Saturday, 9 October 2021

The Mystery of Not Eric Idle's Signature

 On a street in London, between Highbury and Highgate, I recently found a piece of A4 photo-quality paper with what I took to be the signature of the writer, actor and Python Eric Idle.

Given that I have, in the last few years, seen one Python in Hampstead, another one in Highgate, and that there are blue plaques in Highgate pubs to two more, it didn't seem unlikely that a fifth might have been in the area, and signed a piece of paper for someone who subsequently lost it. I thought there was a reasonable chance of restoring it to its owner via Twitter, and was about to try, when I looked up Eric Idle's signature. It looks like this. 

Not even close. So... what I have in fact is a piece of expensive paper on which someone has scrawled the name of a comedian I admire, and then dropped. On a street I often walk down. On a Zoom call recently, I witnessed a friend's small boy bustling in to say: "Dada, I'm making a trap. It's not for anybody. I need your notebook." Had a similar fiendish mastermind set a trap for me? Well, probably not, because on closer inspection, I'm not even sure it does say 'Eric Idle'. The second word is surely Idle, but the first? 

That's not Eric, is it. "Eirc", at best. Or maybe 'Eire'? And there's a full stop after it, so maybe it's a contraction. 'Enc.'? For a moment I thought I'd cracked it when I remembered that engines can idle. But I can't think of a situation where you'd need to scrawl a note to someone telling them that an engine was idling. And anyway, there's no way that last letter's a G. 

So, I thought maybe someone here might know. What does it mean? 


Kirsty said...

The Idle? With a random line on the T that is just a slip of the pen?

Melissa Dow said...

When I went back to it, I thought maybe it said "Free. Idle", which is still enigmatical (and I'm not sure it's defensible from the letterforms).

Maybe the first letter is a 'T', as Kirsty speculates, so it's "Tree. Idle." Still nonsense, though.

Grhm said...

The second word is definitely "Idle", but the first is an enigma.

It could perhaps be a rather florid "Eva".

There's a fine band from Bristol called "Idles". It occurred to me that if one of their members was called Eva and signed an autograph they might style themselves "Eva Idle", in the tradition of the Ramones.

Unfortunately, on investigation, the Idles seem to be called Joe, Mark, Lee, Adam and Jon... and in any case they are currently touring America.

The more I look at that first word the stranger it gets. The contrast with the straighforwardness of the second word makes it even stranger. It doesn't look like Roman script at all. What it looks like most to me is "Ŧͷe".

riflet said...

As with Kirsty and Melissa above, it immediately struck me as "The." And I ignored the full stop (period) right after.

Then I recalled that when making lists I may use abbreviations in idiosyncratic ways. "Choc." is obvious, of course, but not "pin. sli." which I could use for pinapple slices.

And like Grhm I am not even sure it's English.

If this is a person's vague abbreviation you will need to call in Bletchley Park.

Danielle said...

It could be "Inc. Idle"?

Yerushalmi said...

Agreeing with the above that it's almost certainly "The".

Grhm said...

Maybe, but the possible 'e' of the possible 'the' is entirely different from the definite 'e' of the definite 'Idle'.
Not to mention that the 'T' doesn't look much like a 'T' and the 'h' doesn't look anything like an 'h'.

v.edgy said...

Could it be Evie? Maybe there's an exhibition about the Idle Women (women who worked on the inland waterways during world war two) somewhere nearby, and this sheet has escaped from the top of a pile of freshly printed out photos of, or by Evelyn (Evie) Hunt.

Tealin said...

The thing that stands out to me is how LARGE the writing is. If that's a sheet of A4, then those words aren't just a casual jot, they're intended to be seen. For what does one write so largely, but also illegibly? A label for one's own use? A signpost for someone else who's familiar with your handwriting? In the house where I live, there are stacks of papers in the process of being sorted, and many are topped with sheets like this, with inscriptions such as "Margaret", "Correspondence", and "Stationery – fine but too much". I can't pretend to know what this page might be for, but could it have been a label like this? Maybe it blew out a window on a warm day?

It certainly gives the impression of saying "Eric Idle", so I thought it might have been something like a seat marker for some event in which he was a panel member. The odd shape after the E looks like how I do a conjoined lowercase R and I, which a lot of people misinterpret as an N. But there isn't a dot anywhere that could be interpreted as belonging to a lowercase I, which makes me think the "ri" might actually be a capital R, written into the lowercase as some people do. The letter following it is more likely a C than an E, given how the E in Idle is written, and taken with the deliberate full stop, that would make the first word "Erc." An abbreviation for something? Something that the writer and perhaps the reader, if they are a different person, would be expected to know, but isn't apparent to an outsider? But if we're looking at punctuation, what's the dash after "Idle"?

The simplest explanation is that there was either a fraudulent Eric Idle impersonator doing signatures, or someone mistook someone for Eric Idle and, too embarrassed to set them straight, the mistakee considered it easier just to sign the proffered paper. But Occam's
Razor slits the throat of many a good mystery which it's more fun to chew on.

Tealin said...

P.S. Given that it was written in haste, but the letters aren't joined up, I'd bet it was written by someone who didn't have cursive drilled into them at school, so my guess is the writer is under 50. This doesn't actually make any progress towards a solution, I'd just love to know if it turns out to be right, someday, somehow.

min said...

It’s clearly referring to the 1989 single “Eva” and written by someone who’s remembered that the first name of the artist is “Jalle” but forgotten their surname is “Ahlström.”
I say “clearly” - I realise that that leaves a few loose ends, but I’m sure you can figure those out…

Kat said...

I do like Tealin's suggestion that someone was mistaken was Eric Idle, particularly as if other Pythons are regularly in the area, it is enjoyable to imagine the moment one of them was confused for another. Did he wrestle with the choice to haughtily correcting the mistake before accepting the link and signing as his fellow?

v.edgy said...

I've worked out the post-Eric DOT
But not the jaunty HYPHEN
My cat has a theory, believe it or not
It's for rhyming with Monty Python

Hope that helps.

v.edgy said...

Replying to min

Oh, you said Ahlström... For a second there I thought you said Ångström*, as in detective Knut Ångström of the Swedish equivalent of the police, which is all one word in Swedish. I was just about to say that we need him on the case, but it appears you've already cracked it, albeit with a few loose ends to tie up... Brilliant work! Well done! :)

* all episodes available on BBC Sounds

PTL said...


slepkane said...

It was clearly the kid.

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Anonymous said...

My interpretation (being someone who has horrible handwriting where identical letters rarely look the same) is that it says "The Tale". Yes, it is unlikely, as the second letter of the second word quite definitely has this bit on top, which quite clearly isn't an 'a'.
But a large signature standing alone does not make much sense. However as the 'title' on top of a stack of paper, it seems kind of fitting.
Not necessarily a proper tale. It might have been simply a stack of documents about something, where someone said to someone else "I've got some folders of documents and therein lines a tale..." and when later providing the folders, put a sheet of paper on it, jokingly labeling them to be "The Tale". Which then got thrown away by the recipient.
It's not like there's any reason to think this is really the case (especially since the letter clearly isn't an 'a'), but it makes a decent narrative and gives some closure to the mystery.

v.edgy said...

Replying to John Finnemore and acknowledging slepkane's fine work

I'd normally suggest *not* listening to the voice in your head, but on this occasion I think Simon is right- or maybe half right- possibly a third... When you found this piece of paper did you, by any chance, notice a tall man lurking in the shadows, wearing a long, ill-fitting coat? And did that man have a disproportionately small head- the same sized head that a small boy might have? And could you hear low-pitched mutterings along the lines of: "Jawbone blah blah blah. Scrabble sketch blah blah blah. TRAP blah blah blah. Teach him a lesson blah blah blah.", followed by delighted, high-pitched laughter, and then the sound of muffled high-fiving... somehow, all slowly fading as they, I mean the tall man, disappeared into what was once, for him, the distance?

No? Oh well, you were probably just distracted by your find.

Jane said...

It looks to me like it says The Idler (with a very lazy attempt at the R.) There is a magazine called The Idler. It could be a label for a bundle of the magazines when they were being delivered to a shop nearby or, given the paper quality, was a label for a bundle of photos for the magazine itself. said...


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ROBIN said...

Back in the mints of time, when I was being taught to write 'joined up' I learned that a capital 't' was shaped like a reversed 'J' and that a capital 'f' was the same, but with a cross through it.

This could make your first word Fre. or Frederick.

I am more or less convinced that I have not dreamed this.

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Grhm said...

Our host clearly doesn't often read these comments, or he would have deleted all the above spam... but I'm still intrigued by this mystery. If you do happen to glance at this, John, are you any nearer a solution?

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Anonymous said...

Late to the party, but it might be short for 'encoding IDLE' which, according to Wikipedia, is an integrated development environment for Python.