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Humphrey Littleton was a noted jazz trumpeter and comedy host. He is credited with popularizing jazz throughout England, and collaborated with the greats of the Jazz Era, including Louis Armstrong. Later in his career, he became the host of the long-running British comedy radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.
Born in 1921, Humphrey Littleton grew up and was educated at the prestigious British boy’s school Eton, where his father was a teacher. He served in the Grenadier Guards during World War II, famously once came on shore holding both his gun and his trumpet. His first broadcast performance was accidental; he was recorded playing his trumpet on 8 May 1945, a day that would become known as Victory Europe or VE Day.
After the war, Humphrey Littleton concentrated on his jazz career, scoring an early hit with his Bad Penny Blues. Although jazz was never as popular in England as it was in America, Littleton became known as a legend in the music community. At the request of NASA in 1968, Humphrey recorded a concert that was broadcast to the astronauts on-board the spacecraft Apollo 8.
Beginning in 1967, Humphrey Littleton became a radio personality, hosting the British Broadcasting Company’s (BBC) regular program The Best of Jazz. Shortly thereafter, he also became the host of one of England’s premiere comedy shows, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. With his dry wit and constant misunderstanding of innuendo-filled lines, “Humph” became the cornerstone of the program. He hosted both programs until 2007, when his increasing struggle with illness forced him to leave The Best of Jazz.
Humphrey Littleton was set to host the 2008 season of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue when he was forced to enter the hospital due to ill health. He died 25 April 2008, following surgery to repair an artery. The remaining recordings of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue were canceled indefinitely.
Despite his commitments to radio, Humphrey Littleton continued his professional career as a musician. With his band, he toured throughout Europe and America, including a 1990s tour with famed British singer Helen Shapiro. In 2001, he recorded jazz backgrounds for Radiohead’s top-selling album, Amnesiac. He enjoyed a longtime professional partnership with singer Elkie Brooks, with whom he recorded an album in 2003.
In both the worlds of music and radio, Humphrey Littleton is remembered as a legendary figure. In the months following his death, tributes flowed in from fans and collaborators, memorializing the great and funny life of this Renaissance man. BBC radio celebrated “Humphrey Littleton Day” on 15 June 2008, and many fans hope it will become a permanent holiday in his memory.