Starring role for Norwich extra’s autographs

Autograph-hunter turned actor Martin Ballantyne is selling off his 40-strong collection of celebrity signatures.

He used to an avid autograph hunter tracking down the scribbles of the stars, but is now more likely to be signing a book himself than waving it under the nose of a showbiz celebrity.

For the Norwich man has appeared in major movies including the latest Harry Potter film, and Dark Knight Batman epic making him a target for fans at sci-fi signing events.

And he is now set to sell his 400-strong collection of celebrity signatures from those earlier years which include actors Alec Guinness, Jack Lemmon, Michael Caine, and Woody Allen as well as comedy legends Norman Wisdom, Ronnie Barker, John Cleese and Barbara Windsor.

'I am on the other side of the table now,' said the 38-year-old from Dussindale. 'I feel privileged having only been acting for a five years. But if people want signatures I feel it is my duty after so many years as a hunter.

'After 25 years of collecting, the autographs were just sitting in folders and I was not getting as much joy from them as I used to. My priorities have also changed, as I have a little boy now - so it was a matter of selling all or nothing,' he explained.

Mr Ballantyne's autograph hunting began as a child when he remembered going to the Norwich pantomime stage door as a star-struck youngster and getting Benny from Crossroads as one of the first names in his book.

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As he progressed some signatures came back through the post, such as Alec Guinness's - others were harder to obtain, with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney the toughest of the lot on a visit to Norfolk in 2001.

'He was in Norwich doing a poetry reading at the UEA, I got a tip-off through a friend and went there. He signed about 20 then dashed off with his bodyguards. But we followed him to the airport, where he was catching his private plane, asked again, and I think he felt obliged saying 'one each lads and I'll use my own pen.'

'He saw we were persistent but a bit paranoid after George Harrison had been stabbed. As a massive Beatles fan, it was my best autograph, but also the hardest,' he added.

Mr Ballantyne's switch from movie watcher to movie cast member began through an 'am dram' role the Sewell Barn theatre.

'I have always been a movie fan - and liked watching the extras on the end of DVDs because i was fascinated how films were made - and did a film-making course at City College, but it is so difficult to get jobs,' he explained.

'A friend got me involved in doing props for a drama show, but I ended up on stage as a coach driver in Vanity Fair.

'I thought this is fun so sent off to a casting agency.'

It led to a role in a British film Cashback, which was even more fun - as a customer in a strip club drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, watching strippers and getting paid for it.

His big break came as an Eskimo-like character in the Golden Compass, which starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and led to roles as henchman to Heath Ledger's Joker in the Dark Knight, then Harry Potter parts as Scary Face in the Half Blood Prince, and as a friend of wizard Mundungus Fletcher in the Deathly Hallows Part One.

'I only have six or seven lines. It is a small part, but for me it is big because it is a big film,' said Mr Ballantyne, who also played Jason the bailiff in the Norfolk-set TV series Kingdom, bringing an authentic local accent to the part.

Ironically he probably has more access to stars now than during his days as an autograph hunter, but seeking signatures on set was a 'no, no' he added.

Other lots in the autograph collection include original Beatles drummer Pete Best, Only Fools and Horses stars David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, signed on a picture of the famous Batman scene, Diana Rigg in Avengers pose, and the last survivor of the Titanic sinking Milvina Dean with actor Bernard Hill who played the captain of the stricken liner.

The signatures are expected to fetch between �250 and �10 when they go under the hammer at Keys auction house in Aylsham on December 9. It starts at 2pm with viewing from 8.30am and 9am to 7.30pm the previous day. Mr Ballantyne will also be signing autographs on both days.

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