When autographs were a sign of the times

THE word “signature” has a definition growing in use: “a distinctive product or characteristic by which someone or something can be identified,” according to my 1999 dictionary. It seems to be an up-market word currently used by television presenters: a celebrity chef’s signature dish, for example.

For me, a signature primarily is a person’s name penned in a distinctive way as a means of identification or authorisation.

As cheques are dropping out of use, we pen our names less frequently than we did in the past...and the popularity of e-mails and texting has contributed to the semi-redundancy of personal signatures.

One day, the autograph might well be under threat, and famous folk who scrawl something near-indecipherable on page, programme, new book or king-size tennis ball at Wimbledon will be spared the chore, to the dismay or their loyal fans.

Recently I devoted this column to autographs, in particular a copy of a 1959 local history book, Yarmouth is an Antient Town, by borough librarian Alfred Hedges, which I bought in the Gorleston High Street charity shop run by the British Heart Foundation mainly because two were covered in autographs.

I wondered whose signatures they were, and why they had penned them. I had a feeling the signatories might have been young people.

One of the first to respond was Valerie Jordan, of Great Yarmouth: “I have an autograph book from 1981 with some good signatures - Max Boyce, Joanna Lumley, James Villiers, Neil Durden-Smith and Judith Chalmers, Russ Abbot etc when I worked on the pier and for Dick Condon. They were fun to collect, so buy your grandchildren one each.

Most Read

“Some of the names at the end of your column went to the Technical High School the same year as me: Guy Wong lives Lowestoft Road, Gorleston, Terry Blyth in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Alan Nicolson lives (or did) in Caister, Guntus Masters lived in South Africa but died in 2008).

“The other names also don’t connect with the Tech to the best of my knowledge.”

An e-mail to the Mercury editor from John Welsby reported that he was one of the signatories, all of whom were pupils in the fifth year at the “Tech”; many still live hereabouts.

From Gresham Close in Gorleston, Marian Horne (formerly Hutchings) wrote: “I much enjoyed your article on autographs as it brought back memories of waiting at the stage door of the Regal for the signatures of stars such as Dickie Valentine, David Whitfield and Alma Cogan, among many others, all long gone as have the autographs.

“I have my copy of Yarmouth is an Antient Town beside me as I write, and I shall be surprised if you don’t hear from a number of former pupils of the old Technical High School who left in 1959.

“I believe all school leavers that year were given a copy but yours was, I am sure, from the Tech as I have several of the names you listed and recognised even more.

“Some of the names, I believe, are sixth-formers who left at the same time, but we of the 1954-59 group were the first to complete our secondary schooling at the then brand new school.

“Your copy seems to contain predominantly boys’ autographs whereas mine mostly belong to girls.

“I am sure ‘Lord’ Twitchett is Michael, who enlivened many a maths lesson with diversionary questions.

“I also have signatures of many of the teachers.”

Marian adds: “Many many moons later I took up Italian at evening classes where I met the delightful Mel Hedges, wife of Alf (author of the book).

“During the summer break we met up at their house where she was kind enough to attempt (not entirely successfully) to teach me to swim.

“So, during that time, I asked Alf to sign my copy of his book, which he kindly did, so I would never part with my copy to a charity shop – too many memories.

“Thank you for the memories you invoked of those last few heady summer days at school, trying to get as many signatures as possible, and the sadness of goodbyes but the excitement of an unknown future.”

Among the decipherable Tech autographs in the book on old Yarmouth are: (teachers) R W Packard, Barbara Smedley, Myrna Pooley, E R Buswell, C Talbot, A Evans, P M Read, D A Simpson, A A Budds, J E Baker, J Waters, Rita Freeman, L Bridgwater, B Stead, A H Allsopp, W Harmer, F V Hindes, Arthur Bowles, J H Roll, J C Wilkin, J H Russell, J M Kitchener, C E A Phillips, K Lamming; (pupils) Josephine Wilson, Juanita McBride, L Ennis, Doreen Edwards, Maggie Amiss, Dorothy Rees, V Middleton, Wendy Godsiff, June Richmond, M Watson, Doreen Stephens, Pauline Tyrrell, Margaret Salter, Bob Spurway, Janet Williamson, Yvonne Smith, Sylvia George, B George, Pamela Larke, Mary Clarke, Joyce Harrod, Maureen Soanes, Frances Licquorice, Margaret Southern, Doreen Davis, Roslyn Gower, Pat Mullen, Pamela Westgate, P W Black, R M Laws, E L Randolph, T Butler, Brian Durrant, Janet Poston, Linda Hurrell...

Some of those teachers’ names are familiar to me as former Great Yarmouth Grammar School pupils.

Mrs Horne’s Technical High School memorabilia includes a Leavers’ Valete (farewell) programme for pupils leaving in July 1959 - “a special evening arranged by the staff and the Parent-Teacher Association to mark the end of the 14th school course.”

It too is liberally sprinkled with the signatures of teachers.

Also, the programme includes the names of the entire school staff, led by headmaster J Parkin, deputy head J C Wilkin and senior mistress Miss M Crawshaw, plus every boy and girl pupil of the sixth (31) and fifth forms (120), listed by their houses – Fastolf, Grenfell, Paget and Perebourne.

No doubt it is a valued souvenir, along with Marian’s two photographs of the entire Oriel Avenue school in 1955 and 1959, both taken by a company that specialised in these panoramic pictures, taken with a tripod-mounted camera slowly revolving to capture pupils banked in several rows in an arc of a circle.

They were sold to parents, rolled tightly into cardboard tubes for safe keeping.

Marian’s two, and my three from the grammar school in the 1940s, are still snugly in their cardboard cases.

The picture of the Technical School pupils and staff 1955, is too wide to put on the website, however it is printed to its full width in the Mercury this week (August 24, 2012)