Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 stepped out onto the moon in July 1969. He and his crew, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, came home to incredible global adulation and spent a lot of time touring the world and cementing global understanding that the USA had well and truly won the space race. I can’t imagine what it was like to receive that sort of world-wide adulation but for Armstrong his work with NASA was over. He resigned and became a university professor. People at the university of Cincinnati looked at him with wonder. He signed autograph after autograph then realised that many people were using these as a source of income. For every schoolboy who took his signature, venerated it and saved it in some secret safe place, there were others making a buck from every photo or scrap of paper he signed. So, one day, he stopped doing it.
That’s the thing about the famous; people want to connect with them. Today many people see their hero or heroine and they want to take a ‘selfie’ with them on their smart phone. Facebook and other social media are littered with these sorts of pictures, but in earlier times fans wanted autographs. In fact, they still do. Take a look at ebay and you’ll find many hits for the autographs of movie, TV and sports stars. Rare ones cost many thousands of pounds and if you are lucky enough to have an autograph signed by Neil Armstrong, well it’s worth about £8, 500. Autographs by Neil Armstrong are pretty rare and very collectable, partly because he stopped signing autographs!
You might be wondering where I got that figure from, well it’s from the PFC40 autograph index, a listing of autograph values to help collectors. Top of the list is James Dean’s autograph. Dean was famous for only a short while before his death in a car crash at the age of 24 and it’s the rarity of his signature that gives it such a strong price, showing in the index at £18,500! I wish I had the autograph of James Dean or Neil Armstrong in my collection but here are a few of the ones I do have.
Graham Hill can’t really lay claim to being the greatest driver ever, but without a doubt he is one of the greatest motor sporting personalities to ever grace the racetrack. I wrote to him in the seventies and he responded with a card and his signature and it’s one of the prize autographs in my collection. Jackie Stewart, my favourite ever F1 driver and quite frankly, in my opinion, the greatest ever driver, sent me a card with only a machine printed signature. (Little bit disappointed there Jackie!) I have a number of signatures of F1 drivers in the seventies, Bruce McLaren, (founder of the McLaren F1 team) Denny Hulme (world champion 1967) Jack Brabham (world champion 1959, 1960 and 1966) Jackie Oliver, (he drove for BRM in 1970) and John Surtees (world champion 1964.)
One of my colleagues who has a daughter who lives in Australia showed me something a while ago. A programme from the 2013 Australian GP signed by all the drivers. Knowing I’m a big Formula One fan my friend thought he had a sure fire sale but sadly, the programme looks a little as if a schoolboy has scribbled all over the pages and the autographs are just undecipherable swirls of a felt tipped pen. It was hugely disappointing and a ‘no sale’ for my friend. Perhaps in the age of the computer, people, well at least Formula One drivers, have forgotten how to write and how much more satisfying are the signatures in my collection than the ones on that programme.
As a school kid I spent a lot of time writing to my schoolboy TV heroes and I have signed pictures from Patrick Macnee who played the debonair John Steed in the Avengers, and Linda Thorson who played Steed’s sidekick Tara King. I wrote to the producers of Star Trek in the USA and they sent me colour pictures of William Shatner who played Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy, who was Mr Spock.
My very favourite autograph of all though is another one from the seventies. I wrote a fan letter to Andy Williams who had a hugely popular TV show which aired on the BBC. My favourite part of the show was a comedy sketch with Andy and a bear (OK, a guy dressed in a bear outfit) who always asked Andy for some cookies and then they went into a different comedy routine every week. I loved the bear sketches so much that I wrote to Andy Williams care of Desilu productions, who were mentioned on the credits of his show, in Hollywood California. Months later, a large envelope arrived and inside was a picture of Andy and the bear. ‘To Stephen from Andy and friend’ was the inscription.
I think it says a lot about Andy Williams, that he should make such a gesture for a far away English schoolboy. Thanks Andy, I loved that picture so much!
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