HIS quirky calling cards keeping alive the memory of 1950s opera star Mario Lanza have baffled Black Country folk for more than half a century.
Cards, beermats and even pieces of cut-up cereal boxes, signed by mystery artist AJW – aka the Ghostwriter, have been found in pubs, shops and once upon a time phone boxes across the region.
However – the face of the shadowy scribbler, who has proudly perfected his line drawings of the long dead opera singer over 50 years, has never been published.
Although he has granted a number of rare interviews to exclusive-hungry journalists over the decades – the elusive artist has evaded being pictured without one of his trademark masks and managed to keep his true identity to himself.
But on a quiet weekday afternoon, in a pub in Wordsley, the famed AJW took the bold step of finally unveiling the man behind the mask.
His twinkling blue eyes confirmed what I’d long suspected – that I had in fact already met the mysterious sketcher, without his mask, without realising.
Sporting a striking top hat with a peacock’s feather and a recently-grown beard, AJW - or ‘John' as he’s happy to admit being called – spoke candidly about a lifetime’s devotion to creating the unique urban artworks which have intrigued and delighted finders.
He also opened up his diary – charting his many card drops across the Black Country and beyond.
Recent ‘safaris’, as he calls them, have included trips further afield to Bewdley, Telford, Harborne, Sutton Coldfield and Shrewsbury, which he says is a “favourite haunt”.
All visits are meticulously documented in the Ghostwriter’s journal, with precise numbers of cards dished out noted down in his distinctive and orderly script, leaving no doubt the writer is the prolific artist responsible for the peculiar calling cards depicting the legendary Mario Lanza which fans have eagerly collected over the years.
Despite having distributed over three quarters of a million cards since 1959, he told the News: “I still get a kick out of it. Who else is doing something like this?”
Saturday is usually his busiest day for deliveries – and the dedicated doodler, who is now 73, said: “It’s very rare I miss a Saturday.”
But he concedes: “The only thing is my knees are going. I’m having to take painkillers."
Despite his advancing years – he remains determined to keep the phenomenon going.
The retired engineering worker vows he will never reveal all to the public but he has become increasingly extravagant with his clues about the real ‘John’ whom he says lived on Dudley’s Priory estate as a child before moving to Great Bridge when he was seven. He says as a teenager he went to Tipton’s Park Lane secondary school before finding work at engineering firms in Oldbury and on the Pensnett Trading Estate at Kingswinford.
He also claims to have been responsible, together with two others, for graffiti on a Netherton canal bridge that led to it being nicknamed the Astle Bridge - after West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff Astle. Likewise he says he and a pal were behind a series of black cat stencils that appeared on buildings around Stourbridge in 2011.
Whether these revelations are true, or merely alternative facts, we may never know.
Either way - the Ghostwriter is certainly doing his best to cement his self-declared status as “the most famous character in Birmingham and the Black Country’.