Last Updated on 3rd February 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
For fans of all things vintage and historic, the Antiques Roadshow likely needs no introduction. Now in its 39th year of airing on TV, the prime time programme has since spawned a whole host of international versions, aired across the globe. Recently I was lucky enough to visit behind the scenes of Antiques Roadshow at Buckfast Abbey when the series visited Devon.
I’ve been an avid viewer of the Roadshow all of my life. I love how antiques are ‘re-discovered,’ family heirlooms are cherished, and I truly believe that it’s one of the more informative historic series on TV. Prior to taking this blog full-time post-university, I even considered becoming an auctioneer myself!
How did the Antiques Roadshow begin?
Today, we’re so used to seeing Fiona Bruce and the rest of the team pop up come prime time TV on a Sunday evening, you may not know how the Antiques Roadshow first started. Well, as it turns out, the show began as a documentary following a London auction house doing a tour of the West Country of England.
Today, the show has over six million viewers and has managed to unearth more than a few hidden gems over the years. From the Van Dyck painting bought from an antique shop by a priest to Nelson’s 18th-century sword, there’s no telling quite what might turn up now. And it’s perhaps this 21st century version of treasure hunting, which has allowed for the show’s appeal to keep us enthralled for quite so long…
Antiques Roadshow set-up and the beautiful Buckfast Abbey
It was a sunny day at Buckfast Abbey. The kind of crisp autumn day which makes you want to wrap yourself in multiple layers and head out for a brisk walk in the countryside. Instead, we were wandering around the front of a 20th-century Abbey, close to the fringes of Dartmoor National Park in search of fascinating stories.
I was more than a little excited at discovering how one of my favourite series is filmed. When you arrive at the Antiques Roadshow field, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people, wandering around. The set-up is as follows: if you have something to show to an expert, then you have to register.
If not, then you’re free to wander around, check out what’s going on in all of the smaller tents dotted around the site, and snap photos as you wish. If you do have an object, then queuing to see the reception looked as if it would take over an hour, perhaps two. One thing worth noting is that everything that’s brought to the Roadshow gets valued!
Once seen by the reception, they would proceed to give you a small registration form to fill in, before you would be directed to one of the smaller red tents where experts of a certain field would be sat. For example, there were tents for silverware, paintings, ceramics, furniture, collectables, memorabilia, etc.
Impressions of the Antiques Roadshow at Buckfast Abbey
If the expert thought you had something of value/ interest to be shown on TV, then they would call over another expert (this time from the BBC). These items would be filmed in small segments, by camera crew set-ups dotted around the area.
It’s not just the most expensive things which get a shot at being shown on TV, but also those items which have a great story behind them. I think what surprised me most was how staged some of the scenes looked.
But then again, now I think about it, I guess it has to be filmed in such a way! For example, when the crew was filming two women discussing a dress, it took them several minutes to direct the women into the exact position where they were to be filmed; “move left, no a little more forward, act natural”.
How to see behind the scenes of Antiques Roadshow
With all that being said, if you want to actually show anything to an expert (and get the free advice on offer), then you may well be interested to know that the Antiques Roadshow is free to visit and pretty easy to see. Once there, refreshments available for a small cost.
Approaching the car park, I thought that we’d end up having to wait for a while before parking and making our way down to Buckfast Abbey. However, car parking was incredibly well organised and we were soon ushered into a parking space before being directed down towards the front of the Abbey, where the experts were located. There was also a free golf buggy service for those with mobility requirements.
All in all, it’s a wonderful look behind the scenes of one of the Nation’s favourite shows and is well worth a visit if the Antiques Roadshow is ever in your area, if only to be a little nosey! However, I truly think that much of the magic of the roadshow lies in the way it’s presented on TV. Yes, it was enthralling to be able to see it filmed in real life, but some things are best left to the imagination!
For example, I didn’t know that there is a call for certain objects before the programme is even filmed in the event that nothing interesting turns up on the day. Similarly, I didn’t know just how staged the ‘surprised’ faces of the people getting their objects valued really was when it came to behind the scenes of Antiques Roadshow.
While all of this makes sense (a lot of planning has to go into creating such a complex show!), I think there’s a certain magic in the way the treasure hunt seems that much more ‘authentic’ when you’re enjoying your tea on a Sunday night and the antiques roadshow is playing in the background, behind the TV screen…