Television: Rich pickings on the antiques trail

Roger Cook returns next week with a bold inquiry into art fraud. Tim Dowling investigates

The antiques business is a bit like the political lobbying business: it's not so much that a few rotten apples are spoiling the barrel, but that the whole barrel was a bit mealy to begin with. It is, after all, a world where buying something for less than it's worth and selling it for more than it's worth - and duping someone at both ends of the transaction - is the whole point. When you take away the shady practices of antiques dealers, the shameless profiteering of auction houses, the wildly inflated prices, the forgeries, the illegal exports and the plain old thieving, what's left? There is perhaps such a thing as honest, upright antiques dealing, but it's clearly not where the big money is.

In a departure from his usual high-risk door-stepping, Roger Cook takes on the shabby-genteel world of fine art and antiques in The Cook Report Special: The Antiques Rogue Show (ITV, Wednesday). The statistics alone prove it to be a subject worthy of Cook's attention: pounds 500m worth of art and antiques stolen annually, works of art worth pounds 1bn currently listed in the Art Loss Register. Central to The Cook Report Special is a sting operation involving a borrowed country house and a copy of a pounds 20,000 painting which is left temptingly on the kitchen counter. With Cook's team posing as collectors, a known ring of art thieves is dispatched to steal the painting to order, and caught in the act by cameras hidden in bushes, bread bins and boxes of tea bags.

This is a big subject for Cook & Co, and they open their investigation on several fronts. Along with the sting operation, the programme looks at the problem of "knockers" who go door to door conning pensioners out of their antiques; the particular vulnerability of stately homes to art thieves; the art markets which serve as clearing houses for stolen property; and the blind eye which dealers and even top auction houses often turn to potentially stolen goods. "It's a very complicit crime," says Cook Report producer Philip Braund. "People are always eager to accept something without making any checks whatsoever."

A proposed "code of due diligence" requiring such checks has already met with resistance from the auction houses, who say they already do all they can. The programme highlights the need for such a code by borrowing a large painting from Sir Thomas Ingilby, who has reported it stolen to Trace magazine - the closest thing Britain has to a national database of stolen antiques. Then a scruffy man in a hire van takes the picture round London's auction houses in search of an appraisal. What is shocking is not so much that the auctioneers do not check the provenance of the painting (all have the convenient excuse that they would have done had the painting been put in a sale) but that none of them seem to know the slightest thing about its value. A few don't even guess its age or the artist, despite the fact that it is signed and dated. This includes the auction house that had appraised it for Sir Thomas a few weeks earlier.

In yet another strand of the programme, Mr Cook's team buy a painting - a rather nice little Lowry - that had been withdrawn from an auction on the suspicion that it was a forgery. The intention, according to Mr Braund, was "to see if an auction house would accept something that was an obvious fake". Lowry Museum curator Judith Sanding confirmed that the painting was "not right", only to have restoration expert Lady Poppy Cooksey, a serious woman burdened with a name from a Wodehouse novel, perform tests which proved that the painting is indeed genuine. It is said to be worth pounds 30,000, and may even now be hanging in Carlton Television's boardroom. "The thing is, you don't have to be an expert at all to be in the antiques business," says Mr Braund. "I suspect I now know more about Lowry than some of the experts we took our picture to."

For the most part, The Cook Report Special juggles its several topics nicely, despite a slightly out of place segment about a police sting operation that inadvertently led to John McVicar's son marching into a gallery with a shotgun and ripping a Picasso off the wall. The contention that the undercover squad's offer to buy stolen paintings resulted directly in a situation where lives were put in danger seems a bit rich, especially when the case is put by two old lags who were caught in the sting and an agent provocateur like Mr Cook himself. It seems more likely that McVicar Jr is simply a bonehead of the first water.

While this may be new territory for The Cook Report, most of the old elements are still there. Mr Cook himself still speaks with the grim, righteous cadence of the old-fashioned TV muckraker. It is a style that one now associates almost exclusively with parody. At times you feel you could be watching an expertly made-up Dawn French doing an uncharitable impersonation. But he has a reassuring way of calling a spade a spade, and a bad guy a bad guy. Although it was cut from preview tapes for legal reasons, I am assured that the traditional final showdown between Mr Cook and Mr Bad will happen on Wednesday. Sadly or mercifully, depending on your tastes, this high-flying art fraudster is unlikely to threaten Mr Cook with a crowbar in the car port.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week