How to turn your old fridge in to a TV star

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The Independent Culture
The workman said it wasn't worth the effort. It had lasted 38 years - what more could one expect?

"It's American, gleaming white, standing 5ft 7in tall and in more or less perfect nick. No, it's not an actor," I explained over the phone to the man in the prop-hire department, "it's a fridge. The only problem is that the motor has gone." "Never mind," he said, "I'll give you £20 for it."

"The BBC props department recommends people who contact them to get in touch with us," says George Apter, managing director of Studio & TV Hire, a company specialising in "small" props. "No one enjoys throwing these things away and so we're the next best thing to home."

His collection - over half a million items dating from 1860 to the present day, stored in 20,000 square feet of space - is, in effect, an alternative museum: "we stock things they simply wouldn't want." Things like pre- war TV sets, a coffin microphone once used on The Archers, late 19th- century cash-registers and a batch of prams from Castle Howard.

Amongst the more unusual props is an American fridge with a radio in it, a period sauna circa 1910 with a built-in book-rest. Oh, and the replica crown jewels.

Of course, even Apter can't collect everything: he had to say no to a copy of an electric chair.

STV serves a very distinct need - there are few if any rivals. Their clients range from catfood manufacturers and the National Lottery to celebrities like Joan Collins and the Rolling Stones. And there are the major films made over the last 30 years, too, as well as TV programmes such as The Bill, Lovejoy and Coronation Street, for which they have supplied many of the props.

Presently, Apter seems especially keen on TV sets: "We've just bought some Italian ones from the Sixties, though American sets are our number one interest at the moment." These, like all his other purchases, are restored to their original splendour (if you want to find the one man in the country who restores cash-registers, Apter's the man to ask). "If you want them in a window display, on TV or whatever, you don't want them to look like any old rubbish."

Some weeks later, there it was. The rounded, gleaming white exterior of my 1950s American fridge, with its chrome-plated trimmings, stared out of the TV screen at me. My fridge, in its first ever cameo role, had found fame at last.

n Studio & TV Hire: 3 Ariel Way, Wood Lane, London W12 (0181-749 3445)