What happened when Flog It came to Clitheroe?

Experts, Paul Martin and Catherine Southon

Experts, Paul Martin and Catherine Southon - Credit: Archant

The team from Flog It! - one of daytime television’s success stories - recently bowled up in Clitheroe. Roger Borrell was there to meet them. Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Ann Gornall being interviewed by presenter Paul Martin

Ann Gornall being interviewed by presenter Paul Martin - Credit: Archant

When that avuncular old chap Arthur Negus launched Going for a Song on television back in the 1960s he also began a nation’s obsessive hunt for cash in the attic. With his west country burr, as well-turned as any Queen Anne leg, he had us all checking for Meissen factory marks on the bottom of granny’s chamber pot.

Names like Clarice Cliff, René Lalique and Moorcroft were no longer code words understood only by those in ‘the trade’. We came to know just enough to spot the occasional bargain if not enough to prevent us falling for the odd fake. This fed a new generation of antiques programmes - several hosted by men with faces the colour of a mahogany Hepplewhite sideboard.

BBC2’s Flog It! has been at the more serious end of the television antiques spectrum with Paul Martin and his team of experts attracting millions of viewers and thousands of hopeful owners to valuation sessions.

It earns respect because it replicates real life. You take something to an expert, you get a valuation and then you try to sell it at auction. That final act was most recently played out at Silverwoods, the auction house in Clitheroe. The room was packed – a hard core of buyers and sellers plus, I suspect, more than a smattering of people hoping to have their faces on the screen. They were there to watch more than 40 items, selected from a Flog It! valuation day in Morecambe, go under the hammer enthusiastically wielded by auctioneer Wilf Mould.

Silverwoods of Lancashire

Silverwoods of Lancashire - Credit: Archant

The mix of lots was eclectic, to say the least, with a Victorian papier mache Boston terrier, which looked, well…dog-eared, to a watercolour by Sir William Russell Flint, unusual because it didn’t feature any naked ladies.

Host Paul Martin was impressed by the items brought to the valuation. ‘We were hoping to find some music hall memorabilia and we weren’t disappointed. Someone brought in a pier show programme from Blackpool signed by Morecambe and Wise. The session there went really well and I had the opportunity to have a look at the wonderful Midland Hotel.’

The programme director, Bury-born Khalid Khan, said they expected to make five separate programmes from the valuation day and auction sale to be shown later this year.

‘We don’t just look for antiques – we try to find interesting stories. We also feature local places of interest. This time we’ve been to John Spencer Textiles in Burnley and the Leyland Motor Museum,’ he said.

Adam Partridge

Adam Partridge - Credit: Archant

One of the familiar on-screen faces, Catherine Southon, was impressed with the watches and jewellery she discovered in Morecambe. ‘It’s a wonderful friendly place – I don’t think I’ve ever been this far north!’

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Is she ever surprised people are prepared to sell family heirlooms for not very much money in exchange for five minutes of fame on television? ‘I do sometimes think “Oh gosh, why are you selling that?” But most often they say they don’t have anyone to hand it down to or they want to de-clutter.’

Are people still frightened of attending auctions? ‘They shouldn’t be,’ said Catherine. ‘It’s just not true that you might inadvertently wink or scratch your nose and find you have spent a fortune on something you didn’t want. It just doesn’t happen.’

Has she ever been caught out on valuations? ‘Oh yes, there have been so many memorable moments. Someone once brought me a clockwork Alfa Romeo toy car. It was in a very bad state – even the wheels had fallen off. I valued it at between £80 and £120 and a collector paid £2,000. That was embarrassing.’

As the auction starts, Wilf Mould maintains a steely concentration as Paul stands at the side and speaks to the camera as bids start to rattle in, many of them from the internet. He then interviews sellers at the rear of the hall – there’s a lot of drama as Wilf teases out the bids.

But what of the sellers? One of the more poignant stories came from Jenny Greenhalgh, a retired university librarian from Morecambe. She found a collection of 200 postcards in a house she had purchased. Many were from a soldier called George Atkinson and were sent from the trenches in the 1914-18 War to his sweetheart Gladys Harper. ‘They are very affectionate messages,’ said Jenny. ‘It’s a very romantic story and I hope they fact both sets of postcards were found together means they had a happy ending.’ They were estimated to be worth £60-£100.

Len and Nina Walker, also from Morecambe, were there to sell to Victorian walking canes which had been bought from a charity shop for a few pounds. Although they had been valued at between £100 and £150 Len was less than keen to see them go.

Nina explained that Len was an inveterate collector and their house was bursting at the seams with anything from a large collection of vintage kites, to china vases, glassware and old tools. ‘When we moved house we had to get rid of everything of mine but I got to keep the husband,’ she laughed. ‘We now live in a Tardis!’

David and Judith Van-Boyd, of Higher Walton, were selling a wooden fruit bowl carved by Derek Slater, known as the ‘Lizard Man’ because he always included the reptile in his designs. They found it in a charity shop and were hoping the cash would help them to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary.

Susan Messom was at the sale with her husband David to see her great grandmother’s gold fob watch sold. Susan, from Rochdale, said: ‘We’ve no one to pass it on to. It just sits in a drawer at home so we thought we’d put the money towards a holiday.

‘We are great fans of the programme and we buy and sell small items at auctions. It seemed like a fun thing to do.’

After the sale, auctioneer Wilf said: ‘I think we sold everything bar two lots and most items went for well over their estimates. There was a lot of interest in a man’s Rolex Oyster wristwatch. It was bought in Kuala Limpur in 1956 and came complete with the original documentation. The estimate was £200-£300 but it sold for £1,500. These smaller men’s watches are now very popular with women.’

Among the documentation was the original guarantee, which was fortunate as – despite the price – the watch no longer worked!

Serious fun

Liverpool auctioneer Adam Partridge has been part of the Flog It! team for well over a decade. He believes the programme has helped to revive interest in Britain’s salerooms and he is less than enthusiastic about some of the other antiques shows on TV.

‘These programme have got people interested in antiques and Flog It! has, in a way, been good for auction houses and not so good for dealers,’ he said. ‘I was on Bargain Hunt but it’s Flog It! that is held in high regard because it reflects the real world.’

There are programmes that show experts bowling into antique shops and beating down the dealers to accept silly prices. ‘People think that’s how it works in the real world,’ said Adam. ‘But these are really just game shows and they are held in a pretty dim light by the trade.

‘When I was on Bargain Hunt people in the trade said I wasn’t welcome and I can remember once someone shouting “Judas” at me, which was a bit extreme! There is nothing contrived or staged about Flog It! That’s not something you could say about certain other shows.’

Silverwoods auctioneer Wilf Mould agrees. ‘I’ve always said that of all the programmes, Flog It! is the one we are happiest to have at our auctions. It’s a serious show.’