealth of other material, including his never-before-seen private diaries, plus cartoons and photos from the family album.’

According to New Camden Journal, which ran a short story on the forthcoming book earlier this year, Jeremy Robson of JR Books described the diaries as ‘beautifully written in his own fine hand’, as ‘often very revealing’, and as ‘a work of art in themselves’. He said Humph was ‘an absolutely wonderful writer - not a comma needed changing’. The article also referred back to when Humph had died and how fans had left many bouquets of flowers outside Mornington Crescent tube station. Why? Simply because Mornington Crescent was the name of a popular panel game on Clue (and it too has its own Wikipedia entry).

The day after the book’s publication last Saturday (25 October), The Independent ran a review with the headline: Humph’s diaries reveal he tired of ‘Clue’ 30 years ago. The article says there are a series of diary entries in the book in which Lyttelton ‘bemoans the quality of the show’. It gives an example. In 1975, three years after the programme was launched, he wrote: ‘I’m not sure that this game show hasn’t finally run its course - this has been a good series with better games than before, but there have been moments when it floundered. I shan’t be sorry if it expires. I’m rather tired of people coming up and saying ‘I enjoyed your programme the other day’ and finding out they mean this bit of nonsense!’

The article also looks at a new DVD, to be released shortly, of recorded sketches from a stage show the Clue’s regular panellists had been touring since 2007. Lyttelton is seen apparently ad libbing to an audience in Salford: ‘Listen, I’ll tell you something. If I’d known at seven o’clock in the morning on the 23rd of May 1921 that I would ever live to sit on the stage in Salford reading this codswallop, I would have turned around and crawled back in.’ The audience roared with laughter, as they always did, when he was slagging off the show, or its pannellists, or muttering under his breath about how bored he was with it all. His diaries now seem to suggest he wasn’t always joking.

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