The sensible ones brought chairs. Not valuable antique chairs – those were hoisted high above heads by men with muscles. The sensible ones, those who had one or two of these events already under their belts, came equipped with picnic chairs and smugly sat in comfort while the rest of us moved from leg to leg in a bid to stem the inevitable aches bequeathed from standing in interminable queues.
The Antiques Roadshow (AR), celebrating 40 years on the box, was in Dundee on 23 June – at the V&A – and, after many years as part of its avid television audience, I decided it was time to see in person what went on behind the scenes. The answer is, in a word, queuing. Lots and lots of it. Queuing to get in, queuing to reach the reception desk, where you are then given a ticket to queue to see a specialist. And, if you have items in different categories, then you are given another ticket to queue to see another expert.
But the queues, long and very slow-moving, provide most of the fun because you get to chat to those around you and talk about what everyone has brought along. A woman from Alloa had brought an enamelled brooch, left to her by a great-grandmother. She was a veteran of an earlier AR, at Blair Castle, when she showed a William and Mary cabinet which, she revealed, had been collected three days before the show by a removals firm and delivered home two days after filming. So, if you ever wondered how someone gets a 10-seater dining table or a grandfather clock in the back of their Fiesta, well, they don't have to.
She had already had the cabinet privately valued – and was told it was worth £6k. When, on the show, the AR expert valued it at considerably less, they had to hastily film a re-take as her first reaction was one of crushed disappointment and not the astonished and ever-widening grin, followed by the inevitable 'but we'd never sell it', that we have come to expect.
A former occupational therapist from Elgin had the most remarkable diary – it was written by her great-grandfather when he was just 16 and worked on Brunel's troubled SS Great Eastern, the largest ship ever built at the time of its launch in 1858. The young man had written about the 'Great Babe' (Brunel's affectionate term for his ship – he died shortly after its maiden voyage, when it was damaged by an explosion) but more extraordinary than his diary entries were the drawings he had completed of the entire vessel, each part of the ship's structure carefully numbered and annotated.
Should she make sure this amazing document was given to a museum, she wondered? We in the queue all thought so. Interestingly, the expert thought not. It would probably just be stored in a box, he believed. Better to do more research and keep it as a piece of important family history.
My husband and I proffered what we had brought along to a comparative newcomer to the show. The exotically named Fuschia Voremberg joined AR last year and works for London bookshop Maggs Brothers which deals in rare books and manuscripts. We had nothing rare nor valuable to offer. But I thought the story might be of interest. We had a copy of J M Barrie's 'Auld Licht Idylls', signed by the author to my late father-in-law, Glasgow journalist and playwright Robins Millar. The fly-leaf inscription adds: 'On the second night, Thunder in the Air, 1928'.
In 1928, both Robins Millar and J M Barrie had plays on in London's West End. Both were ghost stories – Robins referencing the first world war, Barrie's 'Mary Rose' about a girl who mysteriously vanishes on a Scottish island and then returns with no memory of the missing time. This happens again when she is a woman and revisits the island. There is also a returning first world war soldier in Barrie's play.
I discovered that Barrie was concerned that Robins Millar's play might prove stiff competition for his, so went along to see it and then invited Robins back to his Adelphi apartment where he signed his book. Fuschia Voremberg was delighted with the story – we also had a copy of Robins' play and a great photo of him. But although she gave us a valuation – £300, perhaps – she didn't suggest we go over to make-up to prepare for filming.
So we went and joined another queue, braving the biting cold – the V&A architecture creating the perfect wind tunnel effect. We still had something up our (very chilly) sleeves. This time we saw veteran AR silver specialist Alastair Dickenson, who was very interested in an Art Deco cafe-au-lait set (coffee jug, hot milk jug and sugar bowl) in its presentation case, complete with silver presentation plaque. It was gifted to, yes, Robins Millar, when he left the editorship of the Evening News in Glasgow in 1937. (I must add here that my husband isn't 90, his father was married three times and his last wife, Alan's mum, was 30 years younger than her husband).
Art Deco silver tea and coffee sets are the only ones really selling at the moment, Alastair told us. Georgian and Victorian silver tea sets, they're not selling at all. You could probably get £500-£600 for this set. We did the hugely appreciative smile and responded in unison: 'But we'd never sell it'. And he didn't want to film us either.
Yvonne from Falkirk, behind us in the queue, had a completely unexpected encounter with Alastair, because as she produced her pride and joy, a beautiful, embossed 18th-century cream jug, he took one look at it and told her it was illegal. Her jaw visibly dropped. The original jug was definitely Georgian, he pointed out, but the lid and the decoration had been added by the Victorians.
The decoration, although he thought it ugly, was not a problem but the lid, attached by a pin and with no silver hallmark, was against the law. I had absolutely no idea that silver items could be against the law but, apparently, significant alterations, such as the addition of a lid, constitutes a change of use and that is illegal. So instead of going home contemplating a nice little nest egg, Yvonne realised she would never be able to sell her pretty jug and its only future was to remain on the shelf gathering dust.
We didn't get to see AR presenter Fiona Bruce – the scrum around her when she was filming the regular 'basic, better, best' segment resembled yet another queue. And we'd certainly had our fill of those.