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What's in a name?
The Barnet FC programme for the sell-out pre-season game against Arsenal announced that the PR consultant to the board was Dennis SLIGNY.
I guess that's better than the payment I received from a long forgotten Sunday newspaper being addressed to Dennis STINGY. Or the pass to get into the Chicago Press Club when I was in the Windy City in 1964 with Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and the rest of the West Ham United team ... Dennis STICKEY.
Signy or SIGNEY .. it's about 50-50. Dennis or DENIS ... about the same.
I've had this identity crisis since the day I had my medical for the Army at Southall in the 1940s.
"A2, flat feet", announced the doctor. "No good for the infantry then", I ventured.
The doc then sent me to sit on a bench to await an interview that would decide which branch of the Service I would be most suitable for.
I was eventually summoned into a room to be confronted by a portly officer I swear must have modelled for Colonel Blimp. His pock-marked well rounded face propped on a massive sized neck suggested that his primary diet over the years might have been pink gins.
"Come in SEENEY", he said.
"Signy", I corrected.
"Says SEENEY here", he countered, peering through half closed eyes at a document on the table.
"Signy", I protested. "Hard 'g'".
"SEENEY", he persisted. "From the French ... know it well".
I explained that the derivation was Russian rather than French and he picked up a pen and started writing at the top of the document. I peered at it upside down and saw he had written "British Russian".
"No, no", I protested. "Born in London ... English ... British", He glowered back. "If you've got Russian blood in you you're British Russian".
To the best of my knowledge the tag stayed. I was just glad the Russians were on our side at the time.
Getting people's names right was one of the things drummed into me as a young journalist. Being a crematorium reporter helped.
Crematorium reporter? In those far-off days the Times staff used to be correspondents for all the national papers. And we would be dispatched once or twice a week to cover funerals at Golders Green Crematorium for The Times and Daily Telegraph at a guinea a time (shared between the editorial staff).
You'd get a list of family mourners from the undertakers and scurry around the courtyard collecting the names of everyone attending - then stand by the doors as they went in. Double check if in doubt, we were told. Spell them out.
I asked this tall distinguished gent his name for the Telegraph. "Lord Camrose", he replied. "Are you representing anyone", I asked.
"I am the owner of the Telegraph", he said. Oops!
I can remember a reporter named Peter Williams stopping the owner of the Hendon Times - "Oh", he said. "J.H.B. Warden. You're my governor".
The biggest funeral I ever attended was that of the musical star Ivor Novello. Fred Harris and I scrambled to get as many of the hundreds of names as possible - a process slowed down by Fred racing across and pointing out all the star names in attendance.
The smallest was that of a brigadier general, whose funeral attracted a handful of family mourners and eight others. I decided to make up the numbers and included myself. That's how Sergeant Signy (correctly spelt) appeared among the top brass in The Times the next day.
The National Union of Journalists North London representative, who worked on the Barnet Press, must have read the paper from cover to cover ... he spotted me among the military hoi-polloi and lodged an official complaint When we moved home a year ago I came across a piece I wrote for the Inky Way annual, a Fleet Street publication, in the 1940s. This is it:-- "One of my first assignments as a raw unwordly junior of 16 was to go to Golders Green Crematorium to cover a 'big' funeral. Get all the names, were the office instructions.
Notebook in hand, I arrived in good time to meet all early mourners.
But somebody had beaten me to it. An attendant told me 'There's chap with a beard waiting in the chapel'.
I crept silently to the side of the bearded gentlemen. He was gazing pensively at his fingertips. 'May I have your name please', I whispered.
I brandished my notebook and pencil to show I was somebody who should be asking. The reply shook the four walls of the chapel. "My boy, I am the Governor of the Bank of England".
I remembered the office instructions. Don't forget initials, they had said.
I nodded my head. "May I have your full name, please", I asked, The man with the beard stared hard for a few minutes. Then, leaning forward confidentially, he answered in tones as hushed as mine.
'My boy, please put me down as Sir Montagu Norman'. As I turned gratefully away, he tapped me on the shoulder. 'No e on the Montagu'
Footnote: Signy Island in Antarctica is nothing to do with me. But 'Colonel Blimp' knew his stuff .. you can buy packets of D'Isigny sweets and butter in France. Magnifique.