The Auction House, Channel 4 - TV review: 'These eccentric antique hunters are value for money'


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The Independent Culture

The subject of Channel 4's new three-part series The Auction House was hardly original, but the setting had much to offer that Prestige, the pawnbrokers from April's Posh Pawn, didn't. Lots Road Auctions in Chelsea is a real-life Old Curiosity Shop, with satisfyingly Dickensian characters to match.

This week's drama derived from owner Roger's attempt to tackle falling sales figures, and the mutinous response of Tom, chief valuer in the modern department. Tom didn't want his colourful goods to be drowned in a sea of "brown stuff" – trade-speak for the mahogany chests, oak dressers and leather armchairs in antiques. "What would you rather have?" demanded an irate Tom of the cameraman. "A Victorian sideboard, ornately carved? Or a huge gorilla? Or an air hockey table?" The question was intended rhetorically, but readers with a more classical taste in home furnishings might like to know that the correct answer was "air-hockey table".

Specialist dealer Hugo also shared Tom's mystical ability to intuit the desires of Lots' wealthy clientele. "They like shiny stuff, basically... y'know the stuff that goes into their glass flats," he said. Who's "they"? Rich people, like Nose Job 1 and Nose Job 2, who floated around the sales floor trying to decide whether one's mansion would be best adorned by a plastic table decorated with felt-tip graffiti or a three-foot vagina set in bronze. "If someone else had it, I would want it," mused Nose Job 1 of the latter. "Pay for it, it's lovely," replied Nose Job 2.

If they're not careful, they'll end up like married couple Craig and Michael, whose home is piled to the rafters (literally) with antiques and old masters – yet still, they must have more. "Taste, style, whatever, you can't expect the normal person living in Ruislip to have that," said Michael, a man who has probably never set foot in Ruislip.

The trappings of wealth aren't automatically interesting, as Posh Pawn proved, but The Auction House has a valuer's eye for treasures. If this opportunity to gawp at well-heeled weirdos is Channel 4's attempt to atone for the poverty porn of Benefits Street, it's a good start. Entertaining, if not edifying.