Humphrey Carpenter was a writer, broadcaster, and music critic. He came to a wide audience with his biographies of people including J.R.R. Tolkien, Benjamin Britten, W.H. Auden, Spike Milligan, Dennis Potter, Ezra Pound, and Archbishop Robert Runcie; and his group portrait of Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, and the other lovers of fantasy and legend around them, The Inklings. For many Tolkien lovers the two biographies are essential reading: Carpenter had full access to his papers. Other group biographies he did were The Brideshead Generation and The Angry Young Men; and histories of Radio 3 and of the 1960s Satire Boom.

He also wrote his own children's stories about a magician teacher, Mr Majeika, and was known to be rather scathing about the excessive publicity accorded to a certain boy wizard when there were so many other magical authors around. These were turned into a TV series starring Stanley Baxter, and also became a musical (1991). He also edited the Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (1984); and in Oxford he founded the Mushy Pea Theatre Group for children.

Carpenter's sudden death today, 4th January 2005, at the age of 58 has just been announced, a sad loss. He was fun, and full of life, and perpetually active and curious. He leaves a wife Mari Prichard (married 1973) and two daughters Clare and Kate.

He was a regular presenter and producer on BBC Radio 3, and had a warm, humorous voice and sprightly manner that were a particular pleasure to listen to. He was the first presenter of their late-evening programme "Night Waves" in 1992, and regularly presented the early-evening "In Tune". His first radio work was in Durham in 1968, followed by Oxford two years later, before moving on to the national network in 1974.

Humphrey Carpenter was born in Oxford on 29th April 1946, and lived there all his life; he attended the wonderfully named Dragon School, then went on to Keble College where his father was warden before becoming Bishop of Oxford.

He was founder of a jazz ensemble called Vile Bodies, in which he played tuba, sousaphone, double bass, bass saxophone, and keyboard. They were resident at the Ritz in London.

That Mr Majeika series in full (some with Frank Rodgers):

  • Mr Majeika (1985)
  • Mr Majeika and the Music Teacher (1987)
  • Mr Majeika and the Haunted Hotel (1988)
  • Mr Majeika and the Dinner Lady (1990)
  • Mr Majeika and the School Book Week (1993)
  • Mr Majeika and the School Inspector (1993)
  • Mr Majeika and the Ghost Train (1995)
  • Mr Majeika and the School Caretaker (1997)
  • Mr Majeika Vanishes (1998)
  • Mr Majeika and the School Trip (1999)
  • Mr Majeika on the Internet (2001)
  • Mr Majeika and the Lost Spell Book (2003)

Other works, mainly biographies, include:

  • A Thames Companion (1975) a literary anthology, with Mari Prichard
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (1977)
  • The Inklings (1978)
  • W.H. Auden (1981)
  • The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (1984), with Mari Prichard
  • Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of children's literature (1985)
  • Geniuses Together: American writers in Paris in the 1920s (1987)
  • A Serious Character: The life of Ezra Pound (1988)
  • The Brideshead Generation: Evelyn Waugh and his friends (1989)
  • Benjamin Britten (1992)
  • Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop (1996)
  • Dennis Potter (1998)
  • Spike Milligan
  • A Great, Silly Grin: The British Satire Boom of the 1960s
  • Jesus, with Thomas Keith
  • Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits
  • More Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits
  • The Puffin book of classic children's stories
  • The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3, 1946-1996
  • The Joshers: Or, London to Birmingham with Albert and Victoria: A Story of the Canals
  • The Captain Hook Affair, illus. by Posy Simmonds

Radio 3 news and tributes
Penguin UK: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000051622,00.html
and Mr Majeika books at http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Search/QuickSearchProc/1,,Author_1000051622,00.html
The Independent obituary by John Walsh
Review of The Inklings: http://www.greenmanreview.com/inklings.html

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