The Antiques Roadshow. Filming at the Spa, Scarborough. 03-05-12

Geoffery Munn

BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow is about as British as it gets. It began in the 1970’s and it has been going strong ever since. The format doesn’t change and it is a very simple one. Members of the public turn up at a given location clutching their objects, good, bad, indifferent and spectacular hoping for a  “roadshow moment” in which they find out that the oddity which has been lurking unloved in the back of their garage, or bought for fifty pence at a car boot sale, is more interesting or valuable than they thought. It makes good reliable, unthreatening television and it has always been popular, as just about everyone has bric a brac in their homes which holds memories and associations. It is a show about antiques (and given the size of the industry which helps objects to make their way from one generation to another there are surprisingly few of those on television) but more than that it is a show about people and their stories. The objects are often emotional triggers, gateways to the past.

Fiona Bruce

Given that they have been making the programme for many years now you would expect that they have pretty much worked out how to do it and judging from my experience at the Spa in Scarborough they certainly have. There was a large Antiques Roadshow team, supplemented by local stewards from the venue and the hundreds of people who made their way through the Spa were shepherded with care and courtesy. I don’t say this lightly. It was a mindset which ran through the whole day and it shone out of everyone who was involved. Even the experts who often had to make their way through the crowds to consult each other never once failed to say excuse me as they slipped through a queue. When you are asking people to queue for what may be several hours if you have brought a ceramic item this is not a trivial point. It really matters. It is also an attitude which is catching. People who are treated well will respond with patience and goodwill to a situation which might otherwise be pretty grim. Happy people are good to be around. The Spa is a small venue for the kind of numbers who arrived so that made it even more vital here. Courtesy is not just oiling the wheels in a situation of this kind, it is the only thing which makes them turn.

Lars Tharp

The other thing which made it fun, rather than a tedious wait, was that there was always something to watch. Filming is happening right next to you as you wait and you could watch others having their moment with an expert at one of the small tables set among the crowds as they reached the head of their queue. Everybody was on first name terms with the experts after watching them for so long (Antiques Roadshow experts tend to hang around long enough to become institutions among its fans) and excited viewers were pointing their favourites out to each other across the room. Antiques Roadshow viewers all have their favourite experts and one of the pleasures of the day was the chance to observe their different characters as they worked and see how they approached what was a long, demanding day. Some, like Rupert Maas and Geoffery Munn were quiet, focussed and intense while others like Andy McConnell enjoyed performing to anyone who wanted to listen, drawing people in and sharing what they had to say beyond the individual person who the object belonged to. We had plenty of time to listen to Andy as we waited in the ceramics queue and the lady behind me finally declared, “he’s off his head on glass that one”. It was meant as a compliment and it showed the other main element of the shows appeal.

Andy McConnell

There are few things more beguiling than someone who has great knowledge of and enthusiasm for a subject. All the roadshow experts have that, and sometimes for the most surprising things. They may express it in different ways but it is always there and it is always a joy to listen to them. By the time that you have been among them for a few hours watching them in action you can’t help but be impressed by how untiring and focussed they are. There wasn’t a single expert who surprised me by being other than the way I had expected from watching on Sunday evenings. Not one. When they are faced with their greatest interest in life they can’t be anything but themselves. They also work as a team far more than you would imagine that they do, often leaving their posts to show each other things and compare notes.

Eric Knowles

It’s a long journey to reach your expert. It took me four hours. The reception is where your first queue will end. It has a group of people who work as a kind of clearing house to assess where you should be sent and I daresay let down gently those who may have brought something which really is of no interest whatsoever, but once you are through that hurdle you will have your chance. You are very unlikely indeed to be picked out for filming, but even if you are not you will get a proper “Roadshow moment” of your own with one of the experts. You will enjoy a real chat which is not rushed and be given some solid information. They know how long you have waited, so it does go back to that ethos of politeness but it is also because you are showing them something that they want to see. They will be interested and engaged.

Elaine Binning

My own “moment” was at one of the two ceramics tables with Lars Tharp. He is one of my favourites so this was a stroke of luck. When I got out my two Walton “toys,” a gardener and a lady gardener which were made around 1820, he immediately exclaimed “Oh! A little bit of England” My main concern, having bought them from the web judging only by photographs about ten years ago, was to back up my own judgement and check that they were genuine. He had no doubts that they were “right as rain” and liked them very much. He also asked me what my “most wanted” would be and I said an Obadiah Sherratt Lion. We both agreed that later Staffordshire is not a patch on the early pieces and I went on my way very happy. I just wish I had thought to tell him that I had repatriated one of the “little bits of England” from America!

Ian Pickford

It is a fascinating experience all round if you are a fan of the show, and one of the best opportunities to people watch that you could ever hope for. Be warned though……. Take food and drink and maybe something portable to sit on if you are older, and wear your comfiest shoes. You really do have to love queueing!

A Minton Peacock.

Minton made twelve of these peacocks in the 1870’s and only nine are known to survive. This example has been roosting in the Walker gallery in Liverpool since 1891. (One of the other survivors is very lucky still to be here, as it survived the shipwreck of the Loch Ard on its way to an exhibition in Sydney. It was washed up on the Australian coast almost undamaged in its crate a few days later.)  It is made from earthenware majolica and it was modelled in 1873 by Paul Comolera, a French sculptor who worked at Minton from 1873-76 after originally working in bronze. It was fired all in one piece, which makes it a major technical achievement as well as an artistic one, given that  it is about four feet tall. The lead glaze was painted directly onto the fine buff earthenware body, giving bright clear transparent colours. Majolica is the perfect medium to showcase a bird who is a strutting, glamorous show off and the thick coloured glossy glazes buzz with colour. This is a bravura piece, so far over the top that it has come down the other side and become something marvelous, a fine example of  the skill and ingenuity of Victorian craftsmen, and a perfect example of high Victorian taste. Never knowingly understated, the Victorians loved majolica. Much of it is rather too in your face for us today, but when they picked the right subject and let their best artists and craftsmen loose they were able to use it to amazing effect. What else could describe a peacock better, if you don’t have the real thing to hand? Naturally it is very valuable. One of its relatives sold for £102,000 at Bonhams back in 2002. It was made as a conservatory ornament and it would look wonderful sitting among some lush greenery with the sun coming through the glass windows and lighting up the glaze. It dominates the small gallery space that it is in, looking down disdainfully, effortlessly rendering all the other art work hanging on the walls around it invisible. You simply can’t look anywhere else when you are in its presence.

Silent witnesses.

On the mantelpiece near my computer there are two white Staffordshire pottery dogs. They are Victorian, made around 1880 and they are rather lumpy, lifeless objects. They stare rigidly ahead of them and, while they have nicely painted feathery red blotches on them, their fur is hard and cold, with no movement in it at all and they have harsh unforgiving faces. If I am truthful I don’t like them very much. So why are they there? They have a small value- I could sell them quite easily and buy something which I do like.

What makes it less simple is that those dogs have been sitting on a mantelpiece staring at me for longer than I am able to remember. They were bought new by my great grandparents before I was born and when the family took in an evacuee during the second world war she never forgot my great grandmothers fierce order never to touch them, given almost as soon as she walked through the door. There was no money in a farm labourer’s family for luxuries and buying them had been a major event, saved up for and relished.

Those dogs sat there, never moved from their position, watching just about every important event as I was growing up. They watched every meal, every celebration and every crisis. They would be hidden under the bed when we went away on holiday and dusted with a care that was never given to anything else. After I left home they would wait for me to come back and still be there, staring, as they shared my news alongside my parents. They would be the first thing that I would look for when I walked through the door and the fact that they were still there was a reassurance that, in spite of the changes which came and went over the years, home was still there. Some things didn’t change.

The mantelpiece they sat on for almost fifty years doesn’t even exist any more. There is a blank wall where it used to be and not even a shadow of them is left in their old position after the house was renovated by its new owner, but they still survive and stare blankly at their new surroundings in exactly the same way they always did. They don’t have pride of place any more, but they have a new mantle-piece and it fits them quite well. They are grumbled at rather than cherished these days, and life is quiet for them in the spare bedroom, but they seem to accept it with the same dumb insolence they showed to the people who loved them.

One day they will move on, to somebody who doesn’t know their history. Oh they will probably know the trivial stuff like when they were made, perhaps even which factory made them if a dealer gets hold of them, but not the important things. Not the things which those dogs have been an empty witness to over the years, or the thoughts of the people who cared about them. They will move on, but it won’t be any time soon. Putting up with them is a way for me to take possession of my past and pay respect to the people who made it. Come to think of it, they could do with a bit of a dust…………………..