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NEWS > Life After Judd > OJ, Sir Humphrey Burton's long-awaited autobiography was published last month

OJ, Sir Humphrey Burton's long-awaited autobiography was published last month

Sir Humphrey Burton is one of Britain's most influential post-war music and arts broadcasters, and as promised – here is a teaser for our readers:
With Leonard Bernstein, Photo by Siegfried Lauterwasser with kind permission of Unitel
With Leonard Bernstein, Photo by Siegfried Lauterwasser with kind permission of Unitel

 "This long-awaited autobiography is a must-read for classical musical enthusiasts and those fascinated by some of the twentieth century's star performers". (Boydell & Brewer)

This memoire is a fascinating read of amazing encounters with the great and the good of the 20th Century, but also touchingly honest, frank and funny.  Secrets are divulged and he has a whole chapter about his time at Judd which he seems to have enjoyed and has fond memories of.

Humphrey lived in the Kent village of Chiddingstone, where his mother was on the staff of a progressive school called Long Dene. He travelled to Tonbridge every morning from Chiddingstone Causeway on the cross country Edenbridge line. Being top of his class at his previous school, there were no trained teachers at a level required to carry this bright student on to where he could be, so whilst he could have probably got into Tonbridge on a scholarship, Humphrey jokes that the thought of having to attend services in the school chapel twice on Sundays (travelling 10 miles by bicycle or train each way) was enough to sway him towards Judd instead. He reflects that it was an odd choice as there was no music provision at that time under Headmaster Frank Taylor, (and he is pleased the music curriculum at Judd is now so strong) but by this time, Humphrey was clear he wanted a career in music, but he muses that he often fell into a path in life rather than actively planning his direction. 

He reminisces that he liked English at Judd under Mr. A.J.Oakely where he discovered an inkling hinting towards his future film-making career in television when he spontaneously developed the thesis that John Keats had laid out The Eve of St Agnes in the form of a film script; he remembers his French teacher at Judd, Jimmy Proctor, and reminisces about the romantic French novelists they studied which so appealed to teenagers; he liked his History teacher Mr. Allen, but mainly because he talked about other subjects other than history that interested Humphrey.

The role of the policeman was played by "Bert" Whittle, who was head boy at Judd & Captain of the First XV

The exciting thing he found at Judd was sports because a medical concern about a childhood heart problem seemed to have healed and he found he could now enjoy sport like any other boy!  He played wing three-quarter position in rugby as he could run fast and made it into the first XV early on in his time at Judd. He also played cricket in the summer for the Second XI and he writes that he enjoyed sport and never tried to 'skive off'. 


Humphrey(sitting) with Foster, Offen & Dolding after unexpectedly winning the relay cup, Spring 1949


Running the half mile at Judd, 1949

As well as sport he attended the Literary and Debating Societies and mentions that he also enjoyed the soirees organised by the art master Mr. A. P. Friend, where he was introduced to what was considered then as “modern poetry like TS Eliot’s 'Practical Cats'."

His main memory of Judd however was Rupert Sutton, the school master violinist, who agreed to help Humphrey with his musical studies, as did his excellent pianist wife, Grace, both of whom he thinks treated him like the son they never had (though they did have two daughters) and kindly welcomed him in as part of their family. Rupert persuaded the newly formed National Youth Orchestra to take on Humphrey as a percussionist. This was a pivotal point in Humphrey’s life as he also received conducting lessons, helped with administrative tasks (invaluable experience) and he notes, “the general level of the NYO was extraordinarily high so being a member made one willy-nilly part of the country’s musical elite: in my case it sowed the seed which thirty years later resulted in the creation of the BBC competition we called BBC Young Musician of the Year.”

He took his grade 8 Associated Board exam and won an athletics trophy whilst at Judd, was head boy for a single term, but then he left school at Christmas in 1949 and waited for his National Service call up papers. He did 18 months National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals before reading music and history at Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge during 1951-54. He then spent a year in France on a French Government scholarship, researching music life in the 18th century, before joining BBC Radio as a trainee studio manager in 1955.

He directed many studio programmes and documentaries, working alongside Ken Russell, John Schlesinger, David Jones and Peter Newington, rising to the post of editor, in succession to his mentor Huw Wheldon, in 1962.

He helped spearhead the BBC's preparation for the opening of BBC-2, launched in April 1964, and the following year was appointed the BBC's first Head of Music and Arts 1965-67. In 1965 he won BAFTA's top award of the year (then SFTA) for creativity in music programming; credits include The Golden Ring, Elgar (producer), Master Class and Workshop. He then worked for eight years in commercial television, being one of the founder members of London Weekend Television, where after a spell as head of Drama, Arts and Music he resigned from management and devised, edited and presented the award-winning arts series Aquarius (1970-75), the forerunner of The South Bank Show. His direction credits included The Great Gondola Race and Anatomy of a Recording.

Burton returned to the BBC as head of Music and Arts, creating such long-running strands as Young Musician of the Year and Arena, until 1981, when aged 50 he resigned from management to concentrate on direction: he stayed with the BBC until 1988 as editor of performance programmes and director of Proms and opera relays from the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne, and the Scottish Opera (Bernstein's Candide).

He was guest director of the Hollywood Bowl in 1983 and director of Tanglewood's 70th Bernstein Birthday Bash in 1988, and served as Artistic Adviser to the Barbican 1988–91, where he was responsible for the award-winning festival of Scandinavian arts entitled Tender is the North. After Bernstein died in 1990, Burton spent three years in New York researching and writing his biography, Leonard Bernstein 1994. Other musician biographies followed: Yehudi Menuhin 2000 and William Walton - The Romantic Loner (OUP 2002, co-authored with Maureen Murray.) For the decade after his return from New York he worked in the USA and Europe as director and/or programme presenter of classical music (for Classic FM and Radio 3), opera, ballet, documentaries and music competitions. He celebrated his 70th birthday by conducting Verdi's Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall, raising £75,000 for charity.

Humphrey with the orchestra and chorus, Verdi's Requiem (Photo courtesy of Christina Burton) 

Later in 2001 he moved to Aldeburgh, where he is President of the Aldeburgh Music Club and has presented eight seasons of Matinees Musicales at the local cinema. In 2011 he mounted a Schubert weekend to mark his 80th birthday.

He has been awarded four Emmies and two British Academy Television Awards, the Royal Television Society's silver medal and a Sony Gold Award. He was awarded the CBE in the Millennium Honours 2000. In 1957 he married Gretel Davis, but the couple later divorced. In 1970 he married Swedish radio and TV presenter Christina Hansegård. He has six children.


In My Own Time – An Autobiography

can be purchased here (Hive supports independent book shops with every sale they make):

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Humphrey-Burton/Humphrey-Burton-In-My-Own-Time--An-Autobiography/25693571

[How 'Hive' Works]

Boydell & Brewer Synopsis:

"This long-awaited autobiography is a must-read for classical musical enthusiasts and those fascinated by some of the twentieth century's star performers. It also offers unique insights into the history of music, the BBC and arts broadcasting in twentieth-century Britain.

Sir Humphrey Burton is one of Britain's most influential post-war music and arts broadcasters. Witty, humorous and full of humanity, Burton's account presents us with never before recorded perspectives on the world of British cultural broadcasting and classical music.....

The early 1970s saw the beginning of Burton's long association with Leonard Bernstein. Burton was at hand filming the maestro's educational programs, as well as concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic. Unforgettable are his chronicles of Bernstein's last years, culminating in a worldwide broadcast of the conductor's Berlin Freedom Concert after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Burton's gift for communicating music turned him into a celebrated Bernstein biographer. With multi award-winning television programmes to his name, such as the BBC's Young Musician of the Year, Burton left an indelible mark on Britain's music and arts broadcasting history.

Sir Humphrey Burton offers us many encounters with twentieth century classical music's superstars and former broadcasting colleagues. What transpires is a creative mind at work that never lost sight of the demand that the appropriate presentation of music can only go hand-in-hand with a deep understanding of music itself".

Reviews of In My Own Time:


[In My Own Time] is a fantastic read. . . . Everything is in this, every chapter of [Burton's] life -- and it is a very eventful life. At a time when there was a lot of output to arts programmes. . . [Burton's programmes] gave the viewer the respect to sit and watch something play out. --Jo Good ― BBC RADIO LONDON

Anyone who was anyone in the arts world in the twentieth century doesn't begin to describe the life of Sir Humphrey Burton. In My Own Time [is] a chronicle of music making and the people who made a difference in the late twentieth century. What an extraordinary recall he has. What a magnum opus it is! --Sean Rafferty, BBC RADIO 3, In Tune

Burton can certainly tell a story, and in his memoir, In My Own Time, we see a portrait not just of a changing arts scene but of a man who, behind the smooth wheeler dealership needed for a career in TV management, has a few insecurities and one or two secrets. . . . The memoir is littered with anecdotes about the great and the good whom he met in his everyday life. . . . His friendships and connections are various, with Leonard Bernstein a consistent presence. "I was Boswell to his Johnson," he [says]. --Ben Lawrence, DAILY TELEGRAPH

"[In My Own Time] tells the story of [Burton's] rise from humble beginnings to becoming one of the industry's most admired broadcasters, bringing the joy of classical music to the general public through collaborations with stars such as Leonard Bernstein and Yehudi Menuhin." Dalya Alberge, THE GUARDIAN

"In his new book, Burton offers readers many encounters with the superstars of twentieth-century classical music, as well as tales from former broadcasting colleagues. We witness a creative mind at work that never loses sight of how the presentation of music must go hand-in-hand with a deep understanding of music itself." PRELUDE, FUGUE & RIFFS, Newsletter of the Leonard Bernstein Office

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