Last Night's Viewing: Lucy Worsley: Antiques Uncovered, BBC2
Does Lucy Worsley have to be so bloody cheerful all the time? I know the answer to this question already, of course. It's "yes", since it's one of the fixed dogmas of television producers that any line of script is improved by being passed through a broad grin on its way to the audience.
Add in a willingness to caper on camera and you're on to a winner, theoretically at least, since I surely can't be the only viewer who finds all this strenuous jauntiness a little wearing. It's called being "a natural communicator" in some quarters, and it usually involves the exact opposite of natural behaviour, compounded in the case of Antiques Uncovered by the fact that Worsley has been paired up with Mark Hill, an antiques expert of almost equally aggravating perkiness.
What their co-presentation means in practice is a lot of those fake conversations that used to be a staple in Blue Peter, in which one party tells the other party stuff he already knows and then shuts up for a while as the other half returns the compliment. Thus: "What you've got there isn't Chinese at all, is it?" "No, it's not. This is a tea bowl and saucer produced by the Worcester company." It's incumbent on the silent partner, incidentally, to wear a look of animated fascination throughout, a duty Hill doesn't shirk. At one point last night, as Worsley refreshed his memory about lockable tea-caddies, he pantomimed his interest so energetically that he ended up looking like a dandified version of the Churchill insurance dog.
The programme itself doesn't have much more in the way of argumentative spine than the average car boot sale, though it's an upmarket car boot sale, I'll grant you. You get a little disquisition on fine English porcelain, say, before moving briskly on to an account of rococo or Chippendale's pioneering introduction of catalogue shopping to the upper middle classes. Some of these segments will be enlivened with practical demonstrations – as when Hill went off to learn how to make china clay – while others are seasoned by Worsley's distinctively infantile hyperactivity. "Can I boing it?" she asked at the Geffrye Museum, as she leaned over an early example of a sprung settee. She also has a habit of adding little sound effects to her demonstrations: "Bwush, bwush, bwush," she muttered as she pretended to wield an 18th-century corkscrew, pride of one of the private collections that are another regular feature of the show.
It isn't without its pleasures, if you can put up with the charm of the presenters. And you will occasionally learn something. I didn't know, for example, that keeping a chandelier lit for a night cost three-quarters of a ploughboy's yearly wage. But the task of putting up with the charm shouldn't be underestimated. "The first time we hear the word chandelier being used is in 1714 and I think the 18th century is the age of the chandelier, isn't it?" says Lucy to Mark. "Indeed it is," Mark says to Lucy, "and the word chandelier is derived from the French term chandelle, which is tallow candle." Oh, do stop wittering at each other, say I. Just talk to me. And preferably as if I'm older than seven.
Metalworks!, in which Dan Cruickshank covers very similar topics, is much more grown-up, though also coloured by presenter mannerism. Cruickshank's voice, for instance, seems to get softer and more whispery with each passing series. Several pieces to camera last night were so sotto voce, it was almost as if he was afraid that the oiks next door on BBC3 might overhear him and start jeering at his passion for English silverware. If you want historical detail, though, rather than Antiques Uncovered's condescending popularisations, this is where to come. "This is really Georgian bling" was the former's caption for an elaborate centrepiece. In Metalworks!, you actually get to know the maker's name.
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