Tennis Girl dress to go up for sale in Stourbridge

Stourbridge News: Auctioneer Nicholas Davies with the famous Tennis Girl dress and racquet which will go under the hammer at Fieldings Auctioneers on July 5. Buy photo: 261492M Auctioneer Nicholas Davies with the famous Tennis Girl dress and racquet which will go under the hammer at Fieldings Auctioneers on July 5. Buy photo: 261492M

AN iconic piece of tennis memorabilia is set to go under the hammer at a Stourbridge auction house on Wimbledon ladies' finals day.

A handmade dress - featured in the famous Tennis Girl Athena poster - is being put up for sale by Fieldings Auctioneers on Saturday July 5.

Stourbridge snapper Martin Elliot took the memorable shot, which shows a female tennis player hitching up her skirt, in the summer of 1976 on a Birmingham University tennis court.

He sold the picture to poster chain Athena and it went on to become the highest selling poster image of all time, selling more than two million copies worldwide and inspiring numerous imitations over the years by stars including Kylie, Frank Skinner, Ricky Gervais and Amanda Holden, who was recently photographed in her tennis whites.

The original Tennis Girl, whose face was never shown, was Fiona Butler (now Walker) - the photographer’s then girlfriend who hadn't played tennis before and who borrowed the clothes and racquet from her friend Carol Knotts, who made the dress.

Carol, now a barrister, said: “I used to get a monthly allowance from my parents and in order to make it stretch that little bit further, I made my own clothes.

"As I played tennis at the local club in Stourbridge, I bought a ‘Simplicity’ pattern and made my own dress, complete with lace trim.

“Fiona was a friend and one day asked if she could borrow my dress and racquet. When she returned them, she gave me a big box of chocolates as a thank you.

“I’ve had the dress tucked away in a cupboard for all those years. It’s a little piece of tennis history and I hope someone might find it an interesting novelty item to buy.”

The dress, racquet and two posters are expected to sell for between £1,000 and £2,000.

Nick Davies, director at Fieldings Auctioneers, said: “There’s a generation of people who will remember this poster very well, so it’s a good time to put it up for auction.

"This is the most famous tennis dress of all time yet it has never graced Centre Court.

"But it’s a piece of tennis memorabilia which we are sure will create plenty of interest – especially on Wimbledon ladies’ finals day."

Martin Elliot was an unknown 29-year-old commercial photographer when he took the shot that made him famous.

He split with girlfriend Fiona in 1979 and she was reportedly never officially paid for the photo shoot but Elliot, who died in 2010, aged 63, was quoted as saying he "looked after her”.

Fiona went on to marry Ian Walker, a director of a string of companies, and is now 55 and living in Worcestershire.

The dress and other lots in the sale can be viewed at Fieldings in Mill Race Lane between 10am and 4pm on Thursday July 3 and 10am and 8pm on Friday July 4 ahead of the auction which starts at 10am the following day.

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