Antiques Roadshow expert Ronnie Archer Morgan's incredible life story
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Antiques Roadshow expert Ronnie Archer-Morgan’s life is as fascinating as the artefacts he discusses. Now he is sharing it in a memoir, writes Julie Lucas
When Ronnie Archer-Morgan was presented with Sooty and Sweep in an episode of Antiques Roadshow he realised his life had come full circle.
The puppets from the original 1950s children's series had been brought to the BBC show by a prop maker's daughter who had been given them by Sooty Show creator Harry Corbett.
‘I was in a National Children’s Home and Harry Corbett came to visit,' Ronnie recalls. 'I had the privilege of him sitting next to me. That is my fondest memory of my childhood.'
Seeing the puppets again represented ‘childish optimism, my happiness, the sorrow of loss’.
Born in London in 1950 to a Sierra Leonean mother battling mental health problems after losing Ronnie's father in a car crash before he was born, Ronnie spent his childhood in and out of care homes. A favourite escapism was visits to the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, which sparked a fascination for antiques - something that continued after school.
‘My first job turned out to be next door to the V&A, so I would go at lunchtimes and just marvel over the craftsmanship of its wares.’
- 1 Win the Cobra MX3440V Cordless Lawnmower
- 2 WIN a two-night getaway for two at Wivenhoe House, Essex
- 3 Why you should move to Saddleworth
- 4 Win a luxury 2-night Lake District getaway to the Skiddaw Hotel worth £500
- 5 Are these fields near the Peak District, the selfie locations of the summer?
- 6 Win a luxury break at the Raithwaite Sandsend Hotel
- 7 Meet 95-year-old Harold Messam - the Peak District walker who defied the odds
- 8 Why you should move to Ilkley
- 9 Fabulous Devon hotel for staycation afternoon tea
- 10 Visit an unlikely tropical oasis in Watford
From a fascination for beauty developed an early career as a hairdresser for Vidal Sassoon in 70s London, where Ronnie became known for his unusual fashion style as much as his haircuts.
‘My first clients were the likes of Dustin Hoffman and Michael Parkinson who I sold a watch to after being invited to his home. Because my taste was more unique and unusual, I tended to have one-of-a-kind pieces. And thanks to my background in design (he had also worked as a technical draughtsman and model maker), I had a good appreciation for things made well.’
With clients searching for exclusive things - the more unusual and rare the better - Ronnie soon built a reputation as the go-to man for vintage watches, luggage by Louis Vuitton, crocodile briefcases, wallets, cigar cases and other items.
‘As these clients, who would usually shop at Bond Street or the Champs Elysees, began to like and trust my taste, the more my reputation grew.'
His flair for finding vintage gems led to work as a consultant for Sotheby's in its wristwatch and costume jewellery department and to starting his own Knightsbridge antiques gallery. The antiques world is full of characters and eccentrics, as a young black man was he welcomed into it?
‘It was a mixed reception,’ he reflects. ‘Most of the dealers at that time hadn’t ever seen a black person in the industry before. I was a new kid on the block in a leather jacket and a baseball cap.
'I was always attracted to unconventional things, and everyone thought I was a renegade that didn’t know what I was doing and was written off. But I was confident in what I liked, and over time I began to predict and be ahead of trends and started making a name for myself.
‘I was more and more accepted over the years. A watershed moment was buying a solid gold Cartier clock that all the dealers were too afraid to buy due to the expense. Buying and turning it around for a tidy profit gave me a huge amount of street cred. With that, they saw I knew what I was doing.’
How would he describe his approach to buying?
‘Beauty can be found anywhere,’ he says. ‘Don’t allow yourself to be told where it can be found by following trends or going against your own creative eye or taste. Discover for yourself what appeals to you. It was only by doing this I found my own niche aesthetic, and many years later it’s what I’m renowned for.
'My favourite things are usually handcrafted items which show from the wear and use that they were loved from the minute they were made. It can be jewellery, a box, a walking stick, sculpture, snuff box, anything really.'
Today, Ronnie is best known for his regular appearances on Antiques Roadshow and describes the show as ‘the television equivalent of a warm bath’.
‘It’s a form of treasure hunting that is made accessible to the everyday viewer. Everyone loves the idea of being able to find a treasure. The Sooty and Sweep puppets are by far my favourite discovery on the roadshow, due to the personal link they have with my childhood. They’re not valuable, but they’re priceless to me.’
Another great find was a lotus flower brooch by Henry Wilson. ‘When you unscrewed the back of the brooch, the petals unfolded to reveal a stunning stone at the centre. On the back was an inscription that said God makes the most beautiful flowers. It certainly looked like it had been made by God.’
He is still on the hunt for treasures and remains a fixture at London's flea markets, the Masterpiece London Art Fair, and used to regularly visit St Albans and Hemel Hempstead markets.
What advice would he give to those looking to collect?
‘Collect what you like and what brings you joy. If you are drawn to things naturally you will learn more about yours and others’ tastes. The market is so changeable and influenced by external factors that it’s impossible to predict what will be popular.
'That said, the current fashion is anything big and loud, oversized and blingy. But my advice will always be look for the unusual and unique. And open every box – the things I’ve found from opening the most unlikely box!'
Ronnie Archer-Morgan's memoir, Would It Surprise You To Know..? is out now, priced £16.99
Ronnie's Five Herts antiques hot spots
St Albans Antique and Vintage Market in the city centre has all manner of vintage, brocante and architectural salvage. It’s held one Sunday each month, the next is July 17.
Hitchin's Fleetville Emporium has two floors of vintage finds. Tie a Friday visit to antiques day at next door's outdoor market.
Jordans Antique Centre in Old Hemel is a time-travelling delight, packed with finds from more than 25 dealers.
Home and Colonial in Berkhamsted is a treasure trove of items over five floors. The café in the attic has views over the town.
Sawbridgeworth's Herts and Essex Antiques Centre in a former maltings has over 70 independent traders and a great coffee shop.