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Old school: Why the British are obsessed with Antiques Roadshow

Richard Jinman

How much is my old chair worth? Find out at the Antiques Roadshow, a British television institution


Old school: Why the British are obsessed with Antiques Roadshow
Hidden treasure ... the Antiques Roadshow audience closes in on another valuable heirloom

THE British love old stuff. Given half a chance they’ll spend hours in an antique shop looking for a 1920s milk jug or a modernist mirror from the 1970s.

Which partly explains the enormous success of the BBC television program Antiques Roadshow. First screened in 1979, it has become a British institution now in its 34th series. Presenter Fiona Bruce (pictured below) is the sixth person to do the job.

The format is simple. Each week the roadshow – a travelling group of antique experts – arrive in a different town or city in the UK. Members of the public turn up with their antiques and heirlooms to get an explanation and valuation from the experts. The objects range from valuable paintings, furniture, medals and mirrors to objects of little worth, but enormous sentimental value.

Some items are just weird. In 2011, a roll of toilet paper from the Abbey Road recording studios was presented on the show. The roll was rejected by The Beatles because it was “too hard and shiny”. A Japanese Beatles fan subsequently offered the owner of the roll £1000 for a single sheet.

Big valuations are all part of the fun. In 2008, the team was shown a bronze artist’s model of sculptor Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, a 20 metre sculpture that stands next to the motorway in Gateshead. The sculpture was valued at £1 million, a record for the show.

Low valuations can be just as entertaining (for the audience, if not the unlucky owner). In 2008 an elderly man was horrified to learn the ship’s wash basin he’d paid £52 for in the 1950s was worth less than £400. Check out his reaction in this video.

Here’s a list of five valuable objects that have been presented on the show.

1. Napoleon’s attaché case. Valuation: up to £30,000.

2. Sketch by artist LS Lowry. Valuation: £8000.

3. Train set made between 1845-1850. Valuation: up to £35,000.

4. Faberge Kosvch (drinking vessel made of silver, gold and jewels). Valuation: up to £700,000.

5. Sunbeam Talbot 90 (car used by racing driver Stirling Moss in the 1953 Monte Carlo rally pictured above). Valuation: £50,000.

The show isn’t just popular with older people. You can tell it’s a hit with Gen Y because there are plenty of parodies on YouTube and even a drum and bass remix of the theme tune. And the BBC is staying up with the times by launching a multiplatform Antiques Roadshow game called Guess The Value. The game, which can be played on a PC, tablet or smartphone, will be launched in September.

So, if you want an insight into the British fascination with all things antique check out the show on BBC 1 at 7.30pm every Saturday. You can also go to one of the roadshows (even if don’t have an antique to get valued). Check out the list of locations on the Antiques Roadshow web site here.


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