Jeremy Hardy: For once, Humph's sense of timing failed him

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Much has been made of Humph's timing, but he has robbed this nation by leaving us so cruelly early at the age of 86. The fact that he would not live for ever has been on the minds of everyone involved in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue for as long as I have been a part of it. But, somehow, I imagined he would see us all off. I would have liked him to play at my funeral.

Humph was 40 years older than me, but when I saw him in hospital a few days before the surgery that we all hoped would keep him with us his restless energy was visible in every pore and whisker. For someone who could keep such a straight face, he was the least static person I've ever known. Even when perfectly still, he was absolutely vibrant. It's not unusual to leave a hospital infected with something, but rare to leave one infected with such a spirit of fun and mischief as I did that day.

He was a very emotional man, and it's hard to imagine that he was not frightened about the operation – but every time he spoke of it, he would say that, if he didn't survive it, he would not know anything about it, so he was a winner either way. His age was a constant source of humour on the show, but in the last few months we all started to treasure him more dearly, and the jokes had an uncomfortable edge.

We have been touring a theatre show of Clue since August, and, in the Past few months, I found it impossible to go to bed if Humph was still up chatting – about his family, his ancestry and, of course, music. He stopped chatting only if jazz music was being played in the hotel bar, because he had to listen to jazz – it could never be in the background. And it was lovely to see his relationship with his band, who took it in turns to drive him when he was told to stop driving himself.

He started to enjoy being driven, even though he had enjoyed being in the driving seat so much. Barry Cryer and I got a lift with him from Ipswich to Oxford in October. Sitting behind Humph, tall and elegant as he was, in his flat cap and driving gloves, we were like two children on a family outing, only slightly embarrassed when he went round a roundabout twice.

I think everyone who knew him felt both reverence toward him and great warmth from him. He was a true gentleman in the very best sense of the word; he made everybody around him feel special. And he smiled with a twinkle in his eye that would melt a heart of stone.

I loved being on stage with him. Just to catch his eye was a treat. And I loved to be in the presence of so loving a man. He adored his friends, his family, his late wife Jill, and Sue da Costa, his new partner, who had been his manager and rock for many years.

Humph personified the best of English values. He was without a trace of snobbery. His politics were of the left, and he loathed prejudice and discrimination. He was passionate about music and musicians, and was in no way trapped in the past, despite having been working for such a very long time. He was always acquiring new musical friends. Lately, he'd expressed an interest in the work of Amy Winehouse. It's a shame they never met. They'd have made great music. But she'd have fallen in love with him, and she's got problems enough. Still, he'd have turned her down very tenderly, I'm sure.

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