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The Newcastle auctioneers suddenly found themselves holding a collection of 16 photographs and a spirit flask from Stan Laurel's nephew. Their existence was unknown to all but a few of Mr Woods' friends and a handful of Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts.

Huntly Jefferson Woods, who lives in Blyth, Northumberland, is the comedy legend's only surviving male relative in the UK.

The photographs which he brought with him showed his famous Uncle Stan in the different stages of his life, from his boyhood in the 1890s to his final years in 1960s.

"They comprise a unique archive of images of one of the world's best loved comics," said John Anderson, "and a man who never forgot his family in Britain."

Anderson & Garland have auctioned several autographed photographs of Laurel and Hardy over the years, but this collection far exceeded anything they had previously sold.

The sale generated the most interest they have had for more than a decade and, despite bringing in extra staff and supplying additional phone lines, they still had to refuse bidders.

On July 1, in a saleroom which Anderson described as "absolutely heaving", the 17 lots yielded a hammer total of £20,460.

"All lots were bought by collectors and enthusiasts," said Anderson. "We had interest from all over the world, but, in the end, every lot fell to a UK buyer."

Representatives from the Laurel and Hardy Museum at Ulverston, the Lancashire town where Stan Laurel was born in 1890, were in the room and bought a collection of photographs and documents, offered as one lot, for £1550. They included an informal photograph of Stan at the Savoy in 1948.

The 'Deputy Sheik' of the Laurel and Hardy 'Sons of the Desert' fan club was also bidding heavily, while Universal Studios, who have recently released the DVD boxed set of Laurel and Hardy films, were represented by the editor of the Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia - they bought four lots.

A rare early photograph of Stan as boy, dressed up for a pageant organised by his father in North Shields, with a horse in the foreground and an inscription by Stan on the reverse, sold for £780. The highest price was for a spirit flask given to Stan's father that was later passed on to Stan, which made £2100. It bore the inscription To Uncle Jeff from a few pals of the Eden, April 29th 1925, Bishop Auckland. The Eden was a theatre in County Durham where his father, Arthur Jefferson, was manager. The 'Uncle Jeff' refers to his nickname. A second inscription appears under it: To my dear son, Stan, from Dad, Aug: 1932.

Stan Laurel emigrated to America in 1910 after beginning his career as a comedian in English music halls. He changed his surname from Jefferson to Laurel in 1917 for professional reasons and met Oliver Hardy in 1926 while working for Hal Roach's studio in California. A photograph of Stan standing outside Roach's studio, inscribed to his father, made £1600.

Two photographs dedicated to Stan's sister Beatrice (the mother of Mr Woods, the vendor), one of Laurel and Hardy and one of Laurel on his own, made £1350 and £950 respectively.

A framed photograph of Stan in later life, shaking hands with his nephew, Mr Woods, made £580.

After the sale, Mr Woods, now 82, said he was astounded at the interest in the collection. "The interest has been outstanding and the prices we have achieved are beyond my wildest dreams," he said.

"It is sad the collection has been broken up, but it had to be taken out into the wider world for everyone to see."

He said he would always remember Stan as a family man.