April 25, 2008

Humphrey Lyttleton

Humphrey Lyttleton died today. For those who don't know, Lyttleton was a number of things- he was a superb comic with wonderful bumbling timing, he was a wit with an extensive repertoire of conversational gambits, he was a trumpetter who brought jazz to BBC radio and ultimately was responsible for much of the fame of the genre of music in the UK. He didn't take himself seriously but came across as a phenomenally intelligent and talented man- the 'elder statesman of British jazz', he was a cartoonist as well with a superb talent not to mention a radio presenter. The thing I always liked about him was that though his jokes belonged in some cases to an earlier era- full of double entendres, it was a gentle comedy, an absurdist comedy but one confident enough of its own intelligence not to need to flaunt it. He had many of the virtues that I described here, and in a sense his comedy lived in the spirit of Wallace and Gromit- in a thread that spreads back to classics like Dad's Army. The comedies are very different- but the one thing that they have in common are that they are gentle, they don't mock people to upset, they mock affectionately- the laughter is a tone of a shared love. Lyttleton I always thought got that- his tone was warm, he was always chortling and his trumpetting was divine. You could tell he did what he did because he loved it- not merely because he continued working till he died at the age of 86- but because his comedy for instance wasn't selfish but was merry. If there are higher ambitions, I don't know what they are.


Semaj Mahgih said...

Yes, I said at Dave's it was a tragedy but people have to go sometime.