Sign of the times as autographs cast light on golden era

IT WAS no more than a hobby for Yorkshireman Len Cluderay, but it created a unique snapshot of the entertainment world during the 1940s and 50s in this region.

Now his collection of rare autographs, frequently accompanied by letters and photographs from the big name entertainers who visited Yorkshire’s theatres and music halls during those decades has been made public for the first time by his family, who took the decision to put them on the market.

Mr Cluderay used old-fashioned techniques to acquire his autographs, spending hours hanging around stage doors of Yorkshire’s theatres and music halls, or taking the more inventive approach of writing to theatre managers and asking them to approach the stars on his behalf.

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Both techniques worked well, because Mr Cluderay found himself in possession of items signed by, among others, Laurel and Hardy, George Formby and Tony Hancock as well as Bob Hope and the legendary music hall act Old Mother Riley.

However, his widow Iris, 76, and their daughter Bev Forrest have decided to sell the collection of around 100 autographs, letters and photographs and have used the very modern method of an electronic auction to sell the historic gems.

Mrs Cluderay is downsizing from her home in Horsforth to Yeadon and agreed that it was better that collectors from across the world could have the chance to enjoy the treasure trove of memorabilia rather than it continue to sit in a cupboard.

Mrs Forrest, who lives near Keighley, said: “Dad worked for the local gas board in Leeds all his life but his real passion was the stars of the 1940s and early 1950s – crooners like Dickie Valentine, Lita Roza, Ted Heath as well as the Halifax-born actor and radio presenter Wilfred Pickles.

“His and mum’s first home was in Lennox Street off Kirkstall Road and he would go to the music halls such as the Empire in Leeds where he would wait by the stage door for the stars to come out.

“If he wasn’t able to go along in person he used to write to the theatre management and ask them to try to get the autographs for him.

“It’s a lovely collection and the reason I think it finishes in the 1950s is my fault – that’s when I was born, November 1955, and obviously my dad devoted quite a lot of time to caring for me.

“It’s been a fascinating experience selling the items by auction on eBay – I have learnt all sorts of interesting titbits about some of the people.

“For example, one of them was the Trinidadian-born pianist Winifred Atwell who went on to become a huge international star.

“I didn’t think there would be much interest in her but then I got a call from a man in Australia who is writing a book about her which brought her to light all of a sudden.

“There’s quite a lot of social commentary in there too. There are items about the World’s Smallest Man, for example.”

It is not the first time Mrs Forrest has sold items out of the collection, which she says numbers about 100.

Last year a Laurel and Hardy rarity was sold to a Swiss collector for more than £500 to give her daughter Sarah some spending money for a trip to New York.

It was in a special envelope entitled Laurel and Hardy Studio and contained a photograph and an autograph.

As well as pictures and autographs some of the stars even included brief letters.

English singer Frankie Vaughan wrote to her mother asking whether she could do him a favour by getting in touch with a local DJ to see if he would play some of his records.

Mr Cluderay died suddenly in 1984 from a heart attack but something of his collector’s spirit lived on in his daughter. She began her own collection, though she says her names are rather more humdrum – Sir Jimmy Savile and former Coronation Street legend Ena Sharples, played by Violet Carson, are two of the biggest names among them.

Of the sale she says: “I think Dad would have liked it that all his beloved autographs and pictures of that era are going to people who perhaps loved music halls and variety acts as much as he did. Much better than that they just sit languishing in some cupboard.

“And people getting in touch with me and telling me little bits of the story about these stars has been quite fun. It was really interesting to know that Laurel and Hardy had apparently appeared at the Empire in 1954. I have learnt quite a lot from this experience.

“I didn’t know how much interest there would be in Tony Hancock but there has been a lot.

“I wasn’t quite sure what my mum’s reaction would be to the sale but in fact she was quite excited about it.”