It was once the preserve of students, retirees and new parents.
However, now that so many more of us work from home, the cult daytime television watch that is Bargain Hunt has had a boost, as we tune in with our lunchtime sandwiches.
Not that it needed it. Even before lockdown, they produced 96 programmes per year, with around two million viewers per episode.
For those who dream of winning a golden gavel, they’ve just launched the first official book based on the series, Bargain Hunt: Spotter’s Guide to Antiques by Karen Farrington.
The author, who has written 40 books, including TV-series accompaniments, Springwatch Almanac and The Repair Shop, agrees that the last couple of years have seen a wider demographic tuning in.
“I do think Bargain Hunt has gathered more fans during lockdown, with many more people spending time at home than ever before. It gave younger viewers the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with a programme they might once have watched at their grandparents’ knee”, says Farrington. “At that time, it probably seemed that both contestants and the objects they picked belonged to a bygone era. Now the programme has a much younger vibe, not least for the considerable energy expended in just one hour of shopping. There’s a lot of ground to cover for those who want to give themselves the best chance of winning”.
Incredibly, this comfort-watching series has been running since 2000, when it first aired on BBC One with “cheap as chips” catchphrase inventor and perma-tanned presenter, David Dickinson, at the helm.
Since then, the format has been tweaked a couple of times, with Tim Wonnacott, the presenter from 2003-2015, guilty of introducing the end of episode kick.
Farrington’s book is designed to assist those who want to hunt for bobby dazzlers, and maybe do a bit of bartering themselves. Though, we imagine that when the cameras aren’t there, stall holders might not be quite as amenable about dropping prices, as they seem to willingly do on the programme.
As well as covering Bargain Hunt’s history, and with an introduction from Scottish presenter, Natasha Raskin Sharp, the book has plenty of tips and tales.
These are divided into 17 chapters that include Militaria, Victoriana, Christmas, Jewellery, Glass, Furniture and Toys.
It starts with Ceramics, which is apt as the book reveals that the first ever Bargain Hunt purchase was a Fifties Everhot Art Deco tea set that was bought for £34, and is, as Farrington says, an “item just as likely to attract interest today”. It also covers, substantiated by interviews with various presenters, how to spot valuable Chinese porcelain, as well as pieces of Clarice Cliff, Poole Pottery and Royal Derby. Also, you can even discover how to find a decent Toby jug.
Perhaps some of Bargain Hunt’s future contestants could do with reading a copy of this book, since it seems that they hardly ever manage to make any profit.
Not that it matters. It’s part of the fun when you see someone spending their allocated £300 on random objects that include something you might have picked up at Au Naturale a decade ago.
“Personally, I think BH retains its appeal because it rarely involves large sums of money. The pleasure for viewers is in the objects that are picked by contestants. In our house the purchases are always followed by a lively debate about whether too much has been paid, potentially followed by speculation that just such an item resides at the back of the loft,” says Farrington. “It’s always a joy to be proved right, that far too much has been spent on what you perceive as an ugly item. But there’s just as much pleasure seeing a small, apparently insignificant object soar to a high price at the auction. And it’s a good lesson for life, to know that you can come out a winner, even when you’ve lost money. It’s the journey that counts”.
The Bargain Hunt teams always seem most successful when it comes to the final optional ‘bonus buy’ item that’s chosen by one of their 22 experts. They include Caroline Hawley, Charles Hanson, Danny Sebastian, Gary Pe and Anita Manning, who runs Glasgow’s Great Western Auctions.
According to the book, Philip Serrell once did well with a Royal Worcester vase, which he bought for £170 and sold for £780. He’s the expert that we’d want on our team
However, Farrington is diplomatic when it comes to her favourite presenters.
“It’s impossible to pick as they are not only all genial and genuinely helpful but have a vast array of knowledge stashed inside their heads that they share so generously and enthusiastically with contestants and viewers”, she says. “ Honestly, it’s breath-taking to watch how they talk so knowledgeably about an item picked randomly from a stall”.
When writing the book, the author has had a hotline to Bargain Hunt’s presenters, and the information has proved useful.
“Inspired by writing the BH book, I bought Christmas presents for my three grown up children in a shop full of old curiosities”, Farrington says. “I found brass tins once used for cigarettes (the brand was Standard) that today are perfectly suited to two packs of playing cards. I’m pleased to report they were voted the best presents under the tree”.
Bargain Hunt: The Spotter’s Guide to Antiques, £16.99, BBC Books, out now