What you may not know about me was that in 2001, after a career in news and single subject documentaries, including investigative journalism, I was offered the chance to work on a show with a difference – more lifestyle or what we call ‘factual entertainment’. It was a regional show called The Bargain Hunters (not to be confused with Bargain Hunt). I was pregnant at the time and, as I had had a difficult pregnancy the first time round, it was felt this would be less stressful (it wasn’t in case you were wondering!).
My adventures on this show and other similar ones which followed will be the subject of future blogs however it did lead in 2012 – when I was running my own business – to my having an opportunity to work on the national day-time tv show Flog It! – a show I’d watched many times and never dreamed I’d get to work on. As a guest director on location, I was interviewed for the ad hoc freelance show and then waited to see if I’d passed muster.
The premise of the show was that Paul Martin and his team of experts invited members of the public to bring along their portable valuables and collectibles that they may want to sell. The programmes team would take over a stately home, museum, castle or similar historic and interesting space, and people would queue, along with their items, to be seen by the experts. Some of those people were filmed for the tv show and then those items were taken to auction on another day and the jeopardy came into the show, when we discovered whether those experts were right in their valuations, or were they way off?
The programme started in 2002 and ran until May 2020, with over 1,000 episodes aired. Even today the repeats of those shows are as popular as ever and I live in hope the format might return!
My first shoot was nerve wracking. I’d never worked on such a big production where there are at least 50 people in the large crew, four to five camera crews, three on-screen experts and the main presenter Paul Martin. I was the director with one of those crews working with an onscreen expert. Little did I know this would lead to some of my most wonderful moments in tv and I can only highlight a few of those moments for you. Here are ten things I learned:
- *The world of antiques is full of interesting and wonderful business people who ‘get’ someone like me. Many of our evening meals were be full of business talk. Most of the onscreen experts ran their own businesses, either in the antiques field, or arts. It was a wonderful atmosphere.
- *Objects carry the energy of the story behind them, you can look at something and think it is awful, or tacky, or ugly. Then the story of that object unfolds and believe me, we heard some amazing stories. Once you’ve absorbed that story, the object remains the same, however, you feel completely differently about that thing you previously found ugly or tacky!
- *On my second shoot I was asked to direct a screen test of a female presenter who the team were interested in asking to be ‘on screen’ in the future. Step forward Caroline Hawley, auctioneer extraordinaire who has specialist knowledge in costume and textiles, French antiques and C19th porcelain and pottery. We hit it off when we met and we’ve remained friends ever since. She runs Hawleys Auctioneers and Valuers with her husband John.
- *Flog It! Was a joy to work on in any role, either in front of the cameras or behind. It was fun, it felt good, it really was a show where what you saw on screen was as wonderful as making the show itself. Although the days were long, working on the show was a joy.
- *Flog It! Is loved by many fans, and it still is, as there are repeats shown on daytime TV today. It’s the only tv show I’ve ever worked on where I’ve been asked for my autograph! Some people would turn up to many shoots and would sit in the audience waiting even if that meant being at the venue for six or seven hours. For them it was a day out.
- *Daytime tv can often be dismissed by those who think ‘tv’ should be more serious. This is, of course, rubbish. A show which entertains, and adds light to a dark day, or just piques someone’s interest, has as much value as any other type of tv. The show routinely attracted an audience of two million, and the repeats still attract a similar number of viewers.
- *Working in tv is a privilege and the majority of presenters understood that and kept any gripes or grizzles off screen and behind the scenes. For those few who felt that being on tv suddenly turns them into a ‘celebrity diva’ their silliness and arrogance soon becomes apparent. What tends to happen in those circumstances is that over time crews will be less likely to want to work with them and they will slowly yet surely disappear from view. Being humble and grateful is always a more productive attitude if you want longevity in tv land.
- *Some experts became friends, for me the wonderful Michael Baggott, an expert in silver & spoons who had time for everyone, the colourful David Harper who can bring any object to life in a heartbeat with his stories, the empathetic Anita Manning who always drew a crowd with her lovely Scottish burr and love of people and things, and the list goes on…
- *Meeting the audience and chatting to them in between filming was one of the best things about this show. The stories people brought with them, the presenters who went out of their way to talk privately to those who came who were poorly, who were superfans, who were simply wanted their items valued. It was a kaleidoscope of people from all walks of life, of all ages, though mostly over 60. The whole show was always a celebration of humanity.
- *Paul Martin, the main presenter, is a talented and creative artist as well as a dealer. Ironically, we didn’t get to know each other really well until later in my Flog It! journey. The filming days were so intense, we didn’t get time to chat and he always had so much to learn from the script, he kept himself to himself during the shoots. He truly loves what he does, he embraces crafts people where-ever he encounters them. He has an abiding love of natural history, the natural world, animals and he is pretty damned good at snooker, and a fine musician. I’ve probably spent more time with him since Flog it! than when the show was on air!
Flog It! left our screens in 2020 although we finished working on it in 2019 and I can’t help hoping it comes back over time, such was its popularity. However I have to say it has left a legacy of gratitude for me. I’m so grateful to have had that experience over and over again for seven years. What a blessing!