LAST Chorus: An Autobiographical Medley
by Humphrey Lyttelton
JR Books, 447pp, 18.99
HE HAD TALENT TO BURN, THE self-styled "well-known Old Etonian, ex-Guards officer, jazz trumpeter-broadcaster-cartoonist-band leader-bird-watcher-gastronome-humorist-panellist-TV-personality-corpse" (as he wrote in a feature headed "RIP"). So many talents had Humph, indeed, that he was indisputably a chorus.
Born in 1921, Humph died in April this year, but his spirit marches on at a jaunty beat to Basin Street blues, in some ghostly New Orleans of the mind. You find him here in all of his guises – a man who found his niche early and spent his long life doing what he most loved.
That life is recorded here in self-explanatory segments. If you want to catch Humph in short trousers go to Part 1, "It Seems Like Yesterday"; for Humph the heady career musician go to Part 3, "London Jazz"; and, in between, Humph, the Second World War signals officer in Part 2, "The Soldier's Lament".
Layer on layer, the picture forms of a genial man whose lifetime resilience was to culminate in surviving a fall downstairs well into his eighties. The first thing he checked of course, on regaining his composure, and standing up, were his four trumpeting fingers. What else!
Other segments deal with Humph's touring days ("Tour de Force") at home and abroad, and his family life ("That's My Home"). The other major – and hugely entertaining, often insightful – inclusion is the substantial swatch of diary entries, depicting his hectic life over seven years, up to 1980. As Stephen Lyttelton, Humphrey's son, points out in his foreword, the diaries provide a detailed insight into his (father's) daily life and the social and political landscape of that period.
The diaries are an unselfconscious self-portrait; the cartoons and drawings of other people possess a scalpel-like, pertinent brilliance with an economy of outline. Clement Freud's lugubrious stare is caught to a tee. The Humphrey Lyttelton Band is immortalised with an obvious affection.
The diaries shine a light on Humph's relationship with his band, plus his colourful take on other musicians. At Montreux, 1978, he records: "The Ray Charles set was a shambles eg. 'Georgia…(long instructions to the drummer)…Georgia…(more chat)…the whole day through…(cry of 'Please play it slow!)…. At the end of the night I blew up…Stormed off to bed."
We catch Humph in Belfast, during The Troubles; in the throes of DIY; disenchanted by Margaret Thatcher (then leader of the Opposition) in February 1975: "Am already sick to death of Mrs Thatcher who is being hailed by the public as a saviour … the papers call her 'Maggie'… Maggies are rather sloppy, comfortably down at heel, with the forelock adrift. La Thatcher looks permanently as if she has just emerged from under the dryer."
On 1 July, 1975, he writes: "Recorded first of the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue programme … Willie Rushton tends to wait for inspiration rather than plunge in. So the result was a bit slow." On 17 July he notes: "Final session of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. I'm not sure that this game hasn't finally run its course."
Thirty years later, neither the programme (enjoying iconic broadcasting status), nor the indefatigable Humph (enjoying the "legend-in-his-own-lifetime" appellation), had run their course. Younger fans, ignorant of his pioneering role in British jazz (which Humph never vaunted), often perceived him as a doyen of the airwaves, and legend enough on that single account. He seemed unflappable, unputdownable and unstoppable. Well into his eighties, he was looking forward to paragliding above his beloved Devon behind a speedboat. It never happened.
Instead, his ashes made the trip when, in September, they were borne aloft. "What an experience it will be," Humph had written, "floating silently above North Devon among the seagulls." Amen to that.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east