FIONA AT CASTLE HOWARD
I’ve been so lucky to go to some of the most wonderful places in the UK as part of the team.
This year sees two big anniversaries for BBC One’s Antiques Roadshow – it’s 40 years since the programme first hit the road and 10 years since its presenter, Fiona Bruce took the reigns.
This is your tenth year on antiques roadshow – how did it start and were you a fan beforehand?
I used to watch the Roadshow as a child when I lived at home. I would sit with my parents on Sunday nights and we would watch it together. We enjoyed it very much.
I came back to it when I had my own home and was a regular viewer before I got the dream job of presenting it.
As a journalist, what stories excite you most on the programme?
I love a good tale and our visitors provide plenty of them.
I enjoy working out what the story is, what the best way is to tell it and how to use the object to illustrate it.
Some of the most moving stories stick in my mind, many I will never forget, such as the man who brought along a set of GI medals from the Second World War.
His story began with his finding a cache of love letters written to his mother by an American GI who had an affair with her while his father was away serving in the Second World War.
The letters revealed that his mother had a baby with this man and it became apparent to him that he was that child.
As you can imagine, it was a huge shock and very distressing. Everything he had known and believed about his childhood turned out to be based on a lie.
As his parents had died recently, he couldn’t ask them about it and his aunt told him she was sworn to secrecy.
He tracked down the GI’s family in Virginia who welcomed him with open arms and filled in the gaps.
They told him that his father had agreed to forgive the infidelity and bring the baby up as his own – and indeed loved him as such all his life – and the American GI decided reluctantly to stay away so as not to make a delicate situation even more difficult.
The GI’s descendants knew all about the baby being brought up in Britain and were thrilled to meet him at last. It was a very moving experience for all of them.
The man came to the roadshow with his American GI father’s war medals, which the family had decided should go to his newly discovered son.
As the man told me this story on the Roadshow he was moved to tears - and who can blame him?
The programme’s changed a lot over the years, most of the filming takes place outdoors.
What venues have stood out for you?
I’ve been so lucky to go to some of the most wonderful places in the UK. In my first year we did a show at Leeds Castle in Kent. Some of us stayed in the castle overnight and we had the whole castle all to ourselves, it was magical.
I loved going to Bletchley Park where secret code breaking took place during the Second World War using, amongst other things, the German enigma machine. At the time, the buildings were pretty run down, rather unloved and little changed since the war – but it was hugely atmospheric. Since then, it’s been given funding and is now open to the public.
Another favourite was Hopetoun House just outside Edinburgh. Part of the filming involved going to the top of the nearby Forth Bridge in a high wind. I’m not sure all the crew enjoyed it, but I certainly did!
You’ve been known to help out on reception on the valuation days – what’s the oddest thing that you’ve seen brought along?
I always help out on reception as it’s great fun. It’s the first chance I get to see what our visitors have brought along and to hear their stories. You never know what will turn up. Last year a man brought an attaché case and plonked it down on our reception table.
I thought it might contain some exciting documents or letters of historical importance – but no. Inside was his collection of loo chains.
When I asked him why on earth he would want to collect them, he said he really enjoyed watching the programme, thought he should start a collection of his own, wanted to it to be out of the ordinary – and loo chains were cheap!
What’s been the highlight/s for you, from the last decade on the programme?
Seeing a bible given to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII, with his secret messages to her inside, and a Picasso sketch. The then-unrecognised Van Dyck portrait that I spotted (I happened to be making a programme about the artist at the time).
Margot Fonteyn’s makeup case brought along to a Roadshow by Darcey Bussell.
Gold coins sewn into coat buttons by a Jewish mother for her daughter to help her escape the Nazis in Austria.
There are so many highlights, I could go on and on!
Sum up the programme in three words… Friendly, informative, unexpected.
BBC One’s ever-popular Sunday evening programme Antiques Roadshow comes to Castle Howard on Thursday 13 July.
The doors open at 9.30am and close at 4.30pm. Entry to the show is free, everyone is welcome, and no tickets or pre-registration is required.
Many of Britain’s leading antiques and fine arts specialists will be on hand to offer free advice and valuations to visitors, who are invited to raid their attics and bring along their family heirlooms, household treasures and carboot sale bargains for inspection by the experts.
Please note this is an exterior event. Organisers are advising all visitors to dress accordingly. More information on planning your visit can be found at www.bbc. co.uk/antiquesroadshow.
As the man told me this story on the Roadshow he was moved to tears – and who can blame him?
Antiques Roadshow fans enjoy great day out. The show comes to Castle Howard on Thursday 13 July between 9.30am and 4.30pm.