Fishing lines: Mr Crabtree's sale of the century

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The Independent Online

One of my favourite headlines relates to a perfectly genuine story, and is impossible to ignore. It reads: "Man killed by Roy Orbison's underpants".

I won't go into the sordid facts, except to say that the man was an Orbison fan and, having reached the end of his tether, decided to top himself with his hero's underwear, which he had bought at a "Big O" convention.

Now you may wonder what sort of person buys someone else's smalls. (The story didn't state whether they were used or not.) The answer is: almost any serious devotee. If we can't get to meet the celeb, we can at least own a small part of them, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to give us a vicarious connect-ion with our hero or heroine.

And it happens everywhere. Next week in London, a fishing-tackle auction includes dozens of items owned by arguably the most important angling figure of the 20th century. Bernard Venables is most famous for Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing, a strip-cartoon book that he wrote and illustrated while working for the Daily Mirror. Written in 1949, the book sold more than two million copies, making it the best-selling sports book of all time. A whole generation of anglers in the 1950s and 1960s grew up on Mr Crabtree.

Venables went on to start Angling Times, the weekly fishing magazine that made Emap one of the UK's biggest publishers. He wrote divinely, preaching watercraft, love of the countryside, care and respect for the fish. He caught the largest fish taken from northern-hemisphere waters, a 700kg six-gilled shark; he walked from the source of the Zambesi; he lived with the whalers of the Azores. A life less ordinary it would be hard to imagine. He died in 2001, aged 93, and was buried in a wicker coffin.

The few Venables items that have trickled on to the market have been snapped up. That's what makes next Saturday's sale unique. There has never been the chance to see such a cornucopia of his memorabilia: floats, reels, rods, books and drawings.

Until recently, they all cluttered up the tiny Wiltshire house where he lived and painted, right up to his death. Many are gifts from famous anglers, with personal dedications. There are even some of the plugs and lures used to illustrate Mr Crabtree. For those who grew up on his classic book, this is the stuff of dreams.

Though Venables' rare fly cabinet, made by Hardy's, is expected to sell for around £4,000, auctioneer Neil Freeman said that he had divided the items up so people would have the chance to buy the smaller lots for under £100. There may be a singular lack of underpants, but then a cased fish or a small set of floats looks rather more attractive on the wall.

The sale takes place at Chiswick Town Hall, London W4, on 27 September. Catalogues from Angling Auctions: 0208 749 4175, email: anglingauctions@demon.co.uk

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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