It Just Occured to Me . . .: An Autobiographical Scrapbook
By Humphrey Lyttelton
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Anova Books (July 1, 2006)
Humphrey Lyttelton belongs to that section of the UK population (10%, is the generally accepted percentage, so I’m told) which, all these year’s on from Keir Hardie’s flat-cap, persists in laying claim to ownership of some 90% of UK national wealth. Not that Humph’s family is loaded. But certainly they are the sort of toffs for whom life without maids, nannies and unrestricted access to Hackney cabs would be quite unbearable, don’t-cha know?
As luck would have it, though, Humph turns out to be an all-round good egg who is inoffensively humorous as Frank Muir, destined to have a “good war” (WWII), and never has to do a day’s work in his life. That is to say, “a day’s work” as the other 90% of the UK population understands it.
Humph is never a free-loader, as such. It’s just that – well, Humph appears to become a cartoonist on the London Daily Mail and a member of a top jazz band simply for the asking.
‘Just turn up on the morrow, m’boy, and we’ll take it from there!’
Yeah, like as if! That is to say, “like as if” for the other 90% of us waiting cap-in-hand in the pouring rain of the great forelock-tugging outdoors.
Despite the revelation of such nepotic advantages, though, It Just Occurred to Me makes for entertaining reading, indeed, since the author himself, despite his cosseted existence, is certainly a man of parts.
Philologists and homespun philosophers will love this book, students of the 1950s UK social scene, too. As for jazz fans – well, there are countless anecdotes to cherish, here, featuring any number of jazzmen from Louis Armstrong to Artie Shaw. In addition to which there is all due reference, too, to the fact that Humphrey Lyttelton, it was, who penned the immortal ‘Bad Penny Blues’, one of the enduring jazz classics of the twentieth century.
How well I recall my own 10” shellac 78 rpm copy of ‘Bad Penny Blues’ (recently replaced, courtesy of eBay, albeit on 7” 45rpm and without – sob! – ‘Close Your Eyes’, on the B-side), yes, how well I recall playing that record on a Dansette record-player every Friday afternoon in the late-Fifties. Because ‘Bad Penny Blues’ was guaranteed to dispel at a stroke any headache engendered by previously-administered double doses of any subject on the school curriculum you may care to mention.
What I remember, too, is that ‘Bad Penny Blues’ was remarkable enough to have featured in the UK pop-music charts for six weeks in 1956, that it was the only jazz record John Lennon ever cared for, that it was subsequently plagiarised (perhaps unwittingly) by Paul McCartney for ‘Lady Madonna’. But get this, please do: ‘Sugar Sweet’ by Muddy Waters (‘I Can’t Call Her Sugar, Sugar Never Was So Sweet’), to my mind a dead-ringer for ‘Bad Penny Blues’, actually predates ‘Bad Penny Blues’ by a calendar year. (See Muddy Waters, Wikipedia.)
‘Who’s a naughty boy, then?’ as the similarly cosseted and notoriously nepotic Monty Python toffs used to enquire.
Notwithstanding which, I can still hear Humph’s muted trumpet interspersed with Stan Grieg’s tinkling ivories as I write.
Da, da, dip, doodle, dip, dip – flip that periwinkle – da, da, dip, doodle, dip, dip . . .
Godammit! Genius such as Humph’s deserves to be cosseted! Throw another peasant on the fire, David! Or, preferably, a Tory principle or two!
Reviewed by Bill Keeth