This weekend has found me once again in the garage dealing with the consequences of a policy of hoarding anything which I considered might at some point have some potential use. Old Curtains? What if we were to move back someday into our old house or one with windows of exactly the same dimensions? Well, we’d rue the day we threw these away!
At the bottom of the borehole I have driven through sedimentary layers of junk I found a small box containing the very first things I felt precious enough to hold on to. First out of the box was my autograph book.
Collecting signatures was a craze that gripped me for perhaps a month or so. Frinton was not built atop a hellmouth of celebrity and I would have died of embarrassment if I’d had to speak to someone famous anyway; so I had to resort to polite letters and enclosing stamped self-addressed envelopes. Somehow the exquisite delight of receiving a letter (any letter – Lord, how I miss letters) was more attractive a proposition than standing in the lashing rain outside the theatre at the end of Clacton Pier shouting hopefully at Freddie Starr.
I started with Chelsea Football Club who sent me a 500th generation photocopy of the players’ signatures that even then seemed crushingly lacking in glamour. I was not even sure that they counted as autographs. The BBC were infinitely better. It was as if the knew I’d be waiting, tortured, for the postman to shovel stardust into our gloomy hallway. My hero, Tony Hart autographed a piece of gummed paper so that I could stick it straight into my little green autograph book: so thoughtful, so Tony.
The Mona Lisa in my collection was an autographed photograph of the comedy giants of that moment: The Goodies
I recently bought a collection of Goodies episodes on DVD. They were so cringingly awful that I switched it off as I simply was not mentally resilient enough to cope with the scale of the disappointment. At the time, however, I had no doubts. They were a chart-topping novelty band (with “Do the Funky Gibbon” and other abominations) and their stories of giant kittens and tomato soup nerve agents turning people into clowns held me rapt. The picture was so precious to me that I stuck the envelope it came in into the book and would only remove the item itself from inside in order to impress my very closest friends and then with a sacramental reverence that would have impressed the Pope himself. I felt as if television had extended a fizzing, scintillating hand and laid it on my shoulder; it was a distillate of pure glamour.
The fever broke and I moved on to he next craze – probably Top Trumps or Pocketeers, and I allowed the BBC to get back to its business. There was, however, a twilight period during which I lowered the hurdle of fame a little and added signatures from people I merely knew and loved. One of these was Father Clover, my priest. I set his contribution out below, firstly to demonstrate that there was a time when people took a pride in their handwriting and secondly because it is only today that I have recognised that his inscription (which I had thought merely a Christmas Cracker proverb of the sort that might amuse an old gentleman) contained a (barely) hidden message for me.