Every now and then these islands produce a world class national treasure — William Shakespeare, Nelson, Queen Victoria, Monty Python and the late Queen Mum spring to mind. There in the background, however, through all those years has been Humphrey Lyttleton. The Bull's Head Barnes website says his band was established in 1684, but that’s just rumour and folklore. Any idiot who cares a pig's burp about jazz has at some time listened to the Monday night show he has presented since 1967, or been to the Bull’s Head; best jazz venue in London (along with the 606). Then there’s I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue, for 40 years the antidote to panel games.
Born at Eton, Buckinghamshire in 1921 (and ecclesiastically still Buckinghamshire), Humph has timelessly exhibited immaculate musical and comic timing, gentle quiptic silliness, and wonderment at the ridiculousness of it all. Anyone with a soul must be in deep mourning — “as the squirrel of time nibbles on the nuts of eternity while the irritated bulldog of destiny tries to shake him off,” we all notice it’s the end of the show. RIP.
Here’s a slightly vulgar final word. It is said that Percy Shaw, the Bradford inventor, noticed a cat walking towards him up the road one night in 1934, thought about it, and went straight to his drawing board to invent the Cat’s Eye road safety device. Next night, said Humph, the cat was walking away from him, and Percy went straight back to his drawing board and invented the Rotary mechanical pencil sharpener... Only in these islands, and by such a genius, would such a crazy noton be thought, let alone expressed.