Humphrey Lyttelton is descended from a long line of land-owning, political, military, clerical, scholastic and literary forebears. Not a musician among them. He claims to have most in common with a former Humphrey Lyttelton who was executed for complicity with Guy Fawkes in the Gunpowder plot.
He was born on May 23rd, 1921 in Eton College, where his father was a famous housemaster, and where he was subsequently educated. During the war, he served as an officer in the Grenadiar Guards and, on demobilisation, studied for two years at Camberwell Arts School.
In 1949, he joined the London Daily Mail as cartoonist, during which time he also wrote the story-line for Trog's 'Flook' cartoon Trog being the nom de plume of clarinetist Wally Fawkes.
He formed his first jazz band in 1948, after spending a year with George Webb’s Dixielanders, a band which pioneered New Orleans-style jazz in Britain. Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band, with Wally Fawkes on clarinet, soon became the leading traditional jazz band in Britain, with a high reputation in Europe gained through many Continental tours.
In 1949, he signed a recording contract with EMI, resulting in a string of now much sought-after recordings in the Parlophone Super Rhythm Style series. Prior to that, the band had already made records on his own London Jazz label, and had accompanied the great Sidney Bechet in an historic session for Melodisc in 1949. It was for Parlophone that Humph recorded his own ‘Bad Penny Blues’ which, in 1956, was the first British jazz record to get into the Top Twenty.