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AFC 1 is owned by Arsenal FC, JOK 1E by ex-EastEnders star Mike Reid and FU 2 by circus boss Billy Smart.

The number plate is 100 years old today and what started as a simple means of identification can often be a status symbol worth thousands of pounds.

The Motor Act of 1903 made it compulsory for all vehicles to carry number plates. But as early as 1681, carts in London had to have a number on a brass plate.

Obsession ... love affair with number
plates started 100 years ago today

A century ago, Earl Russell queued all night outside the vehicle registration office in London to secure the first number plate, A1.

That year, 17,000 vehicles were registered — last year it was 29.7million.

Since the Government relaxed the rules in the Thirties to allow personalised plates, more than £1billion has been spent on them.

... original and best

And since 1989, the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency has sold £688million worth of them.

The first person to take advantage of the new rules was music hall star Harry Tate, who bought T8. It is now owned by Johnny Tate of the Tate & Lyle sugar company.

Britain is the only country, apart from America to allow jokey and punning plates. They have now become such a must-have for some motorists that they are often worth more than the car they are on.

... but the engine rarely is

The most expensive number plate ever bought in the UK is K1 NGS, sold for £235,000 to a mystery buyer at auction in December 1993.

Some plates have become almost as famous as the owners. COM 1C which belongs to Jimmy Tarbuck, is the envy of every comedian in the UK.

Even royalty have been bitten by the number plate bug, the Queen owns A 7 and Princess Anne used to have 1 ANN before giving it up for security reasons.

... we like to boldly go places

Finding the perfect plate has become a favourite pastime of British motoring fans.

Plates are now used for everything from promoting businesses to describing the driver’s personality.

British female flyweight boxing champion Cathy “The Bitch” Brown has B17CH X, while Billy Smart’s FU 2 was, perhaps more appropriately, once owned by Seventies soft porn star Fiona Richmond.

... suitable for a psychiatrist

The growth of personalised name plates is ironic as the original — rejected — suggestion in 1903 was that cars should be given names, as ships are.

People try all sorts of tricks to personalise their plates, such as putting black screws between 11 to create an H and shaving the tops off numbers.

But the rule is: If it needs explaining, it ain’t worth the effort.

... this must run on crude oil

And with millions of new number plates still in reserve, it looks like our fascination with them could continue for another century.

Here are some of the most famous personalised plates you will see on the road — and a few you won’t.

  • 7 0NY and CHE 21E are available but the Prime Minister and his wife are unlikely to buy them for security reasons.

... a very Pope-ular plate

  • VIP 1 was originally issued for the Pope’s visit to Ireland.
  • MG 1 is the most expensive number plate for sale today at £275,000. But if you could afford it, would you be driving an MG?
  • J1 HAD (jihad is the Muslim name for Holy War) was banned as soon as the J Registration came out in 1991.

... her sister Holly wants one

  • Barry Fry, the extrovert manager of Peterborough FC which is nicknamed The Posh, bought POS 11 and says it is now available for offers.

    But David Beckham won’t be buying it for Posh Spice. They already have the plates W77 DVB and D7 DVB.
  • The DVLA has issued lots of naughty plates, such as EA51 LAY and P9 RNO, but will not allow ones with the letters SEX. However 5 EXY did slip through the censor’s net, along with PEN 15.

... bet this goes like a rocket

The perfect plate for Harry Potter fans has to be POT 73R available at £15,000.

  • Fitness club owner Sean Phillips brought BRA 5H because he says, he is a “brash American”.
  • 8 OND was sold to a James Bond fan who collects 007 memorabilia.

... Will Young may like this

  • S8 0RRY was sold to Robbie Williams to put on a new Ferrari. “Sorry” was a message to his fans for spending so much money on a car.
  • Hertfordshire fireman Mark Skeggs has the plate F14 MES on his red Ferrari.
  • Kent meat importer Alan Burke bought 0RG 45M — but wife Sue refused to be get in his car.

... no drinking and driving

  • Patrick Clacy runs a bed business and his van is CO51 BED.
  • Haggis maker David Hall, from Dumfries, paid £18,000 for HAG 1S.

    A Porsche with the plate PAR 72 is often seen at Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey.
  • And golf commentator Peter Alliss, whose playing career was ended by his poor putting, has the number PUT 3 on his Rolls Royce.