Humphrey Burton read music and history at Cambridge, where he conducted the University Music Club choir. He joined the BBC in 1955 as a studio manager specialising in music programmes, transferring to television three years later. After five years on the arts magazine Monitor he spearheaded the expansion of cultural programmes, which followed the opening of BBC-2 in 1964 and was appointed the first Head of the Music and Arts department. Among the titles he and his producers pioneered were In Rehearsal, Master Class, Conversations with Glenn Gould and Workshop. In 1965 he received the British Academy’s top award for innovative programming.
Between 1967 and 1975 Humphrey worked as a founder member of London Weekend Television, first as Head of Drama., Arts and Music and then as editor and host of the arts magazine Aquarius, for which he was awarded the Royal Television Society’s silver medal as a presenter. In 1970 he produced and directed (for the American network CBS) the Emmy-winning Beethoven’s Birthday: a bi-centennial tribute. This was among the first of nearly two hundred music programmes he made over the next two decades with the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. They include the Freedom concert from Berlin and Candide from the Barbican Centre, both in 1989.
From 1975 to 1981 Humphrey Burton served a second term as the BBC’s Head of Music and Arts, inaugurating such long-running series as Arena and Young Musician of the Year. He retired from management when he was 50 and has since combined a freelance career as a presenter and director of televised operas and concerts with work as an impresario and writer. In the 1990s he directed seven opera telecasts from Glyndebourne and was in charge of the first opera relay from the new Covent Garden, Verdi’s Falstaff. As a programme maker, Humphrey has won four Emmies and three BAFTAs. Among his credits are The Golden Ring, The Making of West Side Story, Conversations with Glenn Gould and 168 editions of the arts magazine Aquarius for LWT.
Humphrey took up orchestral conducting late in life, making his debut at the Royal Albert Hall on his 70th birthday in 2001 with a critically acclaimed performance of Verdi’s Requiem, which raised £75,000 for the Prostate Research charity. He has published major biographies of Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin and William Walton and has been a regular contributor to both Radio 3 and Classic FM. He was made a CBE in the Millennium honours list.
Humphrey has lived in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, since 2001 and plays a regular part in the town’s musical life. He gives lectures on musical themes every winter and conducted the Amadeus at Aldeburgh Festival for the Mozart celebrations in 2006. He recently mounted a five-concert celebration of Schubert's music involving the Aldeburgh Music Club choir, of which he became President in 2010. He spends several months abroad each year lecturing for cruise and cultural exchange groups as far afield as St Petersburg, Istanbul and New York.
Photo credit “Swienink-Havard”