Q&A: Henry Lytton-Cobbold of Knebworth House

PUBLISHED: 16:11 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 28 February 2013

Henry and Martha Lytton-Cobbold, their children Edward and Morwenna, and Khan, the Great Dane

Henry and Martha Lytton-Cobbold, their children Edward and Morwenna, and Khan, the Great Dane

Henry Lytton-Cobbold talks to Damion Roberts about his family ancestry, his love for his home at Knebworth House and why Tim Burton chose it as the perfect movie set

How old are you?
45 - over halfway to heaven, I suspect!

Tell us about your family
My wife Martha runs the day-to-day business at Knebworth House and Country Park - she's there every morning, on the front line, solving problems and chasing pennies.
My daughter Morwenna is a student at the London College of Fashion. My son Edward is at school in Cambridge.

How long have you lived at Knebworth House?
I moved in with my parents aged 10, left aged 18, and came back again aged 39 - but as a family, we bought it off the in-laws 518 years ago.

What do you like about the house and its surroundings?
Its uniqueness. Its batty-ness - it's decorated with bats on barrels, a play on the family name 'Lytton' and the Old English words 'Lyt', 'bat', and 'ton', barrel. Perfect for when Tim Burton was making his Batman movie in 1988 - we were Wayne Manor. I've never seen a house like it...anywhere.

What do you most enjoy about Knebworth?
Living with my ancestors, for whom I have a great respect.
'Ah! happy he, whose later home as man
Is made where Love first spoke, and Hope began,
Where haunted floors dear footsteps back can give,
And in our Lares all our fathers live.'

Edward Bulwer Lytton

What do you do for a living?
While Martha runs the day-to-day business, I cause trouble in the background. I've always thought if one half of a couple has her feet on the ground and the other has his head in the clouds, together you stand tall.
I handle the long-term planning and fight the long-term battles - the basis of which is trying to raise the 9million we need to complete the restoration of Knebworth House.
I'm actually trained as a screenwriter. I learnt the trade in Los Angeles and it is the one thing I know I do better than other people. Since returning to Hertfordshire - where there's not a great trade in screenwriting - I've broadened my creative services to other media.
My Knebworth-based consultancy, The 39 Production Company, offers services in video, audio and internet production, publishing and licensing.

What are your hobbies?
I earn pocket money running a little recording studio. Unlike creative writing, which thrives on concentrated stretches of time, music and audio production thrives on interruption - and fresh ears - so better suits my life here at Knebworth.

How do you relax?
Leave Knebworth. Head for the beach. Relaxation is difficult to find at Knebworth, where there is always something that needs doing... now.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I try not to hide any talent I can muster. As, Robert, my great-great-grandfather, said 'Genius does what it must, and talent does what it can'.

What is your worst habit?
Sugar. Guilty as charged, m'lud.

What is your favourite town in Hertfordshire and why?
Hertfordshire, the cradle of modern town planning - I admire them all, Letchworth Garden City, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage New Town...some ideas worked, some ideas didn't, but there was always a vision. Now there is no vision. Now it is all about infill, squeezing houses into gardens, and flats into houses - everything going where it was not intended to go. It's a real shame.

Describe Hertfordshire in one sentence.
Oh, we've had some fun doing that over the years - 'The A1 fun place to be!', 'The Ace is Herts!', 'Hertfordshire - putting the 'home' in Home Counties'...But personally I like
'Home is where Herts is'.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
My wife. Full stop.

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