Magazine article The Spectator

Guilty Pleasures

Magazine article The Spectator

Guilty Pleasures

Article excerpt

I am, I hope, still too young to watch daytime television, but conversation can be slow in the care home where I visit my parents every week. Having something bland wittering on in the corner is a help. In the middle of the afternoon we have antique shows. Endless antiques. Just as we are soon going to run out of cooks, so that nobody will be able to have friends round if there isn't a camera crew, so we must be getting short of antiques.

They'll have to start recycling. 'Has this lovely piece been in your family for long?'

'Yes, my father bought it at a televised auction, ooh, at least five months ago. . .'

What most of them do is take the formula of the Antiques Roadshow and, cleverly, add real money. So instead of the experts saying that this coal scuttle might be worth £65 and leaving it at that, it goes straight into auction and we find out if it is. My guilty favourite is Flog It! (BBC2, all week), which is presented by Paul Martin, who manages to be agreeable, even ingratiating, without being camp.

People bring along their possessions which, typically, they were going to give away or throw in a skip. A friendly expert tells them how much they might expect. Then there's the auction. If the lot does better, they look dementedly thrilled, as if their team had scored the winner in extra time; if it doesn't meet the reserve, they put on their our-pet-labrador-has-been-run-over face. Sometimes there's a heart-warming story. 'The money is for cancer research', or 'If this Clarice Cliff teapot raises enough I'll go back to Lyme Regis, where my late husband and I spent our honeymoon.' Nobody ever says, 'It'll go towards the gas bill.' It's homely. Eighty quid can be described as a 'fantastic profit'. We're not talking Chippendale escritoires here.

There's a slightly harder edge to Dickinson's Real Deal (ITV, all week).

Dickinson's richly veneered mahogany face leers out of the screen as the experts - charming and helpful in Flog It! - try to con the punters by offering them less cash than their pieces are worth. Crisp fifties are laid on the table with almost lascivious care.

If the owner refuses, it goes to auction; if the dealer buys, he must sell too, so either way we know what the thing fetches. …

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