I thought it was worth recording my visit to The Antiques Roadshow at BBC Caversham in June 2016 as it may help others in the future who want to know the mechanics of how it works when you arrive until you finally meet the expert who will appraise your item and importantly how long will you have to wait. The article also explains who the event is for and gives my opinion on how to get the most from your day.
If you don’t want to read this whole article then just skip to the Do’s & Don’ts.
Antiques Roadshow 2106 No.6 – BBC Caversham, Berkshire
Sunday, 26th June, 2016
I debated for a long time to go or not to go. On the plus side the event was taking place locally to me so not much hassle to get there. The BBC promise on the webiste that
“The event will be open from 9.30am and as long as you are in the queue by 4.30PM, you will get to meet our team of specialists for the appraisal of your items”
This all sounds good to me as I’m definitely not an early bird on Sunday mornings. On the down side this event is not for the collector. Antiquarians who have researched their precious things will probably know more than the so called ‘experts’. The experts are very good at having a general all round knowledge in their field but someone who has a collection of 300 Georgian corkscrews will probably know the market value of each item and be able to tell the experts more than they can tell him. I did have something to take that I didn’t know the value of – it was interesting but completely out of my field with value unknown. In the end I left the decision to the gods and said I would go if the sun was shining. If it rained then I’m staying home.
1:00pm Sunday …….sunny
Arrival – 1:40 PM
The AA have temporary signage up and there was a local one-way system in place to help ease traffic. Parking was free at the back of the main house on the lawn. I arrived at about 1:45 PM – Why miss my Sunday lunch I thought, no need to rush, they are open till four (I was wrong- rush!). On arrival it was very interesting to listen to people talking when leaving.. ‘well at least we got the right period’ was one comment I heard, ‘such bad dress sense’ was another. So where to go now I’m in? No signs but a white tent seems worth a try. It was not obvious where to go but the kind steward (more about them later) in the tent gave me the red Antiques Roadshow 24 page pamphlet and pointed me round the main house to the front gardens. There was a lot of people there but I was not expecting …..
The start of the queue at 1:40PM – I did not realise that I was in for a two hour wait.
The Queue – To the Desk
The queue…. ‘Is this the right place’ said I. Not wanting to spend twenty minutes in the wrong line like a lemon. ‘Yes this is the queue’ said the steward in a straw hat and a red sash parked at the end of the stopped people for just that reason. I’m proffered a quizzical look when I mention that there may be a half hour wait. Little did I know that this would turn out to be a vast under estimate. I would strongly suggest that you introduce yourself to those about you as soon as you get in the queue – you will be spending some time with them. The line snaked 80 meters up the gravel path, then the same distance back towards me, took a sharp left down the stone steps onto the lawn and snaked way over to the right behind the beds, reappeared and another long stretch up to a large contraption that looked like a cross between a gigantic micro-lite and the space ship that the alien built in the film ‘The Thing’. This was the aim of waiting; to get to the desk. Up some treadplate stairs is a table where they film interviews below is storage and the main desk. On the desk are several experts who take an initial look at your items and hand out cards for the correct ‘expert’ table. If you have brought several items you many get several tickets for different tables.
Anyway back to the line…. it took a while but it eventually dawns on me that we are perhaps not moving as fast as I would expect. A good description would be as fast as a tortoise crawling through cold treakle – I start to understand the odd look on that stewards face.
My estimate of the length of the line is 300 meters.
An hour later I’m just about back where I started.
So as expected most punters were middle age to elderly. Young people don’t have old things and have not yet collected or inherited house full of clutter. So mostly 40 to 70 age group but with plenty of kids running about and families out for the day.
The Expert Tables
Apart from the large desk / spacecraft there are perhaps twenty burgundy parasols with text on them ‘Collectibles’, ‘ Ceramics’,’ Jewelry’ etc scattered over the lawns. These canopy a wooden table and chairs where the experts reside. It’s all very informal. A steward guards the front of the queue and perhaps ten or so people wait for their turn. There are plenty of onlookers gathered round these tables and some tables are far more popular than others. No one watches the table named ‘Books & manuscripts’, but Andy McConnell’s glass table is three deep – he should have been on the stage. When I arrived he was talking about the band Kiss and Gene Simmons…. in relation to antique glass. Please note that you are free to wander round the tables and watch the appraisals and the filming – there are some rules such as no photography in view of the cameras – but you can read the booklet for this, you will have plenty of time in the queue.
Andy McConnell’s glass table is very popular, he’s an entertainer.
Dotted along the main queue and at all strategic points are the BBC stewards, it transpires that they are volunteers for the day. They all work at BBC Caversham and have offered their time to help out. Adorned in a straw boate and a dandy sash they have been here since before 9:00AM and are still friendly and helpful. I should point out that many of the Antiques Roadshow events are accessible where possible. Certainly there were several wheelchairs users about. There was a man who obviously could not have stood for two hours and the stewards spotted him and fast tracked him to the front, my assumption is that also happened to all the disabled. Well done BBC.
Those that are asked to have their items filmed have another wait, this time with chairs are provided!
BBC Food and Drink
There are toilets and food and drink stalls for the public. Be aware that I did overhear someone in passing exclaiming in a voice of pure consternation ‘a pound, for a Twix!’. He repeated it twice to his partner for dramatic effect. You get my drift, take your own food. These events are always held in grand stately homes now & the BBC worked out that it’s amazing advertising for the UK since it sells this show all over the world. I would suspect that it gains access free of charge, advertising is a wonderful thing and can open many doors.
I really suggest that if the weather is even moderate then take a Picnic!
Whilst one person remains in the queue the others can be scoffing victuals on the lawn; home made lemonade, Dairylea, Wagon Wheels etc it will make the time pass very quickly – employ the kids in running the odd cheese an pickle back to granny in the queue.
Nearing the end of the line, the desk on the left. I started up by the main house two hours before.
Finally! – 4:00PM
Trust me – the birth of your first child, your wedding day, these all pale in comparison to the sense of achievement in reaching the front of that queue.
A member of the public shuffles off from the desk clutching their newly acquired table tickets, the woman on the desk waves her had and the end steward ushers you forward. Finally! Have your goodies ready as they will want a quick gander at your Rembrandt or Sèvres tea set.
By the time I approached the table it was about 4:00PM – That was a two and a quarter hour wait. During the day there was at times only two persons on the main desk, typically three and by the end there was four, Fiona Bruce had joined I assume to try and speed up the process. Was it worth the two hour wait? Probably not. Someone said it would have been good if they put out those signs that say ‘Queue from this point – 1 hour’ etc, but I probably would have turned round and gone home if I knew what waited me when I arrived. No one enjoys waiting. In supermarkets they work to the rule of three people in front is about the maximum people are happy with. This queue was five hundred. In Columbia they have profession queuers, a fantastic idea that they should bring to the UK. It works like this; at large events and places like the passport office there are people who join the queue speculatively. They will then sell their place to you so your time can be spent gainfully round the corner in the nearest Starbucks, supping the bean flavored brown stuff mixed with milk or staring at your smartphone in comfort. They will even text you when they are near the front. When the time comes you pay them and they swap places with you …..what a great idea.
Anyway I digress, back to the story, I quickly unpack my goods, get my card and and off I go to the next table queue, the experts await.
The end of the line – the final steward and the desk.
My Appraisal – 4:30PM
I got my moneys worth, is that possible when it’s free?. I was passed from Eric then to Will on the Ceramics table then onto Mark Hill on Collectibles. All three were great at dealing with the public and very professional. Eric and Will admitted that they did not know what I had and passed me on to Mark as he recently wrote the book on post war Italian Cramics, Alla Moda: Italian Ceramics of the 1950s-70s.
For the initiate I believe I have a piece of ‘German Period’ pre-war Italian pottery, a fascinating period in ceramics art all but unknown in the UK and very little available in print or online. I have been told my piece is from MACS, (Manifattura Artistica Ceramica Salernitana) Vietri, circa 1940-47. MACS was formed when ICS (Industria Ceramica Salernitana) closed and it was Directed by the famous Guido Gambone, a star of Italian Ceramics know all over the world.
Unfortunately the American Salerno landings “Operation Avalanche” rolled right through the region in 1943, obliterating records and many collections. I had a very pleasant chat with Mark, I didn’t get all the answers I’m looking for but that is the way it goes with ceramics, it can take years to find out what you have or don’t have. We are still finding out about this period so I’m going to have to keep searching and asking.
One of the static filming areas.
In my opinion the BBC are not looking for collectors to being their items. In front of me on the ceramics table was a couple with a pair of gorgeous Tony Morris plates. Turns out they are collectors and bought them recently I think from Cottees. Value? Essentially what they paid for them. There is not really a story there for the BBC, man buys plate for £1000 takes to AR and it’s estimated at ….£1000. The show is for the great unknowing innocent public with their Victorian broach from granny who always said it was special, or the little chipped porcelain dog that has sat on the mantle peace for the last fifty years. Collectors know what they have. Why ask what it’s worth – you know what it’s worth. I always look at clothes of the owners of the items, those in jeans and a scruffy T-Shirt have not a clue as to what they have, on the other hand the lady with a new hairdo and outfit and carrying her best handbag probably knows her gilt jewel studded Indian tea set that her husband gave her in 1975 is something special.
Overall I greatly enjoyed my day out. If they had told me it would have taken nearly three hours wait then the likelihood is that I would not have gone. In the BBC documentation they do skip over this a bit. I honestly can’t remember the last time I stood and waited that long for anything. must be ten or twenty years ago and it would not have been planned (traffic jam? airport cancelled flight?). We all expect things to happen instantly in todays hasty society. You have been warned.
Friendly BBC cameraman.
Do go as a group – It can be a fun day out – Helpful to have someone to fetch and carry.
Remember only one person has to queue – others can watch the filming and the expert tables
Remember you can take a folding chair or stool
Do take coats – you can always leave them in the car if needed.
Do take food and drink and consider taking a picnic
Be prepared for a long wait of several hours.
Do get there early – I believe queues are shorter in the morning.
Thank the experts for their time and the helpful stewards
Enjoy it it’s free!
Do not take lots of items two or three is enough
Do not expect a high valuation, go with an open mind.
Don’t expect your items to be filmed – Even if it’s extremely rare and unusual they may have filmed one in the last five or six years, if so they won’t film yours, not not good TV.
Do not expect the sun to shine. This is the UK it may be windy, cold and raining.