An autograph

What is the attraction of an autograph and why do we collect them. Maybe because it is a unique physical manifestation of the individual.  When all else is gone, the mark on the page is tangible evidence that the person once passed close by.  There are photographs and there are words but they lack the same direct personal interaction; there are intervening processes which put the subject at a distance.

autographn:  a handwritten signature, esp that of a famous person
From the Greek, then Latin autographum, meaning “self-written”; it originally meant “author’s own manuscript.”

My first autograph was Jimmy Adamson’s, player, coach and manager at Burnley FC.  Just a scrap of paper signed in his playing days when he visited my school in 1963.  Long since lost, that was the extent of my ‘collection’ until I started haunting Formula 1 paddocks in the late sixties and seventies.

In order to preserve these marks upon a page I took to getting books signed, ideally those with some relevance to the subject.  On the afternoon of 23rd October 1971 I bought Such Sweet Thunder,  the story of the Ford Grand Prix Engine by John Blunsden and David Phipps, then wandered around the Brands Hatch paddock on the eve of the Victory Race, held to celebrate Jackie Stewart’s second world title.  These are the autographs: Jackie Stewart, Ronnie Peterson and Jo Siffert with a photo I took of Jo just before he signed:

I was there for his best of days in 1968 and his worst of days in 1971.  The next day Seppi was gone, a suspension failure threw the car off the track at Hawthorns, the fuel tank ruptured and the smoke rose behind Druids from where we could see the rest of the field slowly peeling off into the pit lane.

A celebration had turned into a wake under a 9/11 sky; I never asked for an autograph again.


  1. patrick · July 23, 2012

    On the other hand, you did get me to go up to various drivers in the paddock in the late 1980s. From memory, I think I got Roland Ratzenberger, Denny Hulme and Tom Walkinshaw’s autographs. All, sadly, gone now…

    • northumbrianlight · July 24, 2012

      Likewise from October 1971 I outsourced responsibility for autographs to the current girlfriend so it was pure irrational superstition. The upside was that she always received a more favourable and interested reaction – from Andretti in particular! “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on”.

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