Antiques Roadshow: a priceless treasure

The cosy Sunday-night series is worth its weight in gold...


Nice cup of tea? Hot buttered crumpet? Antiques Roadshow? Mmmm…don’t mind if I do.


Yes, Antiques Roadshow is the epitome of Sunday-night cosiness. A toasty duvet of a television programme to wrap round yourself as the evenings draw in.

So why is the latest series being heralded by a TV trailer featuring sports cars and explosions, along with the implication that slinky new presenter Fiona Bruce is here to “sex up” the programme? What next, a breakbeat version of the theme tune?

I don’t want Antiques Roadshow sexed up! I can’t think of anything more inappropriate (well, not that I can mention here). Antiques Roadshow is about tradition and history, romance and drama. Polished wood, burnished silver. Porcelain. Scrimshaw.

Yes, scrimshaw. It might sound more like the name of a Dickens character, but scrimshaw is in fact “1. the art of carving bones or sea shells. 2. an article made in this way”. Items of scrimshaw are not the ornate products of skilled artisans, though. No, scrimshaw is one of the ways in which sailors once passed the time on long sea voyages (I have no idea what the others were). It’s the maritime equivalent of whittling.

As well as being quite possibly my favourite word in the English language, scrimshaw provides a perfect example of what Antiques Roadshow does best. The programme uses objects to connect us to moments from the past. So a crudely carved whale bone evokes salt air, the cries of seagulls and a sailor leaning on the prow of an old whaling vessel after a hard day at sea.

These are the kinds of stories the show’s experts regularly tease out, Bagpuss-like, from the artefacts that are placed in front of them. Yes, these connections to past moments, real or imagined, are what Antiques Roadshow is all about. That, and cold, hard cash…

“How much is it worth?!” It’s the question etched across many a punter’s expectant face as a Roadshow expert regales them with unwanted details of scrollwork and hallmarks and factory histories. And it’s the question we’re all shouting at our screens too: “How much? How much? How much?”

This is fair enough. We have a natural fascination with the discovery of secret treasure. We watch the show for those huge moments, where a tarnished piece of metal is revealed to be an ancient relic, or a painting discovered in an attic is identified as £2 million-worth of early Constable. The moments when the excited expert finally shows his hand, drawing gasps from the onlookers, and rendering the owner speechless. But, just like the items, these moments are valuable because they are so rare.

I remember one occasion in particular very fondly. A hopeful member of the public placed a garish piece of pottery in front of an expert, who responded with a dryness bordering on the arid, “Ah, someone’s been lucky at the funfair!”


Now that’s as priceless a gem as anyone will ever bring on the show.