Noel Woodall coined the phrase Autonumerology in 1964 to put a name to his newfound interest in car registrations, thus making him the world’s first Autonumerologist. In the 40 years since, he has remained fascinated by personal number plates and probably knows more about them than anyone else. And on meeting him it is obvious that he also accumulated a myriad of amusing stories to illustrate the subject.
Noel was born (and named accordingly) on Christmas Day, 1930 in Oldhill, Staffordshire. His father was a photo-framer and his mother dealt in Art Deco objects and mirrors amongst other things. Noel recalls: “Our house was more like a shop in those days, perhaps that’s why, from the age of seven, I became involved in buying and selling.”
At the age of 17, Noel volunteered to join the RAF as an Air Crew Navigator and completed three years of happy service. When he left the RAF he worked for an early radio and TV retailers before forming his own company, Electraders, who specialised in erecting aerials. He continued running the business until his move to Blackpool in 1961 where he worked for Currys, a company that is still around today.
Noel’s interest in number plates began in 1962, not long after moving to Blackpool. He was driving back to his home in the world-famous seaside resort one evening when he saw a car with the registration BB 4. It captured Noel’s imagination and he immediately thought, “That’s an interesting number plate, I wonder who owns the car?” He started asking around and his tenacity paid off when he discovered that a local bookmaker owned it. This was to be the beginning of Noel’s fascination with personal number plates. Interestingly, BB 4 eventually came into the possession of Regtransfers but, as with most quality registrations, was soon sold to a new proud owner from Kidderminster in 2004.
Noel went to the local library to see if there were any books on the subject but found to his dismay that there were none. Undeterred, he decided to put an advert in the RAF’s Air Mail magazine asking fellow members for information about mayoral and distinctive number plates. It worked and he received so much information that he decided to compile and publish it in a small book entitled Car Number Galaxy – Celebrities. It cost him £250, which was six months’ wages to Noel in those days.
It contained a fascinating list of registrations, the cars they were on, and who owned them at the time. Noel did his homework and included in the book’s forward a brief history of car registrations from 1903 on, plus a whole page on the history of A 1. The book also contained an index of registration letters and where the cars bearing them were first registered in the UK. The MP, Gerald Nabarro was featured heavily in this first issue as he owned NAB 1 through to NAB 5 (he eventually owned NAB 6 through to 10 as well). Other well-known registrations and their celebrity owners featured were, Arthur Askey (AA 10), Norman Wisdom (NW 4), George Formby (GF 1 and GF 2) and Harry Secombe (HS 92 ). A great many of the ‘number one’ registrations listed were on mayoral cars owned by local councils, eg: BK 1 (Portsmouth), FV 1 (Blackpool) and TR 1(Southampton).
Noel followed this with other small books entitled Veterans, ‘More Celebrities’ and the now very rare Cartoons edition illustrated by his good friend, Mr Fred Fawbert.
All these books were printed by Weaver & Youles Ltd, of St Annes-on-Sea, and the proceeds going to The Trueloves School for Seriously Crippled Boys’ in Essex. Since then he has compiled a total of 24 books on the subject of number plates, several of which were edited by his friend and colleague Brian Heaton. The most recent was published in 2000, entitled Car Numbers, and was the 11th edition to bear that name, the first being issued in 1969.
In 1962 many newspaper articles were written about number plates as a result of Noel’s books, the first recorded was Seeking Their Status by Car Numbers, by Rex North of the Daily Mirror on Friday, March 16th of that year. Noel’s fame and expertise were even employed by the MP, Gerald Nabarro for a while in the 1970s, who wanted him to arrange the transfer of car registrations. He eventually went back to buying and selling and opened his own shop offering high-quality chess, mahjong and backgammon sets. He finally gave it up to become secretary of the Hotel and Apartments Social Club in Blackpool. Noel is still there to this day and seems to be thoroughly enjoying it. The club is very successful, which isn’t surprising as it is one of the few clubs in Blackpool that don’t charge extra on celebrity cabaret nights – Tom O’Connor and Peter Kay being two recent acts.
Noel’s first purchase was of W 3. “These single-letter, single-digit plates are what I consider to be the best”, he exclaimed. His first-ever sale was CDM 1 (denoting Cadburys Dairy Milk) and was for an undisclosed sum. One strange fact that came to light whilst talking to Noel was that he admitted that he “never actually did a number plate transfer himself”, he just arranged it and took a commission. Mind you, he has owned a few over the years, the most fitting being XMA 5, the day he was born, which he eventually sold for £4,000.
Looking to the future, Noel doesn’t think he will compile any more books on his own and when asked for his opinion of the Regtransfers book, Fanatical about Number Plates, he replied, “It’s fantastic, beautiful and it must be carried on”.
Thanks for that, Noel. We will do our best.
© Regtransfers – The World of Personal Number Plates Volume 3 Issue 1
Afterword: Noel Woodall passed away in 2013. His contribution to autonumerology, the field he named and almost single-handedly defined, is unequalled. His books and the time and information he willingly shared with us were invaluable. Regtransfers owes Noel a debt of gratitude and we are sure that he will be missed by all personalised registrations enthusiasts.
© Regtransfers - The World of Personal Number Plates Volume 3 Issue 1