Tip 1 – Check out the Roadshow webpage before attending, and be prepared for a very long day. There will be a lot of queuing!
We arrived at our chosen Roadshow around 10:00am and were early, but not the first to arrive. After parking, we joined a queue of people with exciting looking bags and boxes weaving their way beside the long drive leading towards the grounds of Audley End House, Essex.
Ahead of us was a large tent which we thought might be Reception, but after nearly an hour we reached this milestone and realised it was simply a waypoint into the grounds. Once through to the other side we could see the queue stretched on in front of the house and around seating areas where filming was taking place. There were lots of people, the iconic red umbrellas emblazoned with the famous AR symbol and plenty to watch. It all looked very interesting and we queued on. However, every so often we noticed people would be escorted past the queue before making their way to have their items filmed.
Tip 2 – If you think your item may be of significance, do contact the Roadshow well in advance of your visit. If they are interested, you may be pre-booked for filming and avoid the queues. (On the day we attended, over ¾ of the items filmed were pre-arranged.)
After a couple of hours we reached the new pagoda style Reception. Here you are asked what you wish to have valued and directed to the appropriate ‘expert tables’. We had brought Charles Bishop Coleman’s presentation pocket watch, his medals and his diaries and photographs. We were directed to three experts – miscellaneous; clocks and watches; plus arms and militaria. We decided to join the clocks and watches queue first as it seemed the shortest.
As soon as we joined the queue, a helpful volunteer from Audley End House who had been assigned to this area, advised that the expert had been called away to film an item and shouldn’t be long. After an hour we reached the table and the expert, Richard Price. We had no great expectations of the watch’s value and were pleasantly surprised when it was valued at around £800 to £900.
Tip no. 3 – Be sure to enjoy people watching, as you will do a lot of it and you will see some interesting objects which you may spot again in the background when the programme is broadcast. It also helps you to track the speed of a queue if you follow a distinctive object.
As the miscellaneous queue was easily the longest, we next decided to head for arms and militaria. Based alongside a large water feature at the back of the house, this was our coolest queue on a very hot day. Ahead of us were fascinating weapons and musical instruments and after a short wait we chatted to medals expert Robert Tilney, who was friendly and good fun. He explained to us about the experts ‘colourful trouser competition’ – look out for some brightly coloured, expert apparel in the clips and you’ll know who is competing!
Having stopped for something to eat and drink, we checked the miscellaneous queue to see if it was any shorter. It wasn’t, so we decided to join the books and manuscripts queue instead, which was considerably shorter.
Tip 4 – When you arrive, volunteers direct you to Reception where you are given little cards for the appropriate expert tables. We were never asked to produce the cards and had we realised sooner, we would have skipped Reception and joined the queues we thought most appropriate. (Thereby saving ourselves several hours of queuing.)
Once at expert Matthew Haley’s table, Charles’ diaries were studied carefully and we were advised they were ‘a find’. Matthew suggested he would like to ‘pitch’ them to the Director for filming. At 5:00pm, we moved to the seating area set aside for ‘potentials’. On the day we attended, approximately 5,000 people brought items for valuation and just a handful were selected for filming. As others had been pre-booked, it was quite an honour that Charles’ documents were considered interesting enough to record. At each Roadshow location two shows are filmed in one day and filming goes on until seven in the evening.
If you are chosen on the day, once the Director has decided to film, you are escorted to security where you hand over your items to a guard. You then wait behind the scenes, completing paperwork about your items and having your make-up checked and improved until you go back outside for filming – in my case at around 6:20pm.
Tip 5 – If you are selected, try to have something interesting to say.
The expert and the team will have selected the items they wish to display from your belongings and you are ‘mike’d-up’. You then go to stand in place. The people forming the semi-circle of listeners around you are shuffled until the order works on camera. Filming begins with lots of breaks to restage – my short section took around half an hour to film.
I do not know if pre-arranged visitors have some knowledge of what they might be asked. I certainly didn’t, and at the end of a long day I found it hard to ‘think on my feet’ to answer the expert’s and director’s leads.
Firstly, ‘my’ expert – the charming Matthew Haley, whose job outside of television is Head of Books, Maps and Manuscripts UK at Bonhams Auctioneers, wanted me to ‘set the scene’ and explain the photographs on display. There was some stopping and starting as I was asked to point to different things.
The Director then asked for something gruesome from the diaries. Matthew selected the story of George Dawson Hay who cut his own throat with a piece of tin within Broadmoor. I replied that he had taken five days to die. “Cut, too gruesome”, called the Director, causing some amusement in the surrounding group. Matthew read out other stories – all of which were not used in the final airing – I assume because they were too gory before the watershed.
I was asked to tell some stories from the diaries which were not grisly (quite tricky as most have an element of murder or horror about them) but ‘Jack the Ripper’ suspect James Kelly’s escape from Broadmoor and a couple of other stories I told, were used in the final clip. Matthew then announced his big financial reveal, “£1,000 or £2,000 or who knows where it might go”. The final cut skilfully makes it look as though the whole piece was done in one take. The wonder and magic of television!
After our microphones had been removed, Matthew kindly gave advice off camera on how to look after the items for posterity and at 7:00pm we made our way back to the car, tired but happy.
Final tip – If you do visit a Roadshow, enjoy the whole experience, even the queuing, as you will probably never do anything else quite like it and the fascination of seeing what everyone else has brought along makes it all worthwhile.