Antiques Uncovered – follow us round London for a day’s filming

This coming Wednesday, 2 May, on BBC2, at 8pm, our new series ‘Antiques Uncovered’ begins.  So here’s what it’s all about, in a really nice article from BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine, by Rosanna Morris.

A new TV series starring Roadshow expert Mark Hill and historian Lucy Worsley looks at antiques not simply for their value, but for the fascinating social history behind them.

As Chief Curator looking after Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and Banqueting House, there’s no such thing as a typical day for Lucy Worsley.  And since she started making history programmes for TV, things have got even stranger – she’s been filming swimming in a regency costume, cooking a hedgehog on a spit, washing Tudor linen in urine and making Victorian jelly.

Her latest venture, which she co-presented with Antiques Roadshow expert Mark Hill, is no exception.  In the last few weeks she’s made a leg for a Chippendale chair, driven a locomotive, had a lesson in high Victorian dining etiquette and sampled absinthe (‘it wasn’t all that nice’, she says). Mark, too, has had his fair share of the fun, watching chandeliers being made, studying Donald McGill’s saucy seaside postcards and bidding at auction.  And they’ve both spent a fair few hours playing slot machines on Southport pier during which Mark won some metallic purple lip gloss.  ‘We were looking at the great British working class day out’, explains Lucy.

It’s all for their new show Antiques Uncovered which airs this May on BBC Two and aims to look at antiques in a whole new light. Rather than focusing solely on the object’s values, the three programmes, which have travel, entertaining and ceremony as their themes, seek to set the objects in their social historical context.

‘It’s easy to simply put something on a shelf and gasp at its value but we forget these pieces were made for a reason and designed to be enjoyed’, says Mark during a break in filming. ‘Some TV shows focus on antiques as commodities but they are more than that.  Through them we can gain a snapshot of our history.’ So a Brownie camera, for example, is not just discussed in terms of its worth, but in terms of why it was invented, the fashion it set, and who might have bought it at the time. And a Georgian chandelier is revealed to be much more than just a light. ‘Yes, it was designed to illuminate cavernous rooms but it was also a display of wealth, a statement of your success’, says Mark. ‘It was Georgian bling’.

Talking of bling, I join Mark and Lucy on location in prestigious jewellery shop SJ Phillips on London’s New Bond Street, where Lucy has slipped a seriously sparkly 1920s art deco rock on her ring finger. We’re about to shoot part of the programme about ceremony. Mark and Lucy are discussing weddings and the history and meaning of rings, examining a pair of acrostic examples designed to communicate secret messages. Cameras roll, director Neil Ferguson calls ‘action!’ and Mark starts speaking: ‘We’ve talked a lot about the language of jewellery and this is language in jewellery’, he says. ‘This particular arrangement of stones spells out a word with the first letter of every stone. We have a diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz, which is ‘dearest’, and this one, with its ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond is ‘regard’. There was a great fashion for these in the 19th century.’

Fast forward a few hours and the pair are standing in front of Westminster Abbey filming a slot on coronations and royal memorabilia. ‘Ceramics are at the core of royal memorabilia’, says Mark to Lucy before going to tell the tale of a CT Maling cup produced for the coronation of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902. It bears the date 26th June even though Edward wasn’t in fact crowned until 9th august due to a bout of appendicitis. The cups with the later date are rare and more collectable.

Lucy pulls out a souvenir mug from Will and Kate’s wedding. ‘And what might this be worth?’ she asks, playfully. ‘Probably about the same as the tea you’re going to put in it,’ Mark replies.

The due work well together; Lucy with her mischievous flair, Mark with his wonderfully pronounced adjectives such as ‘gorgeous’ and ‘ingenious’ that we’ve all come to love on the Roadshow. Their rapport is particularly well illustrated during the last call of the day outside the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. Lucy bounds up to find Mark sitting in an Ernest Race ‘Antelope’ chair. He tells her how this piece of furniture, with its molecular shape, optimistic primary colour and new-fangled materials, encapsulated the spirit of the Festival of Britain in 1951. ‘Why Antelope?’ asks Lucy. ‘Is it because it looks like it can go “boing” [she leaps in front of the camera] on its legs?’ Ah, the things you have to do for TV…’

Antiques Uncovered, Wednesday 2nd May, BBC Two, 8pm

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