Humphrey Carpenter, Broadcaster, radio producer and broadcaster


With his sunny, eccentric disposition, the biographer, broadcaster,
organiser and producer Humphrey Carpenter enriched the lives of all
those who came into contact with him. In a reverse of what’s said about
many of those who’ve left us, “Humph”?, who died on 4 January, did
suffer fools gladly.

Son of the late Harry Carpenter, a former
Bishop of Oxford, he went to the Dragon School in North Oxford, a prep
school that, almost as a cottage industry, routinely turns out
brilliant personalities with that maverick touch.

Marlborough and Keble College he joined the BBC as a trainee and was
soon producing at BBC Radio Durham. He jumped at the chance of joining
the newly-created BBC Radio Oxford in 1970 but nearly didn’t, as the
station manager, Donald Norbrook, was doubtful about appointing a man
who, while doing well at the interview in most respects, had answered
all the questions with his eyes shut.

Programme organiser Owen
Bentley’s vote won the day and Carpenter joined a highly varied squad
of broadcasters to become the engine room of a brilliant station from
which Libby Purves and the former BBC golf correspondent Tony Adamson
also graduated. He produced luminous features, ran the station’s arts
programme and presented a frenetic 200 words a minute pop programme,
once coinciding Cher’s Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves with the lunchtime

At the station’s opening ceremony he played sousaphone among the potted palms with a retro music group.

passion for writing biographies coincided with what he believed to be a
slump in management style after the retirement of Donald Norbrook, and
so he left — but not before fatally injuring the new manager’s pot
plant. By then he had married a highly popular fellow broadcaster at
Radio Oxford, Mari Prichard, daughter of poetry Bardic crown holder
Caradog Prichard.

His first biography was an affectionate life of
JRR Tolkien, and there was a tumultuous crescendo over his work on the
former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. Famously, Runcie said
he wished it had been published post mortem. Subjected to an aggressive
interview about the book on the Today programme, Carpenter amiably
agreed with all of John Humphrys’ barbed questions, leaving the poor
interrogator with nowhere to go.

Other biographies were of Ezra
Pound, Benjamin Britten, Evelyn Waugh and Spike Milligan. He also wrote
an enormous tome on the Third Programme.

He excelled in
presenting programmes on BBC Radio 3, pioneering Night Waves , and he
wrote the Mr Majeika books about the adventures of a kindly magician.

Those who knew him saw elements of Carpenter in this character Mr Majeika,
however, didn’t juggle. “Humph”? did — as part of a number of projects,
including the Mushy Peas Theatre Group for children Regional freelance,
author and scriptwriter Foreign correspondent and author in Oxford. For
a few years he was an energetic and innovative organiser of the
Cheltenham Literary Festival.

He formed, ran and played double
bass and sousaphone in a band called Vile Bodies which had a residency
at the Ritz. This band was so redolent of the 1920s, it made the
Pasadena Roof Orchestra sound modern.

Carpenter is survived by
wife Mari and their two daughters. At 58, his untimely passing recalls
a line in one of the songs played by Vile Bodies — “too hot not to cool

Bill Rennells worked with Humphrey Carpenter at BBC Radio Oxford.



1968-70: BBC general trainee.

1970-74: Staff producer at BBC Radio Oxford .

1977: Biography of JRR Tolkien published.

1985: Children’s book Mr Majeika published.

1992: Introduced the first edition of Radio 3’s Night Waves .

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *