A public spat between the chef Gordon Ramsay and his father-in-law has revealed that it’s not always the celebrity himself that signs memorabilia for his fans. Or indeed legal documents.

The signature

The case concerned a lease of pub premises in London entered into by the Ramsay group of companies. The lease contained a personal guarantee of £1.2 million from Gordon Ramsay. An original ‘wet ink’ signature of the chef appeared three times on the document: once for each of the two group companies involved and once in his personal capacity in respect of the guarantee. But the pen that made those signatures was not held by the hand of Gordon Ramsay himself but was actually held by a ‘signature writing machine’, operated at the direction of the chef’s father-in-law.

The machine

The machine was a mysterious sounding ‘Ghostwriter Manual Feed Signature Machine’. It was operated by entering a number code, inserting a signature card and fitting a pen. The machine would then use the pen to write onto a relevant document a signature matching that on the signature card.

It was accepted as part of the case that it was not necessary for Ramsay to sign the lease with the pen in his own hand. If he had operated the machine himself to place his signature on the deed, then it would have been effectively signed by him. But he was a busy man, often out of the country, and so authorised others to operate the machine on his behalf. Again, it was agreed that if he had expressly authorised someone to use the machine to place his signature on the lease, then it would be validly signed by him. The issue in this case was whether or not the person operating the machine had exceeded their authority in using it to commit the chef to a personal guarantee.

Delegation of authority

The court was told that Ramsay’s father-in-law had handled all his business affairs for many years, dealing not only with the corporate business but also personal contracts in relation to television shows, public appearances, publishing deals and sponsorship arrangements. The chef told his father-in-law “I don’t have a strong business acumen: look after me”. Whilst they spoke several times a day, Ramsay placed complete trust in his father-in-law who did not routinely explain to him the detail of all the transactions he handled on his behalf. The father-in-law clearly had extensive authority to act on behalf of Ramsay and the judge held that he was acting within that authority when committing the chef to the personal guarantee in the lease.

The second machine

It was revealed as part of the case that there were actually two signature machines at Ramsay HQ. One was in the 5th floor offices where the father-in-law worked. That machine, which used a signature card bearing Gordon Ramsay’s full signature and a fine-knibbed pen, was apparently used for signing legal documents and cheques.

But there was a second machine down in the basement, fitted with a signature card bearing just the name ‘Gordon’, which used a felt tip pen. That machine appears to have been used to sign photos and books handed out, or sold, to fans of the chef. Will we see a flood of these appearing on eBay now fans know the signature is actually that of a machine?

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.