The Ten Year Old Autograph Hunter

Image by Infrogmation, available on license from CC0 1.0

Long before the mobile phone revolution and the ‘selfie sticks’ people recorded meetings of the famous by collecting their autographs. According to some sources, the three most expensive autographs are all of the four Beatles, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. I wondered how many people have autograph collections and/or signed memorabilia from people who came to entertain in Blackpool from the 1950s onwards?

One such collector is Howard Henshaw a local Councillor, who grew up in Albert Road in Blackpool. At ten years old he obtained his first autograph from Gracie Fields at the Stage Door of the Opera House followed by George Formby and Vera Lynn the same year.

He told me that autograph collecting was very popular for youngsters at the time.

Many well-known celebrities would walk around Blackpool and people would just stop them and ask for their autograph. Charlie Cairoli walked to the Tower Circus from his home in Warley Road for forty three years. Howard told me that he remembered getting Danny Kaye’s autograph at the 18th tee at Royal Lytham Golf Course before the green keeper chased him off. Howard also told me of a tip-off that Diana Dors would be staying in a flat above a ladies’ hairdressers in Highfield Road. Knocking at her door at 10am on a Sunday morning she answered wearing a short negligee. She invited him in for a coffee!

Howard also told me of meeting Morecambe and Wise in 1951, when they were bottom of the bill at South Pier. He also met a 16 year old Julie Andrews after watching the radio show Blackpool Night which was being recorded in The Jubilee Theatre, on the site now occupied by the new Debenhams. He also remembers changing a flat tyre for a young Shirley Bassey. She gave him a kiss and an autograph! Howard also saw Debbie Reynolds walking along hand in hand with Eddie Fisher who were both appearing at the Royal Fylde Command Performance at the Opera house. Six months later Eddie had left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor.

His most treasured autograph is that of Frank Sinatra. After a hotel porter had told the star that Howard had waited for eight hours he was invited in for a coffee and a chat by Ol’ Blue Eyes and he obtained the valued autograph.

Alongside many celebrities Howard met many sporting greats such as Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney. He also met many of the West Indies, Indian and Lancashire cricketers when they played at Stanley Park. Howard and many more like him have preserved some great heritage and memories.

If you have some anecdotes of meeting famous people in Blackpool we would love to hear from you so we can share these memories.

John Ramsbottom

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