“It’s just a hobby, no different to collecting stamps, really. Only with naked pictures,” explains Harry Buffage at the opening of the twelfth annual Nude Collectors’ Fair at the Town Hall, Maidenhead. “I mean, we wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that there was anything weird or sleazy about it.” The fifty-five year old local government officer is the owner of one of the largest nude celebrity photo collections in the UK, and is hoping to add to it at this year’s Fair. “I’ve heard there’s a fellow from Amsterdam attending who has a couple of candid shots of Bela Lugosi’s bottom, which he might be willing to part with for the right price,” he enthuses, his cherubic features breaking into a smile at the thought of completing his collection of old time horror stars nudie pics. “They were snatched during the filming of Son of Frankenstein in 1939, when he mooned at Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone as a prank!” But what is the attraction of collecting such material, particularly in an age when all manner of celebrity nudity is freely available on line? Buffage insists that he and his ilk are, in essence, no different to any other celebrity fans, except that whereas most fans confine themselves to collecting innocuous memorabilia such as posters, mugs and signed photographs, they prefer pictures of their idols in the buff. “It’s all about rarity value – most memorabilia is mass produced, genuine nude pictures of most legitimate stars are notoriously difficult to obtain,” he reasons. “That’s why the serious nude collector isn’t interested in those websites claiming to show naked pictures of celebrities – they’re usually of low calibre porn performers, or simply fakes. Our natural hunting grounds are back issues of obscure scandal magazines, and sales of private film memorabilia collections.” An expert on the phenomenon, Dr Adey Conn of the South Hertfordshire Institute of Tertiary Education, has a somewhat different explanation for the allure of these photographs: “Seeing stars naked strips them of their mystique, revealing that they are simply ordinary human beings and thereby reassuring the average person that they themselves are not somehow inadequate because they lack celebrity status”. Nude memorabilia trader John Wipplox has an even more straightforward explanation. “They’re well horny. I mean, who wouldn’t want the chance to have a picture of Sandra Bullock with her knockers out, or know for sure just how big Arnold Schwarzenegger’s knob is?” says the thirty-nine year old former factory worker, who will be attending the Collectors’ Fair with his trade stand. “All I know is that pictures of women celebrities with their norks and fannies are worth more than ones where they just have their norks out – and the more innocent and virginal their public image, the more sought after they are! Trust me, only weirdoes are interested in the likes of Cary Grant with his whang out.”

Buffage is understandably unhappy with Wipplox’s assessment of his hobby, feeling that it simply reinforces the popular image perpetrated by the media of nude collectors as being sad, lonely perverts. “We’ve spent years working to shake off such lazy stereotypes,” he says, his brow furrowed with consternation. “For years we had to work illicitly, our public image was so bad, operating a virtual black market in nudie pics. We only became legitimate when, shortly before his death, the late Radio One DJ Alan Freeman revealed that he had a modest collection of glam rock-themed nude pictures. Sadly, one of the drawbacks of being able to pursue our hobby openly is that it now attracts the likes of Wipplox; traders motivated only by profit, with no appreciation of the finer points of nude hunting!” Buffage is adamant that he and his fellow enthusiasts are serious collectors, with many specialising in particular types of nude celebrity memorabilia; some collect photos of one particular star, whilst others concentrate on particular movie genres. “A friend of mine spent nearly thirty years collecting a complete set of nude photos of the original Magnificent Seven, for instance. Charles Bronson was the most difficult to obtain,” says Buffage. “Whilst there were known to be a couple of shots of his bare arse snapped by a tourist when he mooned at Richard Attenborough during The Great Escape, for many years it was believed that no full-frontal pictures of Bronson existed. Eventually my mate heard of an illicit picture taken by a technician during the shooting of The Dirty Dozen. He ended up paying £3,000 for the picture and the negatives – a real bargain!” Buffage’s own interest in the hobby was originally sparked by the nude trading card series issued in the 1960s and 1970s. Similar to bubble-gum cards such as the Topps ‘Mars Attacks’ series, these were given away with certain magazines. “You usually got five in a pack”, says Buffage. “They built up into complete themed collections of 20-30 cards. You could buy albums to mount them in – collectors would often swap duplicates for rarer cards to complete their collections”. Whilst the themes were many and varied, each card would depict – in lurid colour – an artist’s impression of a famous actor in the buff. “Before they were forced to withdraw them under the threat of legal action, the Merkin company used to produce their own versions of Disney movies,” reveals Buffage. “Surviving sets are very valuable. Even some individual cards can command high prices. Card number 6 from the Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang set, which apparently shows Dick Van Dyke living up to his name, is nowadays worth in excess of £5,000.”

Such cards figure prominently at this year’s Collectors’ Fair, with a complete set of the Corybungo Corporation’s notorious photo card series ‘Slapstick Capers’ (including card 9 depicting all three Stooges naked, with Moe poking Curly in the eye with his dick), up for auction. “Those photo cards are incredibly rare, they used actual photographs of the actors, often taken before they became famous, or bought from unscrupulous friends and acquaintances,” says Wipplox. “Last year I sold a complete ‘Private Dicks’ set, featuring nude pictures of famous cinematic detectives, including Humphrey Bogart and James Garner, for a couple of grand, and that’s one of the commoner series. This year I’ve got a genuine card 44 – ‘Jesus Gets a Rise Out of Lazarus’ – from the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ set. That one was banned and should be worth a fortune!” Dr Adey Conn is also looking forward to the Fair, hoping to gather material for a forthcoming academic paper. “This really is a fascinating phenomena, its not just confined to collecting pictures, I’m hoping to meet a French collector who has a complete set of life-size anatomically correct blow-up rubber dolls of the Osmonds. Apparently they were produced by a Korean company in 1977,” enthuses the lecturer, who admits he has been bitten by the nude hunting bug himself. “I’ve been dabbling with the Corybungo Rock and Roll cards; I’ve got all of the 1974 ‘Rock Hard’ series except for the notorious card 21 which is said to show Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore strumming his guitar with his dick. Its believed that only thirty were printed and that less than ten now survive!” Whatever form it takes, nude memorabilia is clearly now big business. At last year’s Fair a picture of diminutive It Ain’t Half Hot Mum star Don Estelle with his topee on and cobblers out, fetched £10,000 at auction from a mystery collector (rumoured to be DJ Chris Evans). So, search that attic for nude photos – if it’s Ritchie Blackmore and his Stratocaster it could be worth a fortune. If it’s just your Uncle Arnold with his knob out – then it’s just gross indecency (or maybe £20 not to show it to Auntie Edie).