Taking their own road...
PUBLISHED: 17:13 02 April 2008 | UPDATED: 17:18 16 August 2010
MOST of us have spent Sunday afternoons watching the Antiques Roadshow wondering if any of the experts have ever dropped a priceless piece of porcelain or sneezed over a
MOST of us have spent Sunday afternoons watching the Antiques Roadshow wondering if any of the experts have ever dropped a priceless piece of porcelain or sneezed over a long lost Turner oil painting.
Now, thanks to two of the programme's most recognisable faces touring the country as part of a tell-all stage show, we can find out.
Antiques supremo Hilary Kay has teamed up with fellow expert Paul Atterby for Have You Had It Long, Madam? - a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings of the long-running TV programme.
After giving talks on the programme independently for several years the duo decided to join forces and brought the show to England last year after a successful trial in Australia.
"Between the two of us we have been on the show for about 50 years and lots of things have happened over that time," said Kay. "It's about telling the audience what they don't see: what happens when the cameras aren't running, what the British public get up to, what the experts get up to and so on."
The show is a multimedia affair made up of video clips of outtakes, bloopers and some of the show's most interesting items recorded over its long history interspersed with anecdotes from the two experts. It finishes up with an audience question and answer session and Kay says she is constantly surprised by the kind of things she gets asked.
"The people write the questions down before the show," she continued. "When we went to Glasgow they all wanted to ask the same question - which we had never had before - which was: 'Do fights ever break out because people don't like the level of their valuations?' We asked the audience why they had asked that and somebody from the back said: 'Because it's Glasgow.' If the Roadshow should go to Glasgow then at least now we will know what to expect."
Kay became interested in antiques at an early age and joined the famous London auction house Sotheby's in 1977, aged just 20. She was appointed head of an expert department just one year later and went on to become their youngest ever auctioneer. She joined the Antiques Roadshow in 1979 and despite being in the business more than 30 years, she remains politely modest about her vast knowledge.
"I got the bug when I was ten or so," she said. "My Grandfather had a Victorian microscope which I loved and whenever I went to his house I'd get it out and play with it. I actually don't call myself an antiques expert. I know about all sorts of interesting stuff like scientific instruments, toys and textiles and gramophones but very little about what you would call conventional antiques. If somebody put a great bit of porcelain in front of me and asked me to tell them what it was I'd have a stab at it but it's not my strong point. It's a bit like asking a dentist to take out your appendix."
Even after years on the show the expert says she never tires of unearthing the country's hidden antique gems which have been tucked away from sight for decades in attics and cupboards, admitting she still gets the tingles when she spots an interesting item.
"It's hugely exhausting because we are seeing perhaps 10 or 15,000 objects in a day but it's that moment of discovery that keeps you coming back for more," she added. "You get hooked on it like a drug really. The adrenaline rush when you find something fantastic coming out of a plastic bag is the most delicious feeling. It's those moments when you discover something fabulous or unearth a fantastic story that keeps you coming back."
There is, however, one downside to the show - delivering bad news.
"You have to deal with it incredibly sensibly," she said. "Paul says that it's a bit like being a mix between a priest and a doctor. You have to be able to deliver bad news in a sensitive way. If you consider that we see thousands of objects a day and we film about 50, you can imagine how much bad news we deliver to a lot of people. You get to know how to say things without upsetting people or destroying their dreams but it's tough. Particularly if somebody has really been taken for a ride and they don't have a receipt or proof of what it was described as. People really are stymied there's nothing they can do but learn from the experience."
* Have You Had It Long, Madam? Comes to the Fairfield Halls, Croyden next Thursday (April 10). For tickets call the box office on 020 8688 9291.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bromley Times. Click the link in the orange box below for details.