We'll forgive you if you haven't heard of Pawn Stars. The US cable show – set in a pawn store, we hasten to add – has become a phenomenon Stateside, profiling the wacky day-to-day business at the aptly-named World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The show has made stars of its employees Rick Harrison, Richard "Old Man" Harrison, Corey "Big Hoss" Harrison and Austin "Chumlee" Russell and now Rick's made a special visit to the UK. Why? To see how his friend Big Mark is getting on as he helps launch a UK version of the hit show.
Big Mark has been joined by his old pal Little Mark, his daughter Vicki, friend Simon "Ebenezer" Penworth, and the "Regal's resident plonker" Marco (who also happens to be Little Mark's offspring). Together they run Regal Pawn near Chester – the setting of Pawn Stars UK. Ahead of tonight's first episode, RadioTimes.com sat down for a cuppa with Big Mark, Little Mark and Simon to hear all about becoming Lords, owning a piece of the Titanic and being mistaken for porn stars...
What can you tell us about your show?
Big Mark: It’s set in a shop in Chester – a big warehouse, in fact. We buy and sell very unusual items – we don’t just do ordinary things, we do extraordinary things. It’s living history. We have everything from a gold ring to a Ferrari, Rolls Royce...
Little Mark: We’ve got all kind of things coming through the door. A part of the Titanic. We’ve got macabre memorabilia, pop memorabilia, everything.
BM: Saws, machine guns – it’s a big boys and girls toy shop.
Sounds like you're living every man's dream...
LM: It’s not work, it’s fun.
BM: We’re making history fun. Everything we do has a historical theme to it but we’re making history fun. When I was at school, if I could have learned from people like us, it would have been great.
Simon: If there's something like this where you can touch stuff and see it and get the story behind it, it makes a hell of a difference. My secondary school history teacher made it fun and that’s when I became good at history.
So, Big Mark and Little Mark – you've been friends for over 20 years. How did you meet?
BM: Via someone else. We got together and felt out with each other within two weeks and I said to Mark, "You will leave my employment..." and twenty years later, he's still here.
How did you choose who became Big Mark and Little Mark?
BM: Well, I was 24 stone…
We'd never have guessed! When did you lose it?
BM: Six years ago. Because we both have the same name, to save confusion for the people who work with us it was always Big Mark or Little Mark.
Both your children work in the shop – have they taken on Big Mark and Little Mark personas too?
LM: Vicki is a bossy boots and she always has been. She scares us to death. We’re all frightened of Vicki – Vicki barks and we all jump.
Simon: The only person who doesn’t jump is Marco because nothing makes him jump.
BM: The walls of his head are too thick.
Simon: He just kind of cruises
So, Simon, how did you join the team?
Simon: I was just walking in the park and saw an antiques shop with some bayonets hanging up. The young guy who was in there didn’t know a thing about bayonets and said I’ll just get my boss for you who was Little Mark. Little Mark came in and he didn’t know anything about bayonets so I made him an offer. I bought the lot and then he found out. I’ve still got the bayonets.
LM: And then you [Big Mark] said "Wait till he comes back in, I’m sure he’s ripped us off on this," and you did come back in.
Simon: I came back in and said, "Do you have anymore bayonets?"
BM: And then he killed my secretary…
Simon: Ooh yes, there’s a story. It was the Christmas party, I wasn’t drinking and I said to her, "I’ll take you home". So she jumped in the car and off we went and I didn’t go back to see the lads – no phone call or anything – they didn’t have my number. But the girl didn’t turn up for work, she disappeared for about three weeks. So I turned up at the shop just to say hello to everybody and they went, "Oh my god".
LM: We went to his car and he had a spade…
Simon: I’d been to the cemetery to do some work.
BM: And then the next thing Maria turns up.
Simon: They didn’t have my phone number and then two or three weeks later this young girl goes missing so it’s amazing how I could have been…
BM: … you were accused.
Pawn Stars is a huge show in the US so you're lucky to have a ready-made audience in the UK.
Simon: But wait till they get a load of us…
BM: It’s alright because they’re American, we’re English – we’re totally different. We’ve got more history.
Rick seemed pretty jealous of that. He bought himself a Lordship when he was over here...
BM: We’ve already got those.
LM: You’re not a lord though, are you?
Simon: No, I’m just an earl.
LM: And Vicki is a lady.
What's the best purchase you've ever made?
LM: I think what I’ve enjoyed most is getting the tank. I keep thinking someone will try and steal it for scrap metal so we drive it into the unit and it’s quite nerve-wracking getting it through the narrow door thinking I could just demolish the whole shop any minute by accident.
BM: He drives like an absolute idiot and it’s the only thing he’s actually driven carefully.
Simon: I just like somebody coming in with a big bag full of goodies they’ve found in the garage or the loft and I’ll spend hours going through coins, picking through and then I might find something. A big pile of old pennies, rubbish, and then a gold sovereign - and the lady literally wanted £20 but the coin was £220 or something.
Do you ever feel bad about ripping people off?
BM: We don’t because we’ll tell the customer. This is a very firm rule. I like to make money but we’ll not rip anybody off. I’ve sold things in the past for a lot more than I bought them for and I’ve given the customers more money.
We heard on the grapevine that you once bought a piece of the Titanic?
BM: For about two years we got emails from this guy called Mike Jones. One day I was in the shop by myself and he walked in with a carrier bag with a part of the Titanic. He wanted £20,000 for it because he has to keep insuring it every year. I got it for £15k because for me at the time it was just a piece of rusty metal with a piece of wood.
How did it come into his hands?
BM: Mike Jones's great uncle befriended a Canadian guy in the First World War and this guy who’d gone to war worked out in Nova Scotia on one of the cable ships that went to rescue survivors. All the boats that went to rescue survivors grabbed things from the water because they had to take the bits back. This Canadian guy kept a piece of staircase and goes to the First World War, befriends Mike Jones’ great uncle and when they came to part, he broke it in two and said, there’s a gift. So that got Mike Jones interested and he starts buying bits of carpet, this that and the other. It gets to the late nineties and they announce they’re going to go down and salvage from the Titanic. Mike Jones writes to the president of the corporation and says "Don’t do it, it’s wrong, it’s a gravesite". The president gets into correspondence with him and tries to explain why they’re doing it and eventually they went down and brought back the piece of the hull and he gifted it to Mike Jones. It’s from the dive, it’s all verified. No one else has got it.
LM: It’s apparently the biggest privately owned piece of the hull in the world. There’s a seventeen tonne piece and a two and a half tonne piece but you can’t do anything with it. It’s held under American legislation so it can’t be broken up or sold so as far as we can tell… We took ours to Dubai a year ago to an Indian collector and we negotiated around £1.2m for it.
BM: Mike Jones will get a share of that.
LM: We didn’t sell it in the end because the guy was very wealthy – he had Gandhi’s glasses, a piece of the Berlin wall. But when the Pawn Stars show came along we had to hold it back because it was a great piece.
Have you found it strange watching yourself on TV?
BM: I think I sound a complete idiot, but I look good. It’s strange, isn’t it?
LM: We’ve seen quite a few bits now so we’ve got used to it. I’m looking forward to watching the whole series to see how it comes across. We hope we’re going to be entertaining and educational and funny and people will enjoy it because we enjoy doing it – we’re not putting anything on, it’s just great fun and we hope we’re getting that across.
Simon: I’d just like a few people to see it and actually go to an auction house and buy something and start collecting.
How often do people mistake you for the other kind of pawn star?
All: Every single day.
LM: Americans - because of their accent - they call porn “porn” but our kind of pawn is “paaawn” so they know straight away when they’re talking to each other but us Brits don’t. Pawn is porn and everyone thinks dirty straight away.
Pawn Stars begins tonight at 9:00pm on History