Sunday, April 27, 2008

Humph, RIP

As I may have mentioned before, I spent a weird adolescence listening almost exclusively to Radio 4 rather than BBC or commercial music stations.

So whilst I blink vacantly at a lot of late 70's and 80's pop culture references, I did gain a huge amount too - especially from the drama and comedy. From Earthsearch and Lord of the Rings to Radio Active, Injury Time and Weekending, the output was simply superb.

My favourite show of all, of course, was and is I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, "chaired" by Humphrey Lyttleton, whose death was announced yesterday. I've been meaning to try and get along and see a live recording of the show for a few years now, but kept putting it off - encouraged by Humph himself, who seemed ageless. And now I've missed my chance.

Still, there's years of classic episodes to treasure, particularly before the untimely death of Willie Rushton. The best part of the show was often the introduction, where Humph, in a deadpan manner, would tell us about the city in which that episode of the show was being recorded - often getting away with jokes more risque than anyone else would try. And here's the best of the lot: -

"Nottingham is a fine city with a fascinating history. It's well documented in official records that the city's original name was 'Snottingham', or 'Home of Snots', but when the Normans came, they couldn't pronounce the letter 'S', so decreed the town be called 'Nottingham' or the 'Home of Notts'. It's easy to understand why this change was resisted so fiercely by the people of Scunthorpe."


Martin said...

I heartily endorse your tribute to the legend that was "Humph".

Happily I did manage to stir myself to get to see him perform live twice. In November 2006 I saw a recording of two editions of ISIHAC at the Sunderland Empire. His local piece there included a memorable reference to the map-reading abilities of the Vikings.

Sadly I suspect my second opportunity to see him may well have been his final public performance. Humph and the rest of the ISIHAC team performed a stage version of the show at Harrogate International Centre on April 12th this year, just four days before he entered hospital I believe. The 2000 seat auditorium was absolutely full, as were all the venues they played. During the finale the long standing producer of the show, Jon Naismith, brought Humph's trumpet on stage and he played a few bars. I wondered about his health then as he remained seated throughout and was not quite on his best form. We now know why.

Humph was one of those extraordinary people who seemed to naturally excel at everything he did. From schoolboy trumpeter he rose to become widely regarded as the finest exponent of that instrument this country has produced. Doodled cartoons led to several years as resident cartoonist on the Daily Mail. His journalism was highly regarded and his knowledge of jazz and its history unrivalled.

And then of course, by accident I believe, came his chairmanship of ISIHAC. His mastery of the english language and superb comic timing have produced some of radio's finest moments. And all, it should be noted, without a single utterance of a profanity stronger that the occasional "bloody". Many modern "comics" could learn much from him.

RIP Humph indeed. We shall not see his like again.

Darlington Councillor said...

Martin - thanks. You have captured the essence of Humph's genius beautifully.