Gems and Junk by Trevor Plumbly
After the opening credits, the cameras focus on the inevitable queues of supplicants clutching bags or cradling boxes; the atmosphere is buzzing rather than electric – ‘Antiques Roadshow’ doesn’t really do electric. The crowd chatters away happily, and the whole thing seems more like the opening of a church fair rather than the precursor to high drama. There will be winners and losers of course, but the ‘Roadshow’ is a benign form of reality TV and all will react to the experts’ judgment with a British gentility that does them credit. Without any major changes to its basic format, this show astonishingly still pulls the crowds on and off screen after God knows how many years. Previous presenters have always been venerable broadcasters, introducing the experts in well-modulated tones, as if in deference to their knowledge and power. Times change though and the latest frontperson is a surprisingly young and somewhat chirpy young woman. Her approach is matey; more ‘tour bus guide’ than ‘royal funeral’ and you get the impression that you’re ‘popping in’ to join the chat rather than rather than being allowed to hear the utterances of the cognoscenti.
‘Let’s go over and see what Carol’s got for us today’, the presenter trills and off we go to find Carol (name changed) seated at a table with an elderly gentleman surrounded by lead soldiers. Carol is British in a sort of Pringle Cardigan and Golden Labrador way and speaks in slightly clipped tones, but despite that, she has warmth, coupled with a depth of knowledge that people respond to: her speciality areas are toys, dolls and fabrics. She scans the miniature battlefield on the table before gently selecting a few to illustrate her pitch. She’s an absolute natural, leading the old boy through the history of the collection, extolling the virtues of original boxes and the absence of ‘playwear’ and the relative difference in quality of the various manufacturers. In the space of a couple of minutes she’s got me and the punter transfixed, he departs with a smile and a hefty valuation while I sit staring at the screen wondering what I found so fascinating about toy soldiers. Next up is a lady cradling an antique doll; effortlessly Carol changes persona, morphing into the maternal, gently brushing the doll’s hair to one side and adjusting her dress with the same absent minded fussiness a mother might use with an unkempt child. The pitch this time is softer but no less thorough, again condition is paramount as is the reputation of the maker; this one it appears ticks all the right boxes and another happy punter drifts off into TV sunset muttering, ‘Of course, I’ll never sell it!’ I award Carol a score of 7 out of 10.
As the cameras weave through chattering lines of those awaiting enlightenment, it strikes me as amazing that in these days of instant information, people choose to queue to hear from a live expert instead of relying on ‘Google’. We pause at the ‘Militaria’ expert’s table and that’s when I go to the loo: soldier stuff doesn’t really do it for me, the goodies must have belonged to someone who either caused misery or copped it. It just doesn’t seem like a happy place, so why go there? On my return, we’re with the art chap; there’s always room in this field for an old windbag, but cleverly they give us a guy that looks more like a senior county cricketer than an art expert. He dispenses his wisdom in the same neutral tone a doctor would use, without drama or sympathy, sprinkling his verdict with tips on condition and restoration. I give him 8 out of 10, a class act, hard to follow.
The Porcelain Man
He needs no introductory help from the presenter; legends don’t require adverts. He’s late 60s, tubby, slightly rumpled and fits everybody’s image of a favourite uncle with speech patterns to match. He effortlessly takes us through factories, marks and decorators, occasionally breaking his flow with comments like, ‘Isn’t that interesting?’ or ‘This is a jolly nice piece.’ A master performer, constantly at ease and a joy to watch and listen to, my score for him is: 10 out of 10…
This gem of a show is TV at its very best; my advice is: ‘Watch it and prepare to be charmed!’