Magazine article The Spectator

Humph Swings

Magazine article The Spectator

Humph Swings

Article excerpt

LAST CHORUS: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY MEDLEY by Humphrey Lyttleton JR Books, £18.99, pp. 447, ISBN 9781906217181 £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

'Old Etonian ex-Guards Officer jazz trumpeter'. That was the way tabloid gossip columnists used to describe Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008) in the early years of his fame. Not long after he was released from the Grenadiers at the end of the second world war, he hyphenated his identity to become Old Etonian ex-Guards Officer jazz trumpeterbandleader-broadcaster-cartoonistcalligrapher-birdwatcher-gastronomepaterfamilias. In this amiable hotch-potch of a book, he reviews every aspect of his multifaceted life with bonhomous éclat.

Now, as ever, Humph swings.

His father, C. W. Lyttelton, was a beloved Eton housemaster and teacher of English literature, perhaps generally best known for his published correspondence with Rupert Hart-Davis. As a pupil playing in Eton's savage Wall Game, C. W. subversively buried the ball in the mud, but the brawling went on without it. Otherwise unshakably conservative, he subscribed to The New Statesman mainly to maintain his indignation against the political left. Most boys while at Eton either deepen their inherited loyalty to the Establishment or rebel against it. From an early age, Humphrey was, as he wrote, 'imbued with romantic socialism, ' radical enough for him to slip away from Lord's during the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match to buy his first trumpet.

He took his trumpet with him, even when wading ashore with the Grenadiers to invade Salerno. He managed to keep it with him under fire and when malaria forced his evacuation to North Africa and England.

He played that same trumpet to celebrate VE Day in the crowd outside Buckingham Palace, where his performance as a oneman band was noted favourably by a BBC commentator.

Of all his versatile activities, the central one, playing jazz, was continuous and most important to him. James Lincoln Collier, in his history of jazz, accurately called Humph's style 'clean, precise, unpretentious, and forceful'. He began with George Webb's Dixielanders, but during half a century of stentorian blowing he progressed into the jazz mainstream, always inspired by Louis Armstrong and later also by Duke Ellington. …

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