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Humphrey Lyttelton dies

Legendary BBC radio presenter Humphrey Lyttelton has died aged 86 after a short illness.

In a radio career that spanned more than 40 years, Humph was loved by fans of both comedy and jazz, presenting Radio 2's The Best of Jazz and Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

He retired from the jazz show last month, but a new series of the comedy panel game was due to be recorded and aired later this year.

Earlier this week it was announced that the next series of ISIHAC had been cancelled because Lyttelton had been admitted to hospital and had undergone surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. The team from the self-styled 'antidote to panel games' have been doing a handful of shows on a national theatre tour over recent weeks, with Rob Brydon drafted in to replace Humph as chairman on the final performance this week in Brighton.

Humph was also one of the UK's finest jazz trumpeters and toured with his band right up until his admission in hospital – his group were the first British jazz act to score a top 20 hit back in 1956. He was given lifetime achievement awards at both the Post Office British Jazz Awards in 2000 and at the first BBC Jazz Awards the following year. For his services to radio he won a Sony Gold Award in 1993.

Last month it was announced that he was retiring from his role as host of Radio 2's The Best of Jazz "to clear a space for some of his other ambitions". At the time, Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas said Humph was "not only a giant in the world of jazz, but also remained a giant of music broadcasting for the past 40 years."

To the wider public it was the huge success of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Club that made Humphrey Lyttelton a household name. Regular panellists Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and the late Willie Rushton were given silly things to do by Humph, with some of them set to music by Colin Sell at the piano. Under Humph's direction they made listeners howl with laughter to games like Swanee Kazoo, Cheddar Gorge, Sound Charades, Uxbridge English Dictionary, One Song To The Tune Of Another, Pick-up Song and of course Mornington Crescent.

When he was once asked to explain the show's popularity, Lyttelton said: "It's chronically unpredictable. It doesn't get stale because nobody knows what's going to happen next, least of all us."


[b]BBC Director General Mark Thompson[/b] described Humph as "a unique, irreplaceable talent", and said: "Like his many fans, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Like them, all of us at the BBC feel a tremendous sense of loss.

He added: "Humphrey Lyttelton will leave an enormous gap not just in British cultural life as a whole but in the lives of many millions of listeners. One of the towering figures of British jazz he excelled too as a writer, cartoonist, humorist and of course as a broadcaster on television and radio. On I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue all of his gifts were on show, his warmth and conviviality, his wit, his mischievousness."

[b]Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer [/b] said: "Humphrey Lyttelton was a great and towering figure in the history of Radio 4 comedy. Of course he was fabulously funny and sharp: but more than that he was the definition of a certain sort of wit – self-deprecating, mordant and linguistically brilliant. It was a wonderful combination – allied to a natural human warmth. I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has been the most successful Radio 4 comedy – and Humphrey its centrepiece. We have lost a giant and we are immeasurably grateful for all he gave to Radio 4 listeners, young and old alike, for so long."

[b]Jenny Abramsky, Director of Audio and Music at the BBC[/b], said: "Humphrey Lyttelton has been one of the wonders of radio broadcasting for years. He championed British jazz with his weekly programme on Radio 2 introducing millions of listeners to the glories of the British jazz scene. At the same time his deadpan stewardship of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the unique ringmaster of an anarchic world, ensured the programme became the jewel of radio comedy. Humph was warm, erudite, funny and scurrilous. His audience loved him. He was an irreplaceable voice on British radio."

Radio 4 is to broadcast a classic edition of ISIHAC tomorrow (Sunday 27 April 2008) at 12 noon, and a special tribute programme to Humphrey Lyttleton will be aired on Wednesday 30 April at 9am.

[b]Humphrey Lyttelton: 23 May 1921 – 25 April 2008[/b]

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