RIP, Humph

“As we journey through life, discarding baggage along the way, we should keep an iron grip, to the very end, on the capacity for silliness. It preserves the soul from desiccation” – Humphrey Lyttelton

Dreadful news – the announcement that Humphrey Lyttelton had died.

(Well, dreadful insofar as the news of anyone dying at the age of 86 who managed to keep working until the very end of his life can ever be described that way.)

I’ve had many reasons to admire him over the years, both as a musician and as a radio personality. I find it incredibly sad that the kind of music he made, something that was a powerful feature of my childhood, is literally dying with its practitioners.

Fortunately, it would appear, his humour isn’t. Here’s a piece from the BBC website celebrating Humph and the art of the seemingly innocent and yet filthy double entendre:

The art of innuendo

From Chaucer to Carry On to Clary, Britons have long lapped it up. So to speak. And a master such as the late Humphrey Lyttelton made almost anything sound unspeakably filthy.

When Humphrey Lyttelton was described in a newspaper as the “purveyor of blue-chip filth to middle England”, he took it as a compliment. And it was meant as one.

The presenter of the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, who died last Friday, would get a roar from the audience every time he mentioned its most popular game, Mornington Crescent. But when he began: “Samantha tells me she has to nip out now…” there would be the silence of delicious anticipation. It felt like Lyttelton’s solo.

What followed was often so smutty that the BBC felt it could only be heard on Sunday lunchtimes, weekday early evenings, and by millions of people who would otherwise claim not to know a single dirty joke. Read on here…

Even so, it looks like I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue might well have died with Humph – and this is a loss almost as significant as the death of the man himself.

Here’s a quote from series producer Jon Naismith, given in an interview when it was known that he wouldn’t be able to participate in the last series but before he died.

It says: “It’s hard to imagine the show without Humph, though we did say the same thing when Willie Rushton passed away in 1996. Ultimately it will be up to the teams themselves, and they seem to be of the opinion that the show will end when Humph retires.”

It may be a cliché to talk about deaths that impoverish us all, but this one really does and I find it terribly, personally sad.

BBC Press Office: Tributes to Humphrey Lyttelton

But here’s what, in my opinion, he’s best remembered for: