Antiques Roadshow really is a valuable experience
Watching Antiques Roadshow is a sort of routine Sunday obligation isn't it? In Christendom at least, it's just one of the many things you do without question on the Sabbath.
You go to church; you cook and eat a large roast dinner; you then watch a Doris Day film; fall asleep in front of Songs of Praise and then wake up halfway through Antiques Roadshow just in time for the big reveal where that vase someone bought at a car boot sale for 50p is identified as being from the Ming Dynasty, valued at £1.3m. Everyone gasps.
Like buying sprouts that nobody eats at Christmas, you just do it without question. It's neither fun nor exciting.
But watching it actually being filmed before your eyes? That really is brilliant, as I found out last week when the whole shebang rolled into town, timed to coincide with the Queen's visit, for a special royal episode at Hillsborough Castle.
My brother and his girlfriend were also in Belfast at the time on holiday, so the three of us jumped on one of the platoon of courtesy buses and immediately the fun commenced.
Perhaps I ought to mention that my brother — the eminent and respectable GP, Dr John Burscough of Brigg, Humberside — also happens to be a complete and utter English eccentric when he's on a day off. So naturally he was dressed as such in a white linen suit (with a Joe 90 badge on the lapel), a vivid multicoloured Hawaiian shirt and a straw boater with a vivid multi-coloured hat-band.
Fortunately, as we hadn't brought anything to be valued we were able to skip the queue of participants — mostly pensioners, all clutching their heirlooms of all shapes and sizes in carrier bags — which stretched the entire length of the grand entrance and then snaked around the grounds.
It was raining but there was a distinct sense of excitement and anticipation in the air, especially when Fiona Bruce strode past purposefully, followed by production assistants with umbrellas, clipboards and walkie-talkies.
And so on to the experts. The first one we encountered was the Pictures and Prints guy Dendy Easton, who was posing for the cameras alongside three very posh-looking oil paintings in large cumbersome gilt frames while their ecstatic owner looked on. As the cameras rolled, he asked them to explain the family connection.
“This was my great, great, great grandfather. He was a wealthy land-owner in the 19th century and was terribly eccentric as he never wore shoes. They called him the Barefoot Baron ...”
As her story continued I was distracted by the sight of my own eccentric relation, John, who had positioned himself directly behind the paintings so that he would clearly appear on camera.
That was all very interesting but there were so much more to take in — antiques as far as the eye could see — so we moved on to where the next camera crew were setting up. Snippets of disconnected dialogue all mingled, like you were turning the dial on a transistor radio:
“Ahh ... I see ... well, although there's no actual monetary value per se, this fake gold bracelet is surely priceless in terms of sentimental value ... Good lord! What a wonderful person your great aunt's next door neighbour was ...! Ooooh dear, you paid how much for this at auction ...? If only you hadn't varnished it with Ronseal Woodstain, this table might have been worth a small fortune ... “
It was clear to see that a lot of people would be leaving there disappointed as their heirlooms were dismissed as fake, damaged or worthless, even though they were being told in the nicest possible way.
Next up, Bunny Campione (who looked and spoke like Lady Penelope) admired a Steiff teddybear which had been set on a plinth like a Roman statue.
“Well he is really lovely — and so well preserved! May I ask how long you've had him?”
“Well he was a gift for my daughter's christening”
“Oh how lovely! And how old is your daughter now?”
“Oh ... I see ... so it's not actually an antique then? CUT!”
Again, I was distracted by the sight of my brother in his distinctive boater hat, standing directly behind Bunny and her teddy, in full view of the cameras and nodding sagely, like he knew something about antiques.
From there to the young and dashing ceramics expert Will Farmer, who was admiring a beautiful statuette of a ballerina as the cameras rolled.
“Well, this beautiful lady was part of a series called Starlight created in 1923 by the art deco master Dimitri Chiparus. He was born in Romania but went to Paris where he became one of the greatest and most popular sculptors of the era ...”
“Yes, yes ...?” Everybody waited impatiently for the big reveal: its value.
“She really is a work of art, patinated, enamelled and gilt-bronzed on an onyx plinth which was so typical of the jazz age and went on to exemplify the fashions of pre-war Europe ...”
“Yes? Yes? How much, then? Nice little earner is she?” We joked from behind the scenes.
“Current market value? Well if I were you, I'd have her insured in the region of £25,000.”
Everyone gasped. This is what we had come for, to hear an Antiques Roadshow success story and to react accordingly for the cameras.
Apparently it's to be screened in the autumn, possibly mid-October. Look out for my brother John. You can't miss him. He's in every shot.