Obituary: Hugh Scully, Antiques Roadshow presenter

Antiques Roadshow presenter.Born 5 March, 1943, in Wiltshire. Died 8 October, 2015, near Truro, aged 72

Hugh Scully, TV presenter best known as genial, knowledgeable Antiques Roadshow host. Picture: PA

Hugh Scully was the doyen of BBC presenters: urbane, quietly knowledgeable and the consummate professional in front of the camera. He was chosen in 1981 to join the avuncular Arthur Negus to present BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow and Scully remained with the popular tea-time Sunday programme for almost 20 years. With his distinguished grey hair, welcoming smile and cheerful personality Scully made an ideal host for the Roadshow’s visits to some of the most spectacular lawns in Britain. The show grew in popularity and regularly gained 15 million viewers.

Scully also presented documentaries and magazine programmes and is remembered for a series of interviews he did with Margaret Thatcher for the BBC in 1993 on publication of her memoirs.

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Michael Hugh Scully was born in Bradford-on-Avon the son of an RAF pilot stationed in Malta and attended Prior Park College in Bath. In 1963 Scully, with no career plans, wrote to the BBC inquiring about a position as a trainee. In fact the corporation was looking for a temporary newsreader and he was given an audition. “Much to my surprise” he recalled “I had a telegram immediately saying turn up at BBC Southampton the following Monday.” Scully was to stay there for 16 years becoming the presenter of the regional television news. He also reported live nationally on the Torrey Canyon disaster off the Isles of Scilly where an oil tanker had run aground – causing devastation to the wildlife.

Scully became the presenter of BBC South West’s magazine show Spotlight in 1965 and his relaxed style of interviewing and genial personality presented Scully with yet another challenge in 1978: to front the London section of the early evening magazine show, Nationwide. He was to remain the lynchpin of the programme until 1983 when it was cut from the schedules.

He and his wife were avid visitors to antique markets and became well informed collectors. The BBC heard about this interest and Scully was asked to chair Radio 4’s Talking About Antiques, with Arthur Negus as the resident expert. The two struck up an immediate accord and became well known for their cheerful knowledgeable banter.

That led to the television show and the two brought a refined elegance to the programme. They toured the country sometimes attracting crowds although sometimes the numbers were poor. “I remember asking an Edinburgh lady” Scully recalled with a smile, “why we did not have a particularly large turnout and she said: ‘People in Edinburgh don’t want their neighbours to know what they have got’.”

While working on Roadshow he and his wife set up an independent production company called Fine Art Productions run from their home in North London. The company made many acclaimed documentaries on subjects ranging from the Falklands War and Gulf War to Labour – The Wilderness Years. The most renowned was the four-parter: Thatcher, The Downing Street Years in which the former prime minister spoke fluently (as did members of her cabinet) and directly. Scully has recorded that he was nervous about the assignment but he was a consummate professional and realised, “she didn’t watch the Antiques Roadshow and she wasn’t interested in my small talk about furnishings.”

Thatcher spoke at length about her years in Downing Street. As Scully recalled, “She wanted to do all the talking, which suited me and the production process very well.” About the hectic days prior to her resignation she said straight to camera, “It was treachery with a smile on its face. Perhaps that was the worst thing of all.”

Another high profile programme was devoted to the Falklands conflict. Sir John Woodford (Commander of the task force) had kept a detailed diary during the war. His book was published and Scully, with Woodford’s assistance, made an acclaimed television series.

In the late 1990s Scully was approached by an internet auction house to act as their antiques consultant. It was a most attractive offer. Scully left Antiques Roadshow and visited London on business but preferred to remain at his home near Truro where he became a stalwart of the community.

Scully was married to his wife Barbara for 43-years. She predeceased him and he is survived by their two sons.